Secondly, I am not claiming that the bloke I spoke too is a Tottenham shareholder or any type of mover and shaker in the Spurs hierarchy; This is not intended to be a ‘I met a man who knows a man… ‘ type tale. All that I can say for certain is he is the type of powerful businessman whose ideas and requirements are courted by football clubs nowadays and he seemed to know people who are influential and, more importantly, believed his thoughts mirrored those of a lot of his contemporaries. I do know I was sober though and I wasn’t suckered into anything.
Finally, as if regulars didn’t know, I was weaned on the pre-Heysel / Hillsborough days of suicidal tackles, silly haircuts and a belief that anyone could win the league. I find much of Premiership football to be distasteful and, at times, bizarre so I’ll admit that perhaps I’m just being naïve in finding this Spurs supporter's views disturbing. Nevertheless, his thoughts were from an angle I’d genuinely not thought about and I found them both fascinating and aggravating in equal measure. Those who think Tottenham fans have ideas above their station my not want to read on.
Rather ironically, I wouldn’t say this Tottenham supporter had much ill-feeling towards the Hammers, worse, I actually found his views patronising, as if the club at the Boleyn was a minor irritant that needed to be dealt with without undue fuss. His belief that Spurs were now a fully-fledged member of the top-table Champions League set-up will only be confirmed with time, I guess but it would have been churlish to pretend there is any immediate likelihood of them scrapping down the bottom with the Irons so I let any discussion on the footballing merits of one side against the other pass.
I obviously don’t want to quote this guy verbatim – I couldn’t anyway – so I’m just going to paraphrase his comments.
‘I’m a Spurs supporter and always have been, I was born in North London and used to go and watch them when I was a boy.’
Fair enough, I’ve always been dismissive of glory hunters and at least this bloke’s prepared to nail his colours somewhere.
‘I only watch them on TV now or in a corporate environment. I’d never buy a ticket for a seat to a match on my own or with friends as that’s not what football is about nowadays’.
An anathema to many, but I’d say it’s the price that football has paid for all-seater stadia and rocketing entry prices. Many of us have been forced out of a regular match-day experience although the use of the word ‘never’ makes me uncomfortable.
‘I need to take business associates and prospective clients to matches. White Hart Lane is difficult to get too and, anyway, I don’t need to see Spurs in North London. The Olympic Stadium is on all available road and rail routes, isn’t far from the City and Canary Wharf and is big enough to accommodate the crowds Spurs could attract. I’m not bothered about staying in North London, football is a global game now and I’m not interested about where a team is based. It’s easier for me but, more importantly, makes it easier for me to use the club for corporate entertainment.’
This is where I start feeling uncomfortable. I know few people who still reside in West Ham or even the Borough of Newham but I still believe if we disassociate the club from the area it represents then we’re at the thin edge of a miniscule wedge.
I’m not condoning or trying to glamorize the football violence of the ‘70’s / 80’s but, back then, the taking of another club’s ‘manor’ or ‘end’ was a crime on a par with anything Gary Glitter can admit too. Here, at a stroke, Tottenham will not only be in our manor they will relegate the Hammers to a bit part in our own backyard. Spurs moving to Stratford would be a kick in the teeth that many of us would simply find unacceptable. There are no shades of grey on this for me; Spurs should not even contemplate moving into another club’s heartland. But then I’d taken that as a given, not only in terms of what West Ham supporters would want but also those from Tottenham. This fan was suggesting - and I’ll admit I was genuinely surprised by his vehemence that, although there was a groundswell of fans who found the idea of leaving North London abhorrent, there were an equal, if not greater, number for whom THFC was now a ‘brand’ and’ as such, could not only sit where it wanted but had a rightful stake in what would be one of the UK’s premier sporting arenas.
‘The Olympic site is a massive incentive to Spurs. The main investors in the club want to move there and they are putting an awful lot of money into the project. There’s a lot going on behind the scenes and there is no way we’d miss out to a club like West Ham.’
OK resisting the temptation to wrap a bottle round the bloke’s head but this was the part that bothered. No names were mentioned and I’d admit that if it was so much flannel I’d probably not even know, but there dark rumblings about political machinations going on at this point. It wasn’t only the large financial muscle that could be thrown behind this bid but also the suggestion that serious pressure was being given in Government and Olympic circles that bothered me.
