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Cullen: 2011 Tottenham riots were the catalyst for Spurs’ new stadium

Spurs’ Executive Director said that the riots helped pave the way to cooperation between the club and local officials.

Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty Images

You generally don’t think about riots in positive terms. Riots are awful, horrible things. They endanger lives and destroy property. They bring simmering discontent to a boil and and put into sharp relief the sometimes tense relations between people and government agencies.

That’s what happened in 2011 when the police shooting of Mark Duggan in north London sparked riots across London, and especially in Tottenham, where they started and caused significant damage.

But according to Tottenham Hotspur Executive Director Donna-Marie Cullen, the Tottenham Riots of 2011 had an important contribution to the present regeneration of the area. Cullen said, speaking to the media at a charity event in Los Angeles, that the horror of the riots was the major catalyst for a change in relations between the club and local officials, change that eventually led to the building of the new Tottenham Hotspur stadium.

Prior to 2011, the club was strongly considering looking for a building site for the new stadium outside of Tottenham due to poor relations between Spurs and city officials, with Cullen describing the idea of staying in Enfield “not viable.”

But when the riots happened, people suddenly started to talk, and to listen.

“Maybe we were mad [to stay in Tottenham]. We are all on our knees – I was in San Diego on holiday and I think Daniel [Levy] was in Florida.

”The riots happened in Tottenham. We had a telephone conversation and we said, ‘That’s it – we stay in Tottenham’. Something good always comes from something bad.

”All of a sudden there’s focus from local regional and national government. We’d banged our heads against that brick wall for so long. Nobody would have spent money in an area that had no commitment from government to support infrastructure and transport.

”As soon as we had the riots everyone came back around the table and it was something we could do. We always wanted to stay in Tottenham.”

It’s hard to imagine that in the seven years since the riots Spurs are on the verge of opening their 62,000 seat stadium, considered one of the best football venues in the United Kingdom. If you’ve been to Tottenham, then you know that the visual of this gleaming new stadium rising up in the middle of what is essentially a residential neighborhood is startling. Spurs are hoping that the new ground will not only mean increased fortunes for the club, but can also be the beginnings of a revitalization of the Tottenham area, which is one of the poorer areas in London. There’s still a long way to go in that regard, but the project will continue after the stadium is finished.

Cullen said that Spurs are planning an opening ceremonies of sorts ahead of the first scheduled home match against Liverpool, and that club is taking great pains to reference Tottenham’s history within this shiny new stadium.

“It is really quite something. When you do walk into that bowl, it’s like a coliseum. You’ll have seen Hugo [Lloris] and Harry Kane’s faces – there’s nothing manufactured about that. It’s going to be hard not to feel the crowd there and for it not to be a great home territory and somewhere where hopefully away teams won’t like to come.

”We’re doing loads of touches that will bring us back from White Hart Lane. You’ve got to keep it real and authentic. You’ve got to pitch it so that a fan walks in and they know they’re in a feisty football stadium, but it is about just having more comfort really when you watch football.

”It’s the little touches. We had some design work that was going to cover the concourse floor and I said, ‘No, don’t do it’. The floor is unbelievable and it’s made of crushed White Hart Lane [bricks].

The stadium itself won’t be fully completed for a while, with work ongoing even after the ground opens for Premier League and Champions League matches. Cullen hinted that early visitors to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium may notice some unfinished details, but that work will continue over the next months. The finished product, she hints, will be worth it.

“Don’t underestimate what a huge task we took on in order not to have a second season at Wembley.

”We are going to be saying to fans, ‘We’ve got to where we’ve got to, come and enjoy and celebrate the opening but there will still be bits that we will want to do better, finish differently and complete’.”