Most of the conversation between the end of the World Cup and the beginning of the new season in North East London surrounded Tottenham Hotspur’s lack of activity in the transfer window. After seeing their club become the first in the Premier League since the introduction of the window in 2003 to eschew summer recruitment, fears over the enduring quality of their team’s squad were somewhat allayed by an opening day win at Newcastle. This week a whole new set of problems fell on the desk of Daniel Levy, as it emerged that the work on Spurs’ brand new, 62,000 seater stadium would not be complete in time to host their second home fixture of the season, and the club would be forced to extend their stay at Wembley Stadium. Beyond the obvious logistical shitshow that this latest hitch presents Tottenham’s chairman, what are the likely knock on effects of Spurs’ nomadic start to the season – and how long might it take them to bed in once they finally make the move?
“We are in an historic period for the Club and there is a growing sense of excitement. There will, however, be many challenges in the coming months as we near the latter stages of the construction of the new stadium and its opening.” Daniel Levy was clearly feeling very pleased with himself as Tottenham Hotspur published their financial accounts for the 2016/17 season back in April, posting a club record £306m in revenue for the season, owing largely to the club’s short-lived involvement in the Champions League. Given they were back at Europe’s top table last season, even going as far as to bother the knockout stages, there’s a fair chance that come next Spring the club will be posting similarly impressive figures. Unfortunately there’s a 62,000 seater white elephant in the room, as news broke this week that the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium (and we hope for all that is sacred that’s just a placeholder name), due to open at the beginning of the 2018/19 season before construction work overran, won’t be fit for purpose to host their meeting with Liverpool on the 15th September as scheduled. ‘Issues with critical safety systems’ were cited in the club’s official communication, meaning that it will likely be late October before the North London club make their bow at their new home. The rescheduling of fixtures is the least of Levy’s worries, as the cost of the redevelopment begins to eat away at the club’s coffers, hitting the investments magnate where it hurts most. Initial costs for the construction of the new stadium on the site of White Hart Lane were estimated at around £400m, though with the addition of a sports centre, luxury flats and education establishments, Levy and Tottenham were quoted £850m. It’s understood the price has now soared past the £1bn mark – coincidentally Levy’s net worth – without taking into account the £15m Spurs paid the FA to decamp to Wembley for their home games last season.
Levy of course is a sensible businessman, who will have drawn up a financial forecast with the possibility of costs escalating in mind. After all, he needn’t search too far for a comparable case of a Premier League team moving into a much larger stadium, and the fiscal responsibility required to keep the club on an even keel. Arsenal left their home at Highbury at the end of the 2005/06 season to move into Ashburton Grove, a stadium that had taken almost two and a half years to build at a cost of £350m. At the time Arsenal were perennial title challengers, and the move to their near 60,000 capacity stadium was well overdue, but in a footballing sense that show of ambition didn’t come cheap. The benefits of a larger stadium became clear immediately as, after their first season at the Emirates, matchday revenue had more than doubled compared to their last season at the 38,000 seater Highbury, but single origin espresso and authentic sashimi doesn’t pay for bricks and mortar, and the operational cost to Arsenal soon became restrictive. The club spent just £13.5m on new players in the 2006/07 season and, while Chelsea, Manchester United and, latterly, Manchester City were splashing the cash season in season out, Arsene Wenger had to suffice with a modest budget. Over the course of the following eleven seasons the Gunners breached £50m on just five occasions, meanwhile supporters watched as the likes of Thierry Henry, Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri, Emmanuel Adebayor, and Robin van Persie were poached by the spendthrifts of the Premier League and Europe without being adequately replaced. Finally, after a decade of book-balancing, Arsenal reached a point of financial equilibrium that didn’t rely on the sales of their most prized assets – though by then the first team squad was a shadow of the side that contested the final season at their former stomping ground.
Let this be a warning to Spurs fans who might be expecting their side to continue challenging for the title over the course of the next decade. Levy has already shown his willingness to compromise improvement of the team in order to cover costs elsewhere, and the likelihood of Tottenham flexing their financial muscle over the next couple of seasons seems slim, unless of course they can get a good price for their saleable assets – with Paris Saint Germain sniffing around Christian Eriksen, the locals have a right to be worried.
Other clubs have found themselves in far more fortunate circumstances when it comes to moving home, with Leicester City bailed out by Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha after the King Power owner purchased the stadium upon his takeover of the club, relieving the pressure on a club that had slipped into receivership under Milan Mandaric, while the £32m spent by Southampton on the St Mary’s Stadium is a drop in the ocean compared to Tottenham and Arsenal’s outlay – though Saints were placed into administration less than a decade after breaking ground, before being saved by Swiss businessman Markus Liebherr. Manchester City and West Ham United have avoided those overbearing repayments by taking up residency at publicy funded stadia. The City of Manchester Stadium, built for the 2002 Commonwealth Games, welcomed the blue half of Manchester in 2003, as City returned to the Premier League. Since then, the club has agreed a deal with Manchester City Council whereby they pay £2m a year in order to sell the naming rights to the stadium – Etihad Airways currently pays £150m for the privilege. West Ham, meanwhile, completed their controversial move to the Olympic Stadium in Stratford ahead of the 2015/16 season, where they’re charged just £2.5m per season.
It’s not just the future of the club’s finances that will be a cause of worry for Tottenham supporters. As anyone who’s ever moved into a new home will testify, bedding in takes time. Once the stress and strain of actually dealing with letting agents and arsehole landlords is over and done with, you’re still left charging round your new abode at midnight screaming “where’s that fucking whisk?” One of the strange statistical quirks of recent ground movers is the upturn in form that a sentimental goodbye can produce. In Tottenham’s last season at White Hart Lane, they produced an incredible run of home results that saw them finish the year with an 89% win rate. Naturally, maintaining a record of Played 19 Won 17 was always going to be difficult to beat, though the drop to 68% last season, even taking into account the so-called ‘Wembley Curse’, would have disappointed Mauricio Pochettino. Other clubs, too, have seen a major dip in home form during their first season in a new stadium, as Arsenal bid farewell to Highbury by sealing a Champions League spot with a 74% win percentage, before tasting victory in 63% of games at the Emirates the following season. Southampton and West Ham curiously posted the exact same win percentages the years before and after moving ground. At The Dell in 2000/01 and Upton Park in 2015/16, the respective sides finished in the top half with a 58% win rate at home, before battling relegation in their respective following seasons with a ratio of just 37%. At the other end of the spectrum, Manchester City and Leicester City had almost polar opposite experiences – the Sky Blues promoted in their final season at Maine Road, while the Foxes left Filbert Street following Premier League relegation.
For now, Spurs will have to make do with returning to Wembley in the short-term, though we’ll have to see how much of an effect it has on their home form. What’s certain is that Tottenham supporters are now beginning to see the long-term cost of their club showing ambition in an attempt to cement themselves as one of the country’s elite clubs. Just spare a thought for Daniel Levy’s Financial Advisor.