It is tra­di­tion, in­fused with a sense of his­tory, com­mu­nity spirit and a tribal fan base, that maketh a club and league

New Straits Times - - Opinion - The writer is an in­de­pen­dent Lon­don-based economist and writer

ONE hun­dred and eigh­teen years is a long time! So, when Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur ran out onto the hal­lowed turf of White Hart Lane last Sun­day for the very last time in their match against Manch­ester United, there was a gen­uine sense of an end of his­tory.

Next year, the North Lon­don­ers, who fin­ished sec­ond in the English Premier League this sea­son, will be at “home” at Wem­b­ley Sta­dium for a year or two as the club builds a state-of-the art 62,000-seat sta­dium, lit­er­ally a stone’s throw away from the ex­ist­ing one.

It’s a far cry from 1899, when Spurs signed an agree­ment with Char­ring­tons to play on land be­hind the White Hart Pub, play­ing their first match against Notts County on Sept 4.

The gate was a mere 5,000 spec­ta­tors, who paid the princely sum of £115 in gate re­ceipts.

Six years later, Spurs bought the lease to the land, and the rest is his­tory. Short of in­dul­gence down mem­ory lane, Spurs had its share of glory nights of which the pin­na­cle was in the 1960-61 sea­son, when the great team led by Danny Blanch­flower be­came the first English team in the last cen­tury to win the “dou­ble” — the league and the FA Cup.

I had the priv­i­lege of watch­ing the dou­ble team when they toured South Africa in 1963, hav­ing just won the old English First Di­vi­sion and the Euro­pean Cup Win­ners’ Cup.

The Lil­ly­whites (Tot­ten­ham’s so­bri­quet) crushed the local Na­tional Foot­ball League (NFL) XI 5-2 in Cape Town.

I was a mere 12-year-old, and al­though mem­o­ries are a bit hazy, I still have a vi­sion of John White ghost­ing past the likes of Tiger Lance in de­fence (Lance, of course, went on to be­come a no­table South African Test crick­eter) in the match at Hart­ley­vale.

But, my loy­alty to the Spurs had al­ready per­vaded my sinews fol­low­ing that great dou­ble feat two years ear­lier.

In that era of the early 1960s, with the Bea­tles beck­on­ing, Tot­ten­ham was one of the out­stand­ing sides in Europe, in­clud­ing the likes of Real Madrid, Ein­trach Frankfurt, In­ter Mi­lan, Ben­fica and Man United.

Con­trast this with to­day, where the beau­ti­ful game seems to have been usurped by pri­vate eq­uity pur­vey­ors, hedge funds, oli­garchs, oil rich sheikhs, Chi­nese and Thai ty­coons, and where the gate­keep­ers of the game — the govern­ing bod­ies — are per­ceived to be in col­lu­sion with own­ers, thus fos­ter­ing a cul­ture of cor­rup­tion, self-en­rich­ment as if oper­at­ing in a vac­uum of de­nial as high­lighted by the erst­while ten­ure of Sepp Blat­ter at Fifa.

De­spite the fact that foot­ball clubs are some of the most highly lever­aged “busi­nesses” where own­ers’ funds are oft treated as sub­si­dies in cre­ative ac­count­ing as op­posed to an on bal­ance sheet item — which if they were treated in the lat­ter way, would fail to­day’s sol­vency test — the game to­day is marked by un­sus­tain­able wage struc­tures and out­ra­geous agent’s fees.

The few rich clubs that can af­ford this hubris have un­wit­tingly spawned the emer­gence of a twotier de­vel­op­ment of the beau­ti­ful game, like Foot­ball Apartheid, gov­erned and in­sti­tu­tion­alised by the size of the bank bal­ance of own­ers, where the or­di­nary fan has long lost in­flu­ence.

Just look at the in­creas­ing in­ci­dence of fan protests against club own­ers.

This is set­ting a bad prece­dent for foot­ball in emerg­ing coun­tries. Cash-rich Chi­nese clubs are pay­ing a king’s ran­som to play­ers well past their best or near­ing the end of their ca­reers in the Euro­pean game, as if they could fast track the trans­for­ma­tion and qual­ity of the game and their leagues.

A stroll down Tot­ten­ham’s mem­ory lane will show it is tra­di­tion, in­fused with a sense of his­tory, com­mu­nity spirit and a tribal fan base, that maketh a club and league. Per­haps, in another 118 years time, fans then would look back in anger at the state of the game to­day.

They will find that it has been tem­pered with loads of money and ex­treme com­mer­cial­ism, but the clubs with true tra­di­tion and his­tory — Real Madrid, Barcelona, Man United, Spurs, Ar­se­nal, Liver­pool, Bay­ern, In­ter Mi­lan, AC Mi­lan and Ju­ven­tus — thank­fully still dom­i­nated.

Whether those sup­ported by new money, Man City, Chelsea, PSG, will pre­vail and earn their own his­tory only time will tell.

Tra­di­tion and his­tory are no guar­an­tees to sus­tain­abil­ity. His­tory bears tes­ti­mony to a fair share of great clubs that have fallen by the way­side — Ajax, Ben­fica, Red Star Bel­grade, Leeds United, Borus­sia Monchenglad­bach, Ein­tra­cht, to name a few.

Fifa and the English Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion (FA), the two in­flu­en­tial govern­ing bod­ies, must set the gov­er­nance roadmap for the game for the next cen­tury.

The di­chotomy in the at­ti­tude of the two in re­cent cases re­flects that foot­ball gov­er­nance is ei­ther “work in progress” or sub­ject to lip ser­vice.

The abrupt sack­ing last week of Cor­nel Bor­bély and Han­sJoachim Eck­ert from Fifa’s Ethics Com­mit­tee, de­spite that they had “hun­dreds of cases” on­go­ing in the cor­rup­tion scan­dal linked to the Blat­ter era, crit­ics say will in­ca­pac­i­tate such over­sight.

In con­trast, the FA in May agreed on a set of “strong” re­forms in re­sponse to a House of Com­mons Ethics Com­mit­tee en­quiry in early 2017 into FA gov­er­nance of foot­ball.

The re­forms are aimed at making foot­ball lead­er­ship more in­clu­sive and rep­re­sen­ta­tive, and en­sur­ing “greater in­de­pen­dence and di­ver­sity into the FA’s de­ci­sion making struc­tures”.

But, when it comes to foot­ball agents, the two ap­pear to close ranks. Take Paul Pogba’s world record £89.3 mil­lion (RM502 mil­lion) trans­fer to Man United from Ju­ven­tus last year.

The agent who han­dled the trans­fer, Mino Raiola, is al­leged to have earned £41 mil­lion from the deal. How this sits with Fifa’s rules on agents is a mys­tery. Pogba is in his sec­ond spell at Old Traf­ford, hav­ing left the club for Ju­ven­tus for £1.5 mil­lion in 2012.

While Fifa con­firmed that it would in­ves­ti­gate the deal, the FA thinks it’s none of its busi­ness and a mat­ter for the club and its own­ers. Raiola, not sur­pris­ingly, is re­puted to be one of the most in­flu­en­tial peo­ple in the game!


Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur ran out onto the hal­lowed turf of White Hart Lane last Sun­day for the very last time in their match against Manch­ester United.

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