The day after Tottenham Hotspur reversed course on its original plan to deal with the coronavirus financial crisis by furloughing non-player staff, more details have come out with additional insight into the club’s decision-making process. It turns out, supporters shaming their football club into doing the right thing can actually be an effective vector for change.
According to the Athletic (£), Spurs players were upset at the club’s decision to furlough non-player staff at 80% of their usual wages, covered by the UK government, and made their feelings known about their dissatisfaction. But what really moved the needle were the overwhelmingly negative reactions from Spurs fans, who took to social media and made sure their voices were heard.
The players were a factor — with Harry Kane and Hugo Lloris outlining the squad’s disappointment at the original decision to the club’s hierarchy — but fundamentally Monday’s announcement was based on the vehement reaction of the club’s supporters. According to one dressing-room source: “The players helped where they could but weren’t the deciding factor. The club listened to their fans and reacted.”
Levy is said to have been “taken aback” by the ferocity of the fans’ response, with the condemnation from the wider football community and society in general also surprising him.
— Charlie Eccleshare, The Athletic
If you’re a Spurs fan that’s anywhere near social media, then you probably are already aware of how fans would flood the club’s posts on Twitter and Instagram with replies of “Pay the staff.” Spurs quickly became the face of all clubs who were considering using the UK government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, especially after Liverpool were the first club to change their minds after fan backlash. Spurs were one of the first to announce their furloughs and took much longer to change their minds, making of themselves, according to the article, “pantomime villains.”
This came as a complete surprise to Daniel Levy, who assumed that most if not all clubs would be using the CJRS.
Levy had not seen this coming. For a start, he anticipated most Premier League clubs following suit — many more might well have done were it not for the reaction to Tottenham doing so, and some probably still will further down the line. It’s already the case that Newcastle United and Norwich City have said that they will use the government’s furlough programme, as did Liverpool and Bournemouth before reversing those decisions. Second, since many larger, richer corporations with more staff were using the government’s furlough scheme, Levy did not anticipate such a backlash.
What seemed to be the tipping point was the vehement response by the Tottenham Hotspur Supporters Trust, who pointedly asked the club for clarification on why it made this decision and implored Spurs to “listen to your fans.” Levy then engaged in conversations with the rest of the Spurs board and upper hierarchy to figure out how the budget shortfall could be made up in other ways — in the club’s statement announcing the reversal, it was noted that Levy and the board will all take substantial and temporary cuts in pay. It’s assumed that this will take care of at least part of the savings that the furloughs would’ve generated.
Levy’s decision to not utilize the CJRS does not change the fact that a sizable percentage of their staff are furloughed, but at least those workers will receive 100% of their pay during the shutdown, with the club covering all of the costs itself.
Spurs remain nervous about the uncertain financial picture that the COVID-19 crisis provides, and continue to insist that all decisions are under review. There’s some hope that clarity will be forthcoming as time passes, especially with regards to whether or not the Premier League season will be allowed to finish. What appears clear however is that this is an unusual U-turn from a chairman who rarely second guesses himself and his decisions, and that the club in the end did listen to its fans.