By now you’ve all heard the news that, like every project I’ve ever worked on, Spurs’ new stadium will be finished late. Beyond late, given that it was originally supposed to be ready by our first home game of the season against Fulham this weekend. That was before the club announced in June that the stadium opening had been rescheduled. The home game against Liverpool on September 15 was the new target, but now we’re told that due to uncertainty around crucial safety systems, both the Liverpool game and Cardiff on October 6 have been moved to Wembley with no updated estimate on when the new stadium will be ready. The new White Hart Lane is beginning to feel a bit like the tree house I imagined in the woods behind my house growing up. I got as far as choosing a tree before I had to announce a delay.
That we’ll have to play a few more games in Wembley is disappointing to hear, but not at all surprising. As far as I’m concerned, Tottenham is to blame for just one thing: publicizing a schedule for the stadium’s completion that was absurdly optimistic. When Arsenal built the Emirates, it took about two and a half years between breaking ground on construction in February 2004 and opening in July 2006. The Etihad took about the same. Both those stadiums were built on empty lots; construction began on our new stadium in spring of 2016 with most of White Hart Lane still standing in its way. Combine that obstruction with the new technology and ambitious design going into this stadium, which is so complex that its price tag has more than doubled, and we’re about as far along the timeline as I’d expect to be. No need to panic. Of course this seems obvious in hindsight, but it still was a reasonable outcome to expect. If the club had done a better job communicating uncertainty about the building timeline as they learned of it, they could have avoided disappointed fans and been more proactive about the questions these delays raise, especially their impact on season ticket holders.
Levy’s withholding of information brings up a bigger concern of mine: Tottenham is doing fine as a business that turns a profit and a team that wins matches, but I worry that the stadium situation shows that the relationship between the football club and its supporters is not well. Daniel Levy’s recent actions suggest that he does not appropriately value Spurs supporters’ sense of belonging to the team. We want to know what’s going on, and why, even if we have no say in the decision-making process. If Levy understood this, he would share more about our transfer window, our stadium, and the status of players like Toby Alderweireld and Danny Rose. He either could make statements on the board’s behalf, as one expects from a chairman, or instruct Poch to share some information. The behind-closed-doors leadership at Spurs which has undoubtedly benefited our team has begun to take on an unhealthy attitude towards supporters.
This tactic showed itself most cynically in the club’s approach to season ticket holders this season. As many of us know, the cost of season tickets was already increased as much as 50%, putting a strain on working class supporters (heck, anybody who’s not filthy rich). After the Fulham game was moved, and again after the Liverpool and Cardiff games were moved, they were slow to get out information about how season ticket holders would be compensated, and when they did, they offered less than the full refund you would want. There is still uncertainty around how Champions League games will be handled. From a business perspective, it makes sense: if you think of Spurs season tickets like you would, say, a phone bill, and you assume the people providing the service are out to take as much of your money as you can, then Levy’s actions are justifiable. But if you believe, as I do, that a team’s supporters and management ought to be together on the side of the team, that a fan-football club relationship should be in fact nothing at all like other customer-client relationships, and that the harmony of it all makes the game special, then it’s easy to see why people are upset.
But I digress. As far as the stadium is concerned, I think we’re doing alright. This quote from the club’s statement is pretty apt: “Delays are common, certainly for builds of this size and complexity, however we are hugely frustrated that this has occurred with these systems at such a late stage. Whilst we would have been able to mitigate other areas, we simply cannot compromise safety.” Nothing to complain about; they’re owning their mistake and explaining that it caught them off-guard. And they’re right. Better to be sure of our safety systems now than risk catastrophic failing. Unless the retractable pitch turns out to be garbage or weather delays the opening into the New Year, my only complaints are with how the club handles the fans. Just as with the summer signings we never made, the unveiling of the stadium is something we’re excited about, so of course we’ll be upset when it’s postponed. As long as Levy handles its fans with the respect and appreciation we are due, the stadium delay threatens no long-term problems for Tottenham.