Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Say NO! to Stratford

My dad took me to my first Spurs game in the 1970s -- against Arsenal at White Hart Lane. I’ve been crazy about them ever since.

There have been some rough years, of course, but I knew I’d made the right choice early on when the other kids at school would try to persuade me to support the local team, West Ham. But following Spurs runs in the family so there was no chance of that.

For a while, White Hart Lane was my second home. I even had my own favorite spot in the Shelf. I was there when we were still competing for four trophies at Easter and when Tony Parks saved the decisive penalty to win the UEFA Cup.

Since moving to the US in the early ‘90s, I have followed every result and try to keep up with all the news. I still get to White Hart Lane when visiting family, though the occasions are limited.

Just two years ago I sat in the East Stand on a cold, rainy Sunday. It was Harry Redknapp’s first game in charge. At that time we were bottom of the Premier League.

Today Spurs are at their healthiest position since the Premier League began. In the knock out stages of the Champions League and challenging for the title, the team’s progress over the past 2 years has been startling.

But football today is big business and the world is its window. In financial terms we are not in the same league as Manchester United, Chelsea, and Arsenal.

White Hart Lane is ridiculously hard to get to, but it can create an atmosphere like few other grounds. Anyone who was present when Spurs demolished European Champions Inter Milan last November will testify to that. European nights at the Lane are magical.

But with a capacity of just 36,000, Spurs will struggle to attract the sort of sponsorship or generate the revenue needed to compete for new fans globally. A bigger stadium is essential.

Their original plan was to build a new stadium next to the current one though it now looks as if moving to the Olympic Stadium site in east London might be their preferred--and not their not back-up--choice.

Certainly the case to move to Stratford makes economic sense: Great transport links to the whole of Europe, close proximity to the City and Canary Wharf, a brand new leisure and recreation area, and a reported £200 million saving in construction costs.

So what’s all the fuss about? After all, American sports teams relocate all the time. And Stratford is just 5 miles across London. Yes. And no.

It may be just a short distance across the city, but a move to east London would represent an even greater distance in terms of culture and history. It would rip the soul and identity out of the club. Spurs are synonymous with north London, not east.

One thing that separates sporting teams in Britain from those in the US is that in Britain teams have a long legacy and their names are rooted in the communities they are from.

Years before I arrived in Minnesota there was a team called the Lakers, who now play in Los Angeles. Minnesota is known as the Land of 10,000 Lakes. I bet there are not too many lakes in LA.

There’s also the Utah Jazz, who came from New Orleans. Jazz in Utah? Right.

A Spurs team playing in Stratford would not be the team I grew up with.

Tottenham Hotspur. The name says it all: Tottenham, London N17; Hotspur: Sir Henry Percy (nicknamed Harry Hotspur), a land owner in nearby Northumberland Park.

I get it that Spurs might be looking at the global market but moving onto West Ham’s patch (and let’s not forget Leyton Orient too) would create so much antagonism I wonder whether it’s worth it.

Spurs fans sing a song suggesting that Arsenal go back to South London from whence they came. And that was 90 years ago! Spurs have been in north London since 1882. To do what Arsenal did and then leave them as the sole Premier League club in north London would be hard to accept. And Spurs fans would never hear the last of it.

And could they even retain the “Tottenham” part of their name if based in Stratford?

Of course, as events play out the club may build the new stadium next to the old one; that’s certainly my hope. But I wish they'd received more help from the government in upgrading transport links, and from the local council with planning permission. Perhaps then I wouldn't be writing these words. And Spurs wouldn't be looking to move.

You can't put a price on history and tradition - Spurs belong in north London.

Stratford Hotspur? No, thank you!