Spurs p***ing on fans’ backs in bungled summer

Date published: Thursday 16th August 2018 7:02

Tottenham. They do things differently there.

All clubs have their unique and special qualities. It’s why we love them.

But Tottenham, seriously: what a club. Nobody manages to fail even when succeeding quite like Spurs. You hesitate to wheel out the old Spursy line – long since memed into cliched hackery – but really, how else to describe a club that finds itself enjoying its greatest success for a generation while simultaneously casually destroying any goodwill from the fanbase? Spursiness used to be just always losing games they ought to have won; now it seems to be some elaborate narrative arc that defines the whole club. Spurs have progressed from fun but predictable knockabout sitcom (Working title: Lads, It’s Tottenham) to must-watch Netflix series.

A summary of Spurs’ summer runs thus. The excellent manager announces the need to be “brave” and “take risks” before signing a new contract. Fans are told that season tickets at their new stadium will be up to 40% more than at White Hart Lane because it’s a different, new and better experience and also Spurs need that money to compete with the bigger, richer rivals in the rarefied air they now breathe.

The risk-taking bravery turns out to be the historic act of not signing any players. The new stadium turns out to not be ready.

In the midst of all this, Spurs can boast the World Cup-winning captain, who made a blooper-reel error in the final, and the World Cup Golden Boot winner, who didn’t actually play that well. They had nine players in the World Cup semi-finals, but eight of them lost, while their reserves then went and won the very prestigious and definitely very real International Champions Cup. Because of course they did. Classic Spurs. Classic banter.

This is a weird club in a weird position. Partly because they are victims of their own success. Although one of the old ‘big five’ in the 80s and a key architect of the Premier League breakaway, Spurs initially missed the boat in the new league and have been playing catch-up ever since against not just their old rivals, but the new money at Chelsea and Manchester City.

Remarkably, Tottenham have somehow managed to pull it off. Despite having a fraction of the global clout and therefore cash of the other members of the new ‘big six’, Spurs are there with them. Spurs with their Spursiness and their net spends and their never winning any (proper) trophies under any circumstances are right there. So close they can almost touch it.

There is a feeling of a tipping point approaching. Some time very, very soon Spurs are either going to properly for reals establish themselves among the game’s absolute elite, or it’s all going to come crashing down around them and they can go back to being Everton or Newcastle or Aston Villa – albeit Everton or Newcastle or Aston Villa in a swanky stadium. Go back a decade and there is no inherent reason why Spurs should now be so much better than those grand old institutions.

This could all go very wrong, very fast. It was a bad time to have a terrible summer. And not buying any players or stadium construction delays aren’t really the problem. It’s how these setbacks have been handled.

Clearly, it would have been better to have signed some players. Our fears of Moussa Sissoko and Eric Dier as a central midfield duo became reality in the very first minute of the season. Not ideal.

Clearly, it would have been better if the stadium had finished on time and on budget. But it’s difficult. Fans know that; they’ve seen Grand Designs. This is the bit just before the final ad break where Kevin McCloud makes worried faces at the camera and Daniel Levy announces that he’s decided to project-manage the rest of the build himself and blows the last of the cash on a £15,000 bathtub from Latvia while his wife, who is obviously pregnant at this point, smiles tersely and tries to look like she doesn’t want to murder him where he stands.

We all know the house turns out fine in the end. At least in the ones they broadcast anyway. A load more cash always turns up from somewhere. The stadium will be fine, and you have to admit that stupid bath looks bloody magnificent. Levy will laugh nervously in the face of McCloud’s gentle probing about the final cost, McCloud does a relieved and happy piece to camera, a few more arty angles of the new place, roll credits. Next on More4, it’s Supervet.

The point is, people can understand that building an £800m stadium is a tricky business, especially the specific nature of a two-stage build with strict deadlines built first around and then in place of the old ground. Just as they can understand that signing players in real life isn’t as easy as Championship Manager. And Spurs fans are even blessed with just about enough self-awareness to know that they can expect little sympathy from anyone else when their gripes are about a stunning new stadium and the struggle to improve a squad that has finished in the top three for each of the last three seasons.

They can understand all that, but don’t piss on their backs and tell them it’s raining.

Throughout this summer the club has treated the fans like an after-thought; they can’t be surprised when the fans start to feel like one.

The lack of signings would have been easier to swallow had the club not allowed the idea of risk-taking bravery to take hold. The new stadium delay would not have caused this rumpus had the club met supporters even close to halfway and been clearer in their public statements. Even the timing of the latest announcement, so late in the day and after the season has begun, has been unhelpful. These things may have been out of the club’s hands, but there is little appetite for giving them the benefit of the doubt just now.

It’s just so avoidable.

Giving season-ticket holders free entry to one of the two extra games now moved to Wembley would have been an acknowledgement that for the fans this is not ideal. It would be a gesture of goodwill that the club can afford financially, and would represent a relatively small yet meaningful statement: You matter, and we are sorry about this. Instead, they couldn’t even properly apologise for the fans’ inconvenience in a statement that did manage to find space for a heartfelt mea culpa in the direction of the NFL. Having sold the fans the premium-price new experience of the new stadium, the club is pretending Wembley amounts to basically the same thing anyway. Know your place, match-going supporters.

It’s easy to paint this as a sense of entitlement from a fanbase occasionally prone to exactly that. Easy, but unfair. There are serious questions to answer about Spurs’ handling of this summer even if the roadblocks they have encountered are understandable or not even particularly their fault. They’ve failed to grasp the feelings of the fans and have inadvertently (you assume…) shown those supporters just where they stand in the club’s priorities right now.

Spurs fans should be buzzing. They still have a great squad. They still have a great manager. They will soon have a great stadium. But the summer has been bungled, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity has been missed and goodwill is gone.

Tottenham may feel they can dismiss the concerns of long-standing fans. There will be more to take their place. There’s the waiting list. There’s the day-trippers. Their money is as good as anyone else’s.

But Levy would do well to consider where they will be if things take a turn for the worse on the field. Spurs’ current success remains precarious rather than epochal. The loss of Mauricio Pochettino or just two key players could change everything. This particular team may well be nearer the end of its journey than the start. It might even be in its final season.

Levy might yet find that the goodwill of supporters who stuck with the club through the 1990s was currency that should not have been so casually frittered away.

Dave Tickner


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