(N.b Since writing this it has come to light that that Boris Johnson himself may have suggested Spurs bid for the Stadium so there was something in that)
What’s worse though is the entirely new concept that I’ve not seen elsewhere that suggests that not doing anything is no longer an option for West Ham United.
Let’s say that West Ham listen to a majority of fans and decide they don’t want a stadium they can’t fill with a running track they don’t want and pull out of the Stratford bid. Does this leave Spurs an open season on the site? Of course, Lord Coe and the Olympic Committee are very quick to point out the legacy promise of the site and suggestions that Tottenham may pull down the Stadium at Stratford, rebuild another purpose-built football arena and make everyone happy by also building a nice new Athletics track at Crystal Palace have already been dismissed as ‘unacceptable’. But that suggests that the site will remain empty and the trouble for me is that if I agree with that notion then I’m contradicting an argument I’ve been putting up since this move was first mooted.
Simply put, I’d say ‘Remember the Dome’. A massive legacy site post-Millennium this was going to be one of the major highlights for a visitor to London back in 1997. By 2002, it was a white elephant that came that close to being hauled down before being successful resurrected as one of the UK’s top venues. Now the O2 is a great place, and I’d never argue otherwise, but the old ‘Millennium Dome’ became an embarrassment initially and was within a whisker of even worse. We may all be proud, flag-waving supporters of the World’s biggest sporting event now but wait until all you can hear on the Stratford site is the trains running to Liverpool Street and then see how bullish the Politicians and Committees are then!
Public opinion, Government influence and political machinations count for everything nowadays. If neither West Ham nor Spurs won the right to play football at the Olympic site and the area becomes a Ghost Town as happened in North Greenwich then can you imagine how that will play politically? I’ve argued long and hard that post-2012 it will be much easier to deal with legacy promises, in fact I long-ago suggested on this very site that West Ham could probably build their own purpose built stadium there alongside the Athletics area and was roundly turned on by people saying it was a waste of money and it would never happen.
It may not, of course, yet here we have Tottenham Hotspur PLC suggesting that very thing and – you know? – when large heavily-backed UK corporations start to put the pressure on, doesn’t it look different from the usual posturing of any of West Ham’s recent boardroom combatants?
This conversation left me feeling decidedly uncomfortable. I’d long assumed that, if a move to the Olympic site were to take place, then it would only be by West Ham United. Failure by the Hammers to reach agreement on the stadium would leave it empty. This corporate raider’s suggestion that the Spur’s hierarchy see this as being on a par with Arsenal’s move to the Emirates is deeply concerning. Would the FA get involved? Of course, they should but why haven’t they already? Is it conceivable that someone hasn’t already sounded them out before Spurs started investing in proposals for the move? It seems extremely unlikely. My guess is the FA will prove as toothless against the powerbrokers as everyone else.
The proposed Olympic site is close to my heart. I’ve long argued – in ‘Nightmare’ as well as here – that, for decades, West Ham’s previous boardroom owners have let down both club and fans by failing to realise the enormity of the Hammer’s catchment area. With proper investment 40 or 50 years ago, West Ham could have been the first big team of choice for an area sweeping out in a triangle from East London to the far borders of Essex and Kent. The Olympic site is an opportunity to change that.
But and that BUT is huge, If we don’t move there then Spurs may occupy the very spot that West Ham should be taking, what then?. Think on from there; if that were to happen what is the point of West Ham being an east London club situated in Newham at all? We may as well sell-up and move to Dartford or Basildon – anywhere away from that bloody roundabout off the Newham By-pass would help surely? I mean, we could easily be the biggest club in Essex and that is one of the largest counties. Essex Hammers FC anyone?
Now, I don’t want and I suspect most of you lot don’t either but, be assured, that could well happen if Spurs attempts to become a muscular MK Dons succeed. I think us fans should be mobilised for what could be a very nasty fight. It may not come to it hopefully – but if it does then we need to be ready. And, to be honest, from what I’ve seen on this and other sites, I’m not sure many of us are!