The lilywhite side of North London isn't a fun place to be these days. The results stink, the team's play sucks, and the fans are in open revolt. After two embarrassing home defeats to Newcastle and Stoke, it is the reaction of the fans that has probably gotten the most publicity over the course of an international break devoid of news. Virtually everywhere you look, you see articles about how angry the fans are, how disenchanted they are with the club, and how much they hate ownership.
Things aren't going well on the pitch, and it hasn't felt really good since the last game of the 2012/13 season. And if we're being honest about that year, Gareth Bale was papering over a lot of the problems we would see the following season. However, it is worth pointing out that as bad as everything has felt for Spurs, the team finished 6th in a year where everything that could go wrong did and right now they're only four points out of a Champions League spot. Spurs are not in any sort of financial peril and even if they don't sort things out this year, relegation is hardly a danger. So where does all this anger come from?
The first and most important reason is the results. Critics of Daniel Levy will argue that the fan outrage is deeper than that, but the criticisms of the team would not be gaining traction if things weren't so dire on the pitch at the moment. But the anger goes deeper than results. It largely born from a disconnect between English fans and the club.
A large portion of this can be attributable to the rise of the club over the past several years. Since 2000, three clubs in England have transformed their place in the table: Spurs, Chelsea, and Manchester City. Chelsea and Manchester City have seen themselves go from a mid table side and a yo yo team respectively to title contenders on the back of investment from oil tycoons. While Spurs have not seen that level of investment, they have gone from mid table to being on the fringes of the Champions League every year. Spurs went from spending the same amount on salaries as West Ham in 2006 to only being outspent by the richest clubs in England last year. Tottenham fans have experienced the transformation of becoming a bigger, more successful club and all the uncomfortable changes that brings (larger expectations, targeting overseas fans, a more corporate attitude) without the ability to guarantee obscene levels of success that has been seen at Chelsea and City. It may never be ideal, but it is far easier to deal with your team feeling more like a business when you're bringing in trophies by the bundle. The team's form over the last two years has highlighted many of the problems fans have when a club is trying to compete at the highest level without providing any of the benefits.
However, the growth itself is not entirely the problem. The clubs' tin eared response to the complaints of the fans is a much larger probably than the growth itself. There is no better example of this than the construction of Tottenham's new stadium. All but the most hardcore section of Tottenham's fanbase understands that the team needs a new stadium. As wonderful as White Hart Lane is, it is old and unable to support the match day revenues that a team needs if they want to regularly compete for Champions League places. The project has been delayed over and over again, and fans have gotten repeatedly frustrated with the lack of dialogue over what's happening with the stadium.
This is even more aggravating when you consider that the club has perfectly good reasons for their delays. Spurs got serious about a new stadium right as the real estate market and the economy fell off a table (a stark contrast to Arsenal who ended up building the Emirates at pretty much the perfect time). And lest we forget, purchasing enough property to build a stadium in one of the densest, oldest cities in the world is pretty hard. And these are just the difficulties we know about. Who knows what else is happening?
I'll bet a lot of the difficulties they've encountered are things that could be shared with the fans and would put the club in a reasonably positive light. But instead of massaging a fan base that is already uncomfortable with the ways the club is changing, they let it stew in its own juices. So instead of being mad at, say, property owners extorting the team or bureaucratic nonsense from local government, fans are left to yell about the team's interest in the Olympic Stadium or develop conspiracy theories about why it's taking so long.
When rumors about the club going to stadium:MK for a year bubble up, it leads to a predictably outraged response to the idea. And again, it is infuriating because this would be exceedingly simple for the team to nip in the bud. Nothing is official, there is probably a good reason why they need to leave White Hart Lane for a year to build a new stadium, and if they're looking to play in Milton Keynes then there's probably no real option closer to the stadium. Instead they let fans boil in their own self righteousness, start angry social media campaigns, and vow to turn match days into a search for anyone who dares to wear culottes.
Now fans are bringing "Levy Out" banners to matches and the club isn't smart enough to ignore them. They should respond like United did when their fans started bringing Norwich scarves to games, because ultimately this is just irritating venting and won't really lead to anything. Instead Spurs have confiscated the banners and reinforced the worst ideas of the fan base. This was on full display at the end of the last match when fans thought the team was playing incredibly loud music to drown out the boos. Despite the regular PA announcer admitting that he was filling in for the sound guy and this was not a malicious act by the club, no one believes him because they don't trust any of the club's communications. It would be so easy to keep things from reaching this level, but instead the club is often slow to respond (if they respond at all) and the response usually seems exceedingly corporate. Smarter, quicker, and savvier responses could cure a lot of the angst that has developed among the Spurs fan base.
However, it would be foolish to ignore how unreasonable Spurs fans have become. The team might be complicit in creating the environment that exists today, but at this point the atmosphere is so poisonous there might not be much the club can do to turn around public opinion short of winning trophies.
Go look at any tweet or facebook post from the team. The replies are a virtual toxic waste dump of abuse directed at the team, Levy, Baldini, and players, regardless of the topic.
And lest we dismiss this as just the internet being the internet, things have gotten so frustrating that Martin Cloake, a prominent board member of the Tottenham Hotspur Supporters Trust responded to Adebayor complaining about the atmosphere at the ground by taking shots at the player. The results on the field, the discontent among the fan base, and the club's tin eared communications have become a feedback loop that has left just about everyone furious and ready to lash out.
At this point, if the club announced free milk and cookies for everyone attending the next match, I am entirely convinced the announcement include some mention of the NFL visiting London, fans would yell about not being consulted on which kind of cookies were purchased, a hash tag about lactose intolerant fans would spread on twitter, and everyone would be calling the creator of a vine about Sainsbury's a legend.
Whatever the club is doing, it's entirely possible that there are perfectly reasonable justifications for it. But because of the way the ownership has communicated so badly with the fans, they've lost that benefit of the doubt with many of the supporters. Without the trust of the fans, everything gets put under the microscope and suddenly red advertising on the kit means we're three steps away from becoming Cardiff.
So is there any way to fix this? Winning will help. Winning will help a lot, but a more open dialogue with the fans would probably stop a lot of this discontent even if it doesn't work right away and even if it's not transparent to the insane degree that some fans are demanding. Competing at the top level of a top European league is an ugly business and I think our fans would be more understanding of that if their hands were held a bit more. Keeping them apprised of what is going on and snuffing out ugly rumors that, frankly, should probably be beneath their notice, would make a big difference. I understand that this would probably take a while and for the club it might seem like spitting into the wind at first, but in the long run it will probably lead to a happier, and healthier, fan base.
Unless we sell Harry Kane. Then it's time to form FC Hotspur of Tottenham.