Last week, The Guardian reported a new installment in the ongoing squabble between Tottenham Hotspur and members of the Tottenham district surrounding Spurs’ home stadium. The article cites memos from the Haringey Council, which governs an area including Tottenham. The memos record that the club “were very dismissive as to the current state/appearance of Tottenham and implied that this was not an acceptable environment for their new stadium and supporters,” and that while increased cleaning is required, the club will not pay for it. This dispute doesn’t just concern Spurs’ new stadium; it speaks to the ways that the business side of football can have consequences far beyond the pitch.
Tottenham, the district, and Tottenham, the football club, represent distinctly different worlds, and considering them side by side makes a couple of things clear. First, while Spurs supporters like to think of our team as being distinct from the true financial powerhouses of football, the Manchester Citys and the Barcelonas of the game, Tottenham Hotspur has a lot in common with those richest clubs. The Guardian article references an inconvenient truth: according to Deloitte, Spurs had the eleventh-highest revenues of the world’s football clubs, bringing in over £300 million last year. Yes, that’s only half what Manchester United made, but it’s enough to place Tottenham Hotspur among the world’s richest teams, and it means that Spurs are one of the most prosperous businesses in the Tottenham district.
Not only that, but while support for Spurs is presumably high among those living in Tottenham, much of the attention—and tourism—that the club has attracted over the past two decades has been from wealthier fans outside of the district, whether from elsewhere in Britain or overseas. This means that for all of the success on the pitch that we supporters love, the club must be careful to avoid exploiting or harming the Tottenham neighborhood.
The second fact made clear by the conflict over the stadium is the precarious position of the current Tottenham district. One year ago, The New York Times covered briefly the struggles facing the area. In essence, and this is a delicate issue, Tottenham has been resisting for some time the oppressive effects of poverty and racism, but new plans for urban renewal in the area—plans that feature Tottenham Hotspur prominently—are being derided by residents as gentrification, and they risk expelling and destroying foundational members and businesses in that community. Tottenham is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in London, and is home to a large black population, containing black Brits and African and Caribbean immigrants, as well as significant Arab and Latinx populations. It has certainly felt the effects of racism and poverty, but as always, those narratives of deprivation and desolation, which you can find easily if you like reading those stories, obscure the truth of a vibrant, thriving multicultural community (which, among other things, played a prominent role in the birth of grime music).
Enter Tottenham Hotspur and the urban renewal plan for the area. While the new stadium is distinct from the broader plan, the two have interacted to produce some troubling effects, most notably the eviction of several nearby businesses in an effort to build a new, more beautiful pathway from the tube stop to the stadium. Five years ago, Spurs were released from an agreement to build affordable housing and improve community infrastructure in the surrounding area, and since then, residents have complained that the club has taken priority over local businesses where planning decisions are concerned. This is troubling because the Tottenham community and its diverse history is another reason for Spurs supporters to be proud of our club, and more importantly, it is a place that deserves to be taken seriously and respected on its own terms. Sometimes that will clash with what is best for Tottenham Hotspur, but as a football club, they owe it to the surrounding area to take their concerns and their well-being seriously.
There are ways to do better, and Spurs are already pursuing some of these. The Tottenham Hotspur Foundation is doing meaningful work giving training to local residents and finding them jobs, and it is true that a new stadium might be better for business. What matters, though, is that the club approach the surrounding community as allies in a shared project, rather than adversaries, and this squabble over the cleanliness of the streets is not the first time that a conflict has sprung up between the interests of Tottenham, the football club, and Tottenham, the local community.
Spurs have been doing increasingly well on the pitch and reaping the financial rewards of that, particularly in the Premier League era, but it is clear that their new prosperity has not transferred into shared prosperity for the Tottenham district. As we seek to move into our new stadium and take pride in our results there, I hope that Daniel Levy and the club will find a way to balance their business considerations with their ethical responsibility to the broader community.
While Spurs calling their neighborhood dirty (for lack of a better word) is unsavory by itself, it also fits into a broader narrative of teams building expensive stadiums while ignoring or actively exploiting local communities, and that is a wrong that cannot be balanced by footballing success. We want Spurs to be a source of pride both on and off the pitch, and that means excelling in how we treat the community who host us.