Spurs, West Ham; agree to leave stadiums behind

It's unthinkable.  It's just not something you can contemplate.  It's madness.  Or is it time to for the fans of Tottenham and West Ham to re-think a few basic principles?  Read this by Greg Theoharis.

In the first line of his mammoth biography of the nation’s capital, Peter Ackroyd writes, ‘the image of London as a human body is striking and singular’. The contention that through its winding, uneven streets and blinking nocturnal lightshows, London by its very being is a living entity greater than the sum of its varied and conflicting parts.  This is a school of thinking that many writers, artists, musicians and psycho-geographers have sought to explore with seemingly regular occurrence over recent years. Apparently, the faces may come and go but the unique grubbiness that makes up Camden Town will nevertheless remain the same, as will the clipped tones and salmon-pink sweaters of the denizens of Sloane Square.

It’s with this rationale that the former Tottenham captain, Graham Roberts brushed aside talk this week of any potential move by the North London club to the Olympic Stadium (as part of a ground-sharing deal with West Ham after 2012) labelling it ‘ridiculous’.

Speaking on talkSPORT, Roberts was adamant that the club ‘can’t move from Tottenham. They have to stay in North London, for the supporters’ sake as much as anything.’ In the same interview, he also hinted at potential weekly outbreaks of violence that may ensue amongst Hammers and Spurs fans should the ground-share go ahead.

It would be ludicrous to suggest, as a fan, that leaving a stadium is not one of the most saddening events that one could experience. Of course it is. And to take a club away from its natural heartland in which generation upon generation have gone to see the heroes of yesteryear dash and fulfill the dreams of many is of course, cold and callous but let’s be honest, probably downright sensible. Because let’s be clear, before this article descends into an impromptu advertisement for Hovis, stadiums like White Hart Lane and Goodison Park are simply not sustainable in terms of demand and locality at this juncture in the game’s history. Hence the fact that Spurs, Everton and Liverpool are so desperate to move to pastures new. This desire to expand is not unique to the bigger clubs. Nor is it unique in life. Many clubs have in recent years moved to bigger stadiums on what many might term the outskirts of their natural base, in order to make congestion easier to manage and offer fans better and more acceptable amenities than were hitherto begrudgingly accepted at grounds in the past. The argument of course is that these places lack atmosphere and identity but the empty seats at the Riverside or the DW Stadium are more about the inflated expectations of the ownership rather than a reflection of the fans that do attend.

Moving was and is a good idea. That does not mean stadiums need to outnumber the traditional fan base of a club. Nor do they have to be subject to unimaginative and anonymous architectural designs, or PA systems drowning out any semblance of uniqueness, by churning out inane outbursts of faux-jollity whenever a goal is scored. These factors have been far more detrimental to holding onto a club’s identity - more so than any move has been as far as I can tell.

The act of relocation is to be expected in most walks of life. If your needs outweigh your current place of residence or employment, you simply move house or change jobs according to your budget, qualifications and means of social advancement. This is evident when seeing the influx of parked cars around the streets of Edmonton on the way to White Hart Lane on match days.

Having grown up in the area, I remember walking to matches with other fans and that there was always an available parking spot outside my mum’s house after she’d get back from shopping on a Saturday afternoon. This is no longer the case, much to her continued chagrin but this is symptomatic of the fact that the average Spurs fan simply has moved to the suburbs of Essex and Hertfordshire over the course of the last 40 years or so. In much the same way, the average West Ham fan is no more a real Cockney than a trip to Blackpool pier is the honeymoon destination of choice these days. The ethnic make-up of the streets and houses around both clubs is more diverse and visually arresting than what can actually be seen within the stadiums during a match. But regardless, there is something wholly Tottenham-esque about the atmosphere within White Hart Lane when the chants and hymns are sung, in much the same way that Upton Park is irrepressibly West Ham. Is it really about the stadium or is a club’s identity made up by its fans, Essex-born or otherwise? The San Siro is clearly blue and black when Inter play at home. As it is red and black when AC are there. Both are undeniably Milanese.

It’s not as if both clubs are proposing leaving London altogether like Wimbledon did. Their identities would remain as oppositional as before and by moving both clubs to a more open space thus eliminating any form of violent clash with the benefit of policing and CCTV, to a stadium with a better transportation infrastructure and with far more modern facilities, the promise of the Olympic bid to re-generate the area might actually be fulfilled.

What that in turn would go to show is that the image of London as a diverse, multicultural and forward-thinking hubbub of commerce and culture is very much a marriage of ideals and identities. Besides, West Ham and Spurs fans will always have one thing in common: they all hate Arsenal equally. There are just some things you cannot change.

If you would like to read more from Greg, please visit his excellent blog Dispatches from a football sofa.

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