The money train
I'm hardly likely to bend over for corporate football although I admit I'm indifferent in my disdain for the modern ills that push us further away from the impossible utopia we seek. There's a fan revolution that can sometimes puncture the mainstream but it's generally left on the bench for the occasionally cameo. The business evolution reigns supreme.
We all know the match day experience has seen its soul corrupted. The whole consumer is greater than supporter debate persistently grates whilst club owners gleefully rub their hands. We could take more responsibility for the atmosphere, but when the internal mechanics of controlling supporters enforces us to constantly be sat on seats, it breaks up the immersion to the point of utter frustration. We live in a world where confetti and sizeable banners are frowned upon by health and safety.
There's also the ugly truth that few want to admit to; some prefer to treat the occasion like a day at the theatre rather than what it should be. The definition of what it should be is the reason we are splintered across the fanbase. You can't even blame those that wish to watch in silence because it's all they know. It's how they've been conditioned.
Football is now a packaged day out and not a tribal release of a working man's plight (sure, I'm romanticising what came before). The problem is; there's no middle ground for those that wish to hark to that past.
We still have the power as a majority, I'm certain of it. White Hart Lane has been a wall of noise in recent years (Jol and Redknapp high points) but it's very much dependent on our football being flair-centric. We've had little in aggressive attacking play to keep us firmly off our bums as we muddle between one transition to another. All this after believing the shift in power was within touching distance. And because the experience of match-day is tinged with the cost of the ticket and the entertainment label, there's rarely the chance that collectively everyone will behave like they're as one in a terrace.
This isn't a new problem. It's matured since the 90s. The reason it's prominent for us right now (as Spurs fans) is that we look ahead to a new stadium and wonder if the experience there will be tailored for the common Tottenham fan or appeal instead to the casual football supporter that hasn't quite pledged an allegiance. It's still a better problem to muse than how it would have impacted us if the new home was sat in Stratford. Or is there in fact little difference as the club owners strive to make us more accessible to outsiders rather than seek to take care of those already inside?
I read this by Spursblogger and it got me thinking about my reaction to the recent stadium announcement and the plans and whether I momentarily let go of the final pieces of disdain and finally just come to the realisation that we can not win so best to make the most of what we're going to get.
Defeatist or realist?
As good as the old days were, let's not forget we got treated like cattle for the most part. The 70s and 80s is possibly when the game was at its peak in terms of escapism. 'Them and us' be it against the opposing side, the police or social boundaries of behaviour. The more comfortable each generation has become outside of football has led to the game forming itself around new expectations and a new type of fan. The idealistic approach that we can recapture the past is deeply flawed. Everyone knows that. Those that wish to fight the modern power are often belittled for it. Supporter groups and movements stick out like sore thumbs. They do because the rest are desensitized.
The Taylor Report also gave the government the license to disenfranchise the festival chaos of the terraces and turn them into Al fresco seating. You can appreciate the sentiment after Hillsborough but only now are we beginning to embrace the concept of safe standing. There was a concious effort to change the sport by completely going all-seater (rather than perhaps looking at managing people with safety in mind with better controlled terrace areas). The aim was to make it more accessible (to families) and make policing of the more undesirable element (as far as the authorities and clubs were concerned) easier to manage.
The money in football (Sky Sports, Champions League) proceeded to bloat the game instantly rather than allow it to slowly grow organically. Emphasis on brand, merchandise and conquering the foreign markets has become the strategy to money-grab as much as possible. If you're an upper-tier football club you have to go down this route to retain a sense of competitiveness. The rich keep on getting richer so you can hardly stand back because of more idealistic dreams to 'do it the right way'. Although I much prefer what we are doing than say being bought by an oligarch (even if what we are doing consists of having to sell our best players).
Fans see ENIC as an investment company with no genuine ties with THFC, but then why else buy a football club if you're not looking to profit from it? When they sell us, it will be another investment company that will again look to profit as much as possible from their purchase. Of course, to get to the point of the club being viable enough for sale, Daniel Levy and company have to make it an attractive proposition. Is that done via the capacity to use the new stadium as a hub of entertainment or focused towards being a leading football club challenging for honours? The former is now a requirement for the latter.
It's so obsessive (this money-grab) that we even encourage our own supporters to sell their match-day tickets like legalised touts. We've turned into the consumers the clubs need. The shift in how football is marketed is so it appeals to one and all. Take Chelsea as an example. Hardly anyone turned up years back during their time spent outside the top division. The new fans they attracted in recent years is a direct consequence of the change in the game that makes it appealing to the masses. That isn't necessarily a bad thing (football is after-all meant to be universal and we all want kids gravitating towards it). It seems forced rather than natural. Then again, when I was a young lad many in London supported Liverpool because they won everything. Same destination, different journey? Natural progression is now about taking short-cuts to success. Yesteryear it was the fans taking those short-cuts, now it's the men in suits.
