Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Supporters of great Clubs like Tottenham Hotspur are stakeholders with rights. The Club directors need to acknowledge this better.

Sports have a wide variety of stakeholders at the international, national and the Club level. A statement of the obvious, perhaps, but how many at the top of sporting bodies really care about those of us at the bottom of the food chain? That's us, by the way, the poor bloody spectators.

Take FIFA (actually please DO take FIFA and incinerate it). How much do you imagine Sepp Blatter and his bunch of crooks think about you and me? Maybe collectively as ticket purchasers or consumers of their sponsors' products. But as individuals who have a stake in their sport? Nah!

Or take two Clubs of which I am a member - both in North London but separated by a bit more than the difference between Westminster and Haringey. The Marylebone Cricket Club (M.C.C.) and Tottenham Hotspur Football Club (the mighty "Spurs").
Spurs have home crowds of around 36,000 and MCC about 8,000 less on a big day. If you have a season ticket at Spurs or are a member at Lord's there will be around 20-21 thousand of you who are unequivocally "stakeholders" in the Clubs. And yet, when it comes to the crunch, what role or rights do we have. For years now I have been an activist trying to get some sense in the strategic management of MCC, of which I am a member. See this for example. At Spurs I have been less active and yet the same deficiencies of process are there. Above all there is a lack of respect shown by those in charge for supporters and members like me.

The Tottenham Hotspur Supporters’ Trust (THST) is, as they describe it,  “a formal, democratic, non-profit organisation run by fans for fans.” It’s purpose  is “…to help fans to join together and strengthen their influence over the way their club is run, and to improve the links between their club and the community it serves.” It is well-structured and well-managed but it is clear that it feels that the Club, with whom it meets quite regularly, regards it with suspicion. This has led to an unwillingness on the part of Chairman Daniel Levy and his Board to be open with the Trust – holding their cards very close to their chests at all times.

The key current issue (away from the playing side) is to do with the new Stadium. The construction of a new Ground virtually on the same site as the present one is an ambitious project and one that has dominated much of the day-to-day life of the Tottenham directors for years. On the face of it they have done a good job, not least the clever acquisition of land and property around the current ground. When this was going on it is not unreasonable to argue that secrecy and confidentiality was essential. But now that this phase is over why does the secrecy go on?

Let’s look at the key variables of the new stadium;

Planning permission: This is pretty much assured. THFC is already the single largest employer in the London Borough of Haringey and plays an active part in the community. The new Stadium will adds jobs and is massively net positive financially to the Borough. The Mayor of London Boris Johnson has also been supportive. There is no reason why the Club should not be open with the THST  and the fans on planning matters.

Financing and Ownership: The £400m required to build the new stadium is serious money and, as we know, capital projects in sport have a tendency to have heavy cost overruns. Remember Wembley! Along with this there is a need to be open about the sources of funds. When there were hints that the State of Qatar might be involved I'm sure that I was not the only Spurs fan horrified by the idea. Qatar and football is a toxic mix and the last thing that  Spurs need is these particular Sheikhs involved in N17. This is a matter that the Club must discuss with the THST. They haven't, and supporters are in the dark about what is going on. Who owns our club matters to us and we have a right to be involved.

Where do we play during construction? During the 2017/2018 season home matches will have to be played away from N17 as the construction of the new stadium progresses. There is quite a wide range of options including Upton Park, the Olympic Stadium, Twickenham, Wembley – even a ground share deal with Arsenal at Emirates (I quite like this idea but tend not to mention it when with fellow Spurs fans. Or Arsenal ones for that matter!). There is also the possibility of using the MK Dons ground in Milton Keynes which is 55 miles from London!  None of these options is ideal or in some cases even possible it seems. The point is that on this matter the club should be having open discussions with fans, ideally via the THST. Tottenham fans are loyal and no doubt if we have to we will trek to Milton Keynes. But is this really the best option? Let’s discuss the alternatives. Maybe some of us might have a bright idea or two?

Tottenham Hotspur is a great club and the concerns of fans like me is not intended to be disruptive or petty. But we are stakeholders and we do pay with our ticket purchases and our membership a lot for the privilege of supporting the Spurs. We deserve more than secrecy and shadow-boxing, more than partial and skewed information, more than being patted on the head and told all will be well.

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