Tottenham Hotspur will have to spend a season away from White Hart Lane. The club confirmed as much on Tuesday, ending years of speculation about whether they could play in their venerable old home while their new stadium is being built or if they would have to find a new place for a season.
It's unfortunate that Spurs will have to leave for a year, but it was, in a lot of ways, unavoidable. The first stadium plan would have seen them build three-quarters of the new stadium, move into it and play a season in the partially completed stadium, and then have a fully completed new building after White Hart Lane was torn down, but that idea hasn't been tossed about in years. The club rarely brought it up and, as the new stadium was delayed further, it became clear that Spurs' priority would be to build the venue as quickly as possible, which meant a year away from home.
And that brings us to the next question: where will Spurs play in 2017-18 (or whatever the season is before they finally move into their new ground)?
These appear to be the most likely options:
The Olympic Stadium
There was a time when the Olympic Stadium was a very real -- and frightening -- candidate to be Spurs' new, permanent home. Daniel Levy was bidding against West Ham for a lease to the stadium, which would have seen Tottenham leave North London for East London. As you can imagine, few Spurs supporters were happy with this plan.
Eventually, Levy backed off of the Olympic Stadium and West Ham won a 99-year lease to the venue, which they will move into for the 2016-17 season. By then, it will have seen the lower bowl reconfigured from its current track and field setup to one more conducive to football and its capacity will be reduced to 54,000.
All in all, the Olympic Stadium would make for a pretty ideal home for Tottenham. It's not in North London, but the only option there is the Emirates so we're going to ignore than on principle. The Olympic Stadium is relatively close, it's in London, it is modern and it will do just fine.
Of course, there is the West Ham problem. Spurs would have to agree to a rent deal with West Ham and the London Legacy Development Corporation. While that can certainly be done, there is no way the Hammers let Tottenham rent the ground on the cheap -- not to mention concession and sponsorship split, as well as everything else that goes along with a stadium deal -- and it is unclear whether the financials of the Olympic Stadium will work out for Spurs as a result.
Wembley offers Spurs roughly the same proximity advantages of the Olympic Stadium. Again, it's not North London, but North London is off of the table. Wembley, like the Olympic Stadium, is also a modern ground with every amenity that Spurs could want.
Of course, Wembley also also presents Spurs with the same issue as the Olympic Stadium: money. Renting out Wembley is hardly cheap, and the FA has sold a lot of long-term packages to people and corporations, guaranteeing them tickets to every event at the venue, or at least first chance to buy tickets. How would Spurs reconcile that and would it make sense financially? Toss in that the stadium has a pitch disliked by almost every player, there are a lot of events to schedule around and that it holds 90,000 people, meaning Tottenham would be looking at swaths of empty seats, and there are a lot of downsides to Wembley.
But a stadium in London that they won't have to share with any other Premier League team? There is a lot of value in that, albeit value that doesn't show up on the bottom line.
The home of MK Dons is being expanded for the Rugby World Cup and, by this summer, will hold 32,000 fans. That seems low, but it is only roughly 4,000 fewer seats than White Hart Lane. It will also be much cheaper to rent out than pretty much any other option Spurs have, which will certainly please Levy.
But Milton Keynes is not in North London. It is not even in London, period. It is 50 miles away from White Hart Lane, which makes it both inaccessible for many Tottenham fans, but expensive as well. Whether by car or train, Spurs supporters would be looking at paying a pretty penny to spend at least an hour commuting to a match, each way. And if that sounds bad on a Saturday afternoon, imagine doing so midweek. Spurs probably wouldn't have to worry about losing 4,000 seats from their capacity because they would be hard-pressed to fill 32,000 week in, week out.
As much of a non-starter as Stadium mk sounds from a location and accessibility standpoint, it still has the most important thing going for it: cost. It will be cheap and Levy loves cheap.
Seemingly the longest of long shots, Twickenham does have its fair share of open dates and is in relatively accessible West London, but it is a large stadium (82,000) that will not come cheap and is owned by the Rugby Football Union, who have no vested interest in helping out football, let alone a football club.
The most likely scenario
Ideally, Spurs would be able to play at the Olympic Stadium or Wembley at a reasonable price. That would allow them to be decently close to North London in a modern stadium that befits a Premier League club. But that may not happen, and it's tough to see Twickenham working. Any other London ground is unlikely -- the Emirates and Stamford Bridge are off the board, while Craven Cottage, Selhurst Park and Loftus Road are too small without enough earning potential to justify the headache -- which means Stadium mk is it.
As horrible as that sounds, Stadium mk makes the most sense, considering the costs and Spurs' chairman, but there would be a way that makes it a little better. Tottenham could split home grounds for the season, playing their fair share of matches at Stadium mk, but hosting London derbies or matches against fellow top seven clubs at the Olympic Stadium or Wembley. Those matches will likely draw enough to justify the costs, and allow for a more accessible home, at least some of the time.
Playing away from White Hart Lane is going to be terrible, even if only for a reason. But Spurs are not in a position to compete with the top five right now -- just look at the wage bills -- and a new stadium goes a long way to rectifying that. In the long-term, Tottenham are doing the right thing, even if it will make for a season from hell. But maybe they'll finish top four that season as a reward for the supporters' inconvenience? We can hope.