It has been a difficult period for Tottenham Hotspur and the tough times have manifested as extraordinary supporter dissatisfaction, most of it directed squarely at the club’s ownership. While “ENIC Out” sentiments have waxed and waned many times over the past 20 years since Joe Lewis purchased the club and installed Daniel Levy as chairman, the latest round of anger from Spurs fans has felt larger and more focused than any time in recent memory.
Spurs have a world-class manager in Antonio Conte, but is underperforming its level of talent on the pitch, and does not seem to have a coherent plan for the future. While the club now regularly participates in European competition and ranks as one of the ten most valuable clubs in world football, it still has not won a trophy since 2008, or the league since 1961. That has, unsurprisingly, made a lot of Tottenham Hotspur fans very mad.
The Tottenham Hotspur Supporters’ Trust is one of the few formally recognized fan organizations — THST leadership regularly meets with Spurs officials every year and have the opportunity to ask questions, sometimes pointed ones, related to the fan experience. They are one of the few ways that fan concerns can be brought to the attention of the club in a coordinated way.
Recently, noting the dissatisfaction among a significant swath of Spurs supporters and THST members, the club asked some difficult questions of the club, specifically relating to finances, on-pitch performance, and club philosophy.
The club responded, at times defending itself against what it feels are mischaracterizations of its positions, and the reality of financial support of the team.
Below are the questions asked of the club by the THST, as well as excerpted answers. The full text of the club’s response can be read at the THST’s website, and I’d encourage everyone to read them.
1. Will the Club share its medium and long-term strategy for success, both on and off the pitch? How is the Club measuring progress and how does it judge current outcomes against those measurements?
In the last 20 years the Club has qualified for European competition 17 times – 13 of which are currently successive - including six Champions League campaigns. We set out our business model in last year’s Financial Results announcement and below is the relevant section:
“Foundations in place – Since ENIC became the majority shareholder in 2001 we have had a clear three-step strategy. Firstly, we worked to improve football performance and, whilst no one club has a right to a smooth, continuous, upward trajectory, we have seen the club rise from middle to bottom-of-the-table finishes to being in European competition in 15 out of the last 16 seasons.
Secondly, we built a state-of-the-art training centre to attract, train and retain the best talent, both for the Academy and the First Team. We have gone on to do far more than that with the delivery of our award-winning player accommodation, ‘The Lodge’, which has been instrumental in providing exceptional rest and recovery facilities for players and, during COVID-19 times….
Thirdly, we set out to deliver an increased capacity stadium that would not only generate greater matchday revenues, but also the opportunity for more fans to attend games. Our Club could not remain competitive with one of the smallest stadiums in the Premier League.
Going forward, therefore, our strategy is clear - to drive and generate revenues to invest in all of our football activities. Football success, in turn, supports the growth of our Club, our fanbase and consequently wider, commercial opportunities and partnerships, which then deliver further revenue to reinvest in football - the virtuous, sustainable circle on which our Club model is based.
Completing the stadium was always a key step in our strategy of increasing and diversifying recurring revenues to fund our football activities. The COVID-19 pandemic saw a two year disruption and a loss of circa £200m, but we are now back on the planned journey of growth. We have seen the return of football, third party events and visitor attractions income. Growing our revenues is essential for the Club to continue to have the ability to invest in players.
We want to be consistently qualifying for the Champions League and challenging for and winning major honours. Returning to the Champions League this season was important – although we acknowledge the number of teams competing for those four places. We are working hard to build a strong, deep squad with a winning mentality.
2. The manager employed by the Club has not signed a new contract and tells us that we should lower our expectations about on-field outcomes. He has said publicly that the Club needs to spend big money every window just to compete. How does this align with the Board’s philosophy for achieving success?
Like everyone at the Club, our Head Coach wants the team to compete for top honours. The Club has invested heavily in the squad. This is a continual process with the aim of standing the Club in good stead on the pitch for years to come. Since opening the stadium in April 2019 we have spent more than £500m putting us in the top quartile of spending in the Premier League - and we have made significant investments in the Women’s team too. In addition to the summer investment of over £200m we have committed to a further £47m spend this January.
