NORMAN GILLER is impressed with Tottenham’s stadium plans. But has anyone checked all the exits?
As Tottenham prepare to take their 116-year-old White Hart Lane ground into the 21st Century with a space-age stadium, there are some short-sighted Spurs supporters worried the club is selling its soul.
Protesters accuse Daniel Levy, their club’s chairman, of being more interested in taking the American dollar than concentrating solely on cementing Tottenham as a major force in the Premier League.
This is because the proposed 61,000-capacity stadium is being built with American football as well as soccer on the agenda. There will be a retractable pitch that rolls back to reveal a second playing field, a synthetic surface that will stage two NFL games a season over a 10-year contract.
The gridiron football will be run as a totally separate operation to the traditional soccer, as the ground becomes a cash cow rather than standing idle for six days a week. There will be rock concerts and festival gatherings, with the plan to make the £400 million stadium pay for itself.
Negotiations for naming rights are already under way, but – regardless of what they come up with – long-time Spurs supporters are determined to continue calling the ground White Hart Lane.
Tottenham and Arsenal were sharing the ground when I entered this mortal coil – gulp – 75 years ago. Highbury was being used as an Air Raid Precautions centre, and for many years an Arsenal plaque hung on the boardroom wall thanking Spurs for their six years of hospitality.
All that goodwill has been lost in the bitter rivalry of recent years, and Spurs fans cannot wait for a home that overshadows the Emirates.
I have seen the plans drawn up by the architects Populous – who designed the Emirates and London’s Olympic Stadium – and to my eyes they are mind-blowing. There is a sophisticated Kop-style, single-tiered stand at one end that will seat 17,000 spectators soaring into the sky, and facilities are also included for the 60-plus players who crowd into American football locker rooms.
There will be two state-of-the-art television studios, an after-match conference room, and press box desks for 100 reporters, all with wifi and replay TV screens.
Seeing models and drawings is one thing, but it is going to take more than a wave of a magic wand to get it all up and running. White Hart Lane and the surrounding district is going to become a giant building site as Tottenham goes through a huge phase of regeneration, with shops, houses, a leisure park and a hotel being built at the same time as the ground is completely remodelled.
The big question waiting to be answered is where Spurs pitch their tent while waiting for the work to be completed, with the start of the 2018-2019 season as the ambitious target for the first match at the new Lane.
Ideally, Tottenham want to play at Wembley, but Chelsea – planning to rebuild Stamford Bridge – appear to be in the driving seat to use the national stadium for their home games.
Surely the commonsense thing would be for Chelsea and Spurs to play at Wembley on alternate weekends, but it has been a long time since football and commonsense appeared in the same sentence.
The alternative for Tottenham is playing at the MK Dons’ ground in Milton Keynes, which will be a huge inconvenience for most Spurs fans.
Watching it all on his satellite television from his monster yacht moored in the Bahamas will be zillionaire Joe Lewis, Daniel Levy’s Godfather, who is galloping towards his 80s and is surely wondering whether he should hand over the baton of responsibility for what is a huge undertaking.
He and Levy, main shareholders of Spurs owners ENIC under the umbrella of the mega-rich Tavistock Group, are famous for their negotiating skills. Once the building work is complete they will – because of the NFL link – have an operation certain to appeal to major players in the States.
Levy earned an honours degree in economics and land economy at Cambridge and has a brain the size of Mars, while Lewis is one of the few men in the world who can sign personal cheques as large as those from Roman Abramovich.
He was born around the corner to me in the East End and I used to go to his Hanover Grand nightclub in the 1970s when he was known as the Money Magnet. Joe boy is one of the most successful businessmen ever, and has an art collection worth more than 10 Premier League clubs put together.
But does he have the appetite to see the White Hart Lane project through?
That’s the story I would be trying to sniff out if I was still on my old football reporting beat.
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