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Evening Standard interview

Posted on 13 December 2002  - 12:00

Tottenham Hotspur (Spurs) Football Club is located in North London. The club is also known as Spurs. Tottenham's home ground is White Hart Lane. The club motto is Audere est Facere (To dare is to do).

Following an interview with our chairman Daniel Levy in today's Evening Standard regarding stadium issues, the Club is disappointed that a number of subsequent stories running in the media have concentrated purely on the subject of ground-sharing.

While the topic of the possibility of sharing a stadiam did arise in Daniel's interview, quotes from him on the subject have been taken out of context. As a result, we have featured the Evening Standard interview with the Chairman below, to allow supporters the opportunity to read the full story.

Levy: My fears for future at the Lane

Daniel Levy could hardly conceal his exasperation. In one breath, the Spurs chairman outlined with the passion of a youthful fan his vision for the White Hart Lane of the future; in the next, an old business head was on as he talked of the roadblocks that could mean the dream never materialises.

As he sat in the club's VIP lounge, admitting how his grand design was threatened by continued inaction over the transportation improvements and borough regeneration needed to transform it into reality, he felt this was the time to remind everyone that, after 104 years, there may have to be life beyond the Lane.

Levy's vision remains grand enough for a club which he believes has been unfairly criticised for lack of ambition. He pondered Sunday's visit of their all-conquering neighbours with the pained admission. "Look, I'm a Spurs fan," he said. "I'm disappointed we're not at the same level as Arsenal. They're years ahead of us at the moment but we're trying to catch up."

I had put it to him that the gap between the north London rivals - the dreamers panting behind the achievers - seems to keep growing. He neither bristled nor made an impassioned denial. Rather, he acknowledged how Spurs were learning from a blueprint forged down the Seven Sisters Road.

"Arsenal have success on the pitch, are going to move to a large stadium and have great first-team and academy training facilities," he shrugged. "Well, now those are the areas we are focusing on."

Within five to 10 years in a regenerated borough, he hopes, Spurs will field a team to challenge in Europe at one of the country's best stadiums, backed by state-of-the-art training and academy facilities at a planned 'Spurs Village' site in Abridge, Essex.

The revamped White Hart Lane would hold up to 50,000 and every fan could get to the game by train or car without a nightmare journey. Yet, somehow, the vision is painted with no great conviction.

Levy knows the board and fans would prefer to stay at Spurs' venerable home "all things being equal". But all things aren't equal.

Asked if he could envisage a smartened up Tottenham with new transport links, the prerequisite for any stadium redevelopment, he shrugged: "As I sit here today, I have very little confidence based on past performance.

"This area has gone downhill. There's been no central government intervention to stop the decline. I'm not confident, which is why we've decided we have to look at other options."
Hopefully, he says, his "pessimism" will be proved wrong.

That morning, he had heard the Greater London Authority and Transport for London would fund a feasibility study into whether the London Underground facilities at Northumberland Park could be converted into a proper Victoria Line tube station, thus providing the club for the first time with a stop just a few minutes walk from the ground.

Good news, yet he isn't holding his breath. There has been lots of encouraging talk like this before, but precious little progress. Spurs have the commitment but he isn't sure about the Government. If this station ever becomes reality, would it materialise in two years' time or 20?

"Without improved transport links, we can't move on. We can't sit here for ever and a day hoping it's going to happen," he said.

"We haven't set a time limit but if we find another suitable site, somewhere financially viable that the fans would be comfortable with, that would be a catalyst upon which we'd have to turn around and say we've had enough. Either there's going to be significant commitment or we're off. We haven't put a gun to anyone's head yet because we're not in that position - but we are at the point where we will explore other avenues."

The exploration begins now. He does not rule out any option, including finding a new stadium outside the borough or even a ground-share.

"We'd be open-minded about ground-sharing," he said. "We're not discussing it with anybody but clearly all clubs are going to have to manage themselves in a better way than before. If you can get more use out of your stadium, that makes a lot of sense."

What about the new Wembley Stadium? In the light of speculation that an anchor tenant might be sought to solve financial concerns surrounding the project, wouldn't Tottenham fit the bill?

"Clearly, the idea of utilising an existing stadium or one which has already been planned to be built obviously has some appeal," said Levy, accepting that he is prepared to look into the Wembley alternative.

Then there is the unthinkable. Is it completely unfeasible that, in football's current parlous financial state and with the costs of Arsenal's Ashburton Grove project seemingly spiralling horribly, Spurs could talk with the old enemy about ground-sharing?

After a pause and an understandably nervy laugh, Levy said: "There's no conversation taking place with Arsenal. We have no plans to ground-share with Arsenal or anyone else, but clearly if someone approached us and it was in the club's interests and the fans' interests, we're not dogmatic. We'd look at it."

He knows Spurs fans would not accept being housed at Arsenal's home. "But my view is that if it were a neutral venue, then it's something we would consider - it's something you'd have thought both clubs would at least consider. But on something as emotive as that, we would have to get a real feel from our fans as to whether that would be something they'd be prepared to accept."

Levy is adamant the supporters' voices will be heard. This weekend, they will be asked on the club's website about their views on a possible move from the Lane. A similar survey will be conducted in the Boxing Day match programme.

He knows how much 104 years counts for, but notes: "All the fans I've spoken to think that if we have the right location, the right facilities and it meant the club going forward, they would be very supportive of us moving."
Levy comes over as a pragmatist ready to cut through all the high emotion that seems bound to accompany the discussion over the future of their spiritual home. He makes no excuses for being just about the least visible chairman in the Premiership, insisting: "I'm not in it for glory. It's all about the club, not me."

He's not one for making a noise but, two years into ENIC's reign, has the confidence to quietly assert that, "the majority of fans would say this club has improved a lot on and off the pitch in that time".

Levy points to the club's financial stability - "very few clubs in the Premiership would have been able to secure the £75million bond we've just announced, which shows we're a strong club, a big club" - and talks enthusiastically about plans to convert the training complex at Spurs Lodge into the centre for one of Britain's biggest community sports facilities.

Yet he offers no short cuts to the patient, yet always seemingly impatient crew of his fellow fans who are forever waiting to be reacquainted with football's promised land.

Spurs' path to catching Arsenal, he accepts, could be littered with as many false starts as a journey through the traffic lights down the Tottenham High Road.

"It's going to be very difficult, a very challenging job which is going to require skill and patience. But I'm determined to succeed."