Despite this we consistently see references to our perceived lack of backing for head coaches and lack of spending. It’s important that we deal with facts - our spend levels quite clearly show that we have backed our football side. There is always a fine line between long-term investment and short-termism – which is why our recruitment has to be first class.
3. Are you satisfied with player recruitment in recent transfer windows and with the performance of the youth teams and the development and supply of younger players through to the first team? Are there any plans to improve this?
We are excited by the young talents we have at the academy. We have always ensured a clear pathway for youth to progress to the First Team, along with a development system that includes strategic loans. In respect of new young players, Jude Soonsup-Bell is a great addition to our U21s.
4. Does the Club have a plan for further investment to ensure that the Club remains competitive on the pitch in the face of substantial additional investment by other Premier League clubs? Is the Club closer to securing a naming rights provider? Is there a plan for further investment from ENIC, or from other potential investors or buyers?
In response to the latter part of this question: all our conversations with third parties are confidential. With specific reference to naming rights, we are clear that any deal has to be right for the Club, notwithstanding we currently have our own name proudly on the stadium receiving global recognition.
Financial sustainability has been fundamental to how we have run this Club. Our aim has always been to combine the financial stability of the Club with remaining competitive on the pitch.
The ENIC investment was timely and critical as we emerged from the pandemic and sought to stay competitive on the pitch. We are ever-conscious of the new capital injected into other clubs which has seen player transfer spending increase significantly.
We should be mindful, however, of the implications of the changes to the governance of the game which will compel greater sustainability and financial fair play (FFP). Major changes have been introduced in Europe around FFP regulations, including the newly launched UEFA financial sustainability rules, the full impact of which will be felt from season 2025/26. They are based on three pillars: solvency, stability and cost control and clubs will have three seasons to adjust to them. Many expect that these new rules will be a game changer for the sport. We should also allow for the possibility of even tighter regulations.
There’s a lot to unpack here. First, I should note that when the THST first released its list of questions to the Spurs board, my initial reaction was that it felt a bit beyond the scope of what a fan’s trust should be addressing. A supporters’ trust should absolutely hold a club’s feet to the fire with regards to issues that directly relate to the matchday experience — ticket prices, transportation issues, match safety, TV scheduling, supporter representation, impact on the area around the stadium, etc. are all important issues and having an organization that exists to convey supporter concerns in these areas to the club is reasonable and appropriate.
Likewise, the club is absolutely not infallible, nor should it be immune from criticism or tough questions about how the club is run. There is plenty of reason to be critical of what has happened behind the scenes at Spurs over the past number of years, and Daniel Levy along with the rest of the Spurs brass should be held accountable for their action or inaction.
That said, all fans want to win football matches, and it would be foolish to think that the club does not also have the same goal. My initial reaction to the questions submitted by the THST was that this came off as a list of grievances, asked more as a form of protest and with the foreknowledge that the club would likely respond only in the vaguest of ways. I understood why the THST asked the questions, but I felt as though they were the wrong questions to ask. Questions that are essentially “why aren’t we winning trophies and spending money like Chelsea” doesn’t feel like an appropriate thing to ask because they are impossible to adequately answer.
Even so, I feel as though the club answered fairly and in many ways appropriately. The club specifically hit back on claims that the first team has not been backed financially, assertions that are unquestionably false. (The better question would have been to ask what went wrong with the failed transfers over the past few years and how the club will be addressing it internally to ensure that money is spent wisely going forward). It correctly pointed out the sustained and steady improvement over the past decade and the new stadium, which will be an important source of revenue (and transfer funds) now and into the future.
With regards to the club strategy, in a way that is being addressed as well — the club recently released a video of Managing Director of Football Fabio Paratici discussing the just-ended January transfer window, and although the video itself was rather anodyne, it’s a rare example of someone other than Antonio Conte actually addressing Spurs supporters.
Unfortunately, the dissatisfaction directed towards Levy and the Spurs administrators are such that no matter how the club responded it is likely not going to appease those who are unhappy with the current direction of the club. Those who are “ENIC in” will probably be, if not satisfied, at least understanding of the clubs’ position, and those who are “ENIC out” will never be happy no matter how the club responds.
Feel free to put your reactions in the comments, and discuss in a respectful manner.