The protests continue. There are fan movements against ticket prices. There's momentum here for sure, but its voice isn't as loud as it deserves to be. This goes back to the comfort zone we all exist in. We are not generally an angry culture in the UK. We love a moan but we are hardly bothered to move away from the keyboard to do anything about it. There isn't a collective belief 'they' can be beaten. So for most, even with the grievances, we continue to do the one thing they can't take away and that's loving the club which means accepting the ills and paying to watch. But even that is treading on the tentative for some, especially as we all look towards White Hart Lane as it nears the end of its glorious life.
The new stadium is glossy and high-tech. It has all the niceties of the modern stadia and a gimmick or two in amongst the historical values the club is attempting to retain. Add to it the 17k single tier stand and things aren't looking that bad. On the surface, it's a multi-purpose revenue making pleasure dome. For ENIC. But what about for us?
Inside is where we have to get it right. For the supporters to feel empowered the surroundings and the manner in which we are treated has to sync in with it being synonymous as the famous home of the Spurs. What we want is to feel connected. Some feel ripped off today going to games so there has to be a transition that caters for long standing supporters that also makes sure our younger generation of fans are given easier access to watching their team (rather than joining up with 1882 on lowly attended Europa League match). I'm still confident we - the club and the supporters - will get this. Levy has often citied the importance of a tight atmosphere to retain that sense of a proper football ground (even if the architecture is brand spanking new). If it's designed to appeal to the core, then everything that comes attached also has to be spot on.
The doubt will nudge me towards how much investment and care the corporate side will have, simply because they will bring in the money. And again, that's life. That's the reality. If going to Spurs turns into a ridiculously priced excursion then we'll continue to be screwed. It's about money. It has to be right? From the loyalty points cull to StubHub to our transfer policy. When I look at other clubs paying massive fees for English players that are there to make up the numbers but could be at the forefront of any other squad, you know this is a money train that keeps on gaining speed, on the pitch in the boardroom and in the stands.
If you can afford a season ticket or go home and away then you'll likely to be fairly alright financially (unless you are throwing your entire wage on following Spurs). We are okay for it. In a bigger ground, it will be interesting to see if the fans on the waiting list take up the offer of a season ticket.
The younger supporters will probably think they're blessed, spoilt. A golden age. Maybe that's the crux of it all. The game has changed and can't be reverted. Spursblogger and others are spot on when they say that the stadium has to be OUR home above and beyond the home of sponsorships and cross-sports partnerships.
There's no concluding answer to any of this. There's no specific list of things to do that will fix it. If the club seek to support and finance the coaching staff and elevate the footballing side through the new revenue then everything else will fall into place - but only if we're not having to pay extortionate prices to watch our team play. Take a look down the road to the Emirates where their move to a new home conceived a generation of supporters that love to bury themselves under red shirts and scarves, almost psychopathic in their indulgence to associate themselves to a football club. Footballing tourists that never go away. With a 61k capacity we're doomed if the club are relying on day trippers to top up the attendance.
Football can't go back to how it was because that particular reality exists in a different age. It was fundamentally broken but it fit into those particular eras. Football today can't be changed. It can be moulded into accepting old things that have been polished new. Safe-standing for example. Cheaper tickets and concessions. But these remain punctures rather than game-changers. I still say fight for them, especially as the money being made in TV should encourage clubs to relax their soulless pursuit for profit. 'Should'. This is the utopia where we take priority over the business side. It remains pure fantasy.
I'm still positive. My perception is to mesh the reality with sprinkles of defeatism and then focus on the good. I still love the designs of the new stadium. I get the club has to do this to allow revenue to finance the football. We can't rebuild the Lane. We have to move so remaining in N17 at the very least binds us with our North London identity. It's no guarantee it will lead to success, but it will give us the opportunity to compete in the upper echelons of the wage structure. That will no doubt then beg the question; Is that what we want? To be super rich and as bullying as the clubs above us?
It's what we're going to be if we keep pushing for it. The alternative, the emotive connection you desire to have with Tottenham above and beyond all the other fiscal stuff, that has no real world value outside of your own heart. If it isn't matched by those hosting the games then you'll find yourself detached. If you stop going, then someone else will take your place. Hopefully the club sees the worth of the core support and doesn't tag it with a price.
Traditions and identity. These are the elements the club, ENIC and the chairman, have to seek to strengthen. Look after these and you'll pretty much have most of us ignore the two NFL games per year because we'll be too busy losing our sh*t in the single tier.
Football was all about the fans, it was our sport and our escape. For supporters, it's now about rediscovering our place in the game. Protests and supporter trusts are healthy to gauge those small pockets of change. We need a platform so we can perform on as much as the players need a good pitch. We have to hope the new stadium gives us, Spurs fans, at the very least a rejuvenated release of life. Otherwise we may as well be buried in the foundations.