From fanfare to acrimony: Four years on from White Hart Lane goodbye, where did it go so wrong for Spurs?

·4-min read
 (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
(POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

The high-water mark of Tottenham fans’ relationship with the club under their ENIC ownership will always be the farewell to White Hart Lane.

On May 14, 2017, fans, the team and club literally came together on the pitch after a win over Manchester United had ensured Spurs went the entire season unbeaten at the famous old ground.

When supporters eventually returned to their seats, a procession of club legends walked out under a rainbow to the accompaniment of a brass band. It was a pitch-perfect send-off for the stadium and, mingled with the nostalgia, was an enormous sense of pride and optimism for the club going forward.

A large part of that feeling was down to manager Mauricio Pochettino and his brilliant, relatable team, but there was also warmth towards the ownership, stemming from a sense that everyone at the club was building towards success in the right way, without the backing of a foreign state or billionaire.

Four years later, the mood after last night’s 2-1 defeat to Aston Villa at the new stadium could scarcely have been more contrasting.

The players were booed off by the 10,000 returning supporters and a number of fans remained in their seats long after the final whistle, as the atmosphere turned increasingly fractious.

The supporters seemed to be expecting a lap of appreciation from the entire squad, after only a handful of players — Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Heung-min Son, Gareth Bale and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg — had stayed out to applaud them at full-time.

The full squad eventually re-emerged some 40 minutes later, but in the meantime supporters vented their frustrations at chairman Daniel Levy and the price of match tickets — £60.

What was supposed to be an evening of unity and celebration — and had started off that way — turned into a night of recriminations, underlining how broken the relationship between fans and club, and fans and the team, has become.

POOL/AFP via Getty Images
POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Levy and the rest of the board now face an enormous challenge to restore the constituent parts of the club to a state of harmony.

The chairman’s choice of a new manager will be key, but even more important in the short-term will be the club’s handling of Kane’s desire to leave this summer, which has left Levy in a bind.

In purely business terms, accepting transformative money for a player who is 28 in July and with a history of injuries might make sense for the club but, as a symbol, Kane is priceless to Spurs — or at least worth more than anyone could possibly offer.

Significantly, the supporters do not blame Kane for his desire to leave (who could after last night’s performance?), and in the context of the current anger at his chairmanship, Levy may find it difficult to continue running Tottenham with the majority of supporters onside if he sells the club’s talisman.

Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty I
Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty I

None of the frustration was directed at Kane last night, even after his determination to get a move in the summer exploded into the public domain on Monday. His name received by far the biggest roar pre-match and was sung as he trudged around the pitch at full-time, looking emotional and applauding each corner of the ground from a distance.

It felt like a goodbye, and Kane would like it to have been his final home game for the club, although with three years on his contract he may ultimately have no choice in the matter.

Instead of chants calling for Kane to stay, there were calls for Levy to go, as the pent-up frustration turned on the chairman.

There is little doubt now that Levy is facing the hardest and most pivotal summer of his 20-year tenure, with all the club’s problems — both on and off the pitch — having come to a head at the same time.

The board are aware of supporter sentiment and Levy has admitted to errors of judgment, while insisting his decisions were never down to a lack of respect for fans. “Nothing could be further from the truth,” the chairman wrote in his end-of-season programme notes.

Spurs are also pushing ahead with plans to establish a club advisory panel of elected supporters, the chair of which will sit on the board as a full non-executive. It is a small, positive step, but alone that move will not heal the wounds which have opened up over the past four years.

Serious questions need to be asked about how and why such a breakdown in relationships and trust was allowed to happen.

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