Premier League: The truth behind Tottenham's move to Wembley

Adam Powley looks at the circumstances behind Spurs' temporary move to the national stadium and how it's the natural solution to a complicated problem.

Premier League: The truth behind Tottenham's move to Wembley

In the early 1980s, Wembley was something of a second home for Tottenham Hotspur. In an 18-month period between May 1981 and August 1983, Spurs played at the national stadium seven times, thanks to a succession of cup finals, replays, and Charity Shield games.

Now, the new Wembley will become even more familiar for the North Londoners, after an agreement was reached for Spurs to play their Champions League matches at Wembley for the 2016-17 season, with an option to play all their home league and cup games there the following campaign.

The switch has been prompted by the construction of Tottenham’s new stadium at White Hart Lane. Work is well advanced, but capacity for the coming season at the existing stadium will be reduced to accommodate building work. As a result Spurs were faced with having to play CL games in front of crowds pegged to as little as 28,000. By playing at Wembley, the club can cater for much larger crowds before the new ground is ready.

The news will come as a relief to those supporters who feared the club would choose Stadium mk in Milton Keynes as their temporary home. While the Wembley deal has not pleased everyone among the fanbase, it at least means Spurs will not be playing outside of London.

Martin Cloake, co-chair of the Tottenham Hotspur Supporters Trust (THST) told Yahoo Sport that while there were ‘mixed feelings’ about Wembley hosting Champions League games, the venue provided a pragmatic alternative: “Most fans would have loved to see White Hart Lane off in style with Champions League glory nights at our own stadium, but the fact is we can’t play our games at White Hart Lane. That’s down to UEFA regulations on access, media rights and safety, as well as the fact that reduced capacity inside the ground means that even ensuring over 21,000 season ticket holders could watch games would be a challenge. So Wembley is the obvious alternative. I’m sure if we could play at White Hart Lane the club wouldn’t want to pay to rent somewhere else.

Wembley is a venue we’ve campaigned in favour of using for our ground share, and the news that we’ll be able to play our home games there while we’re away is a welcome victory. It keeps Spurs in London, and it gives more fans the chance to se the team live. It’s something fans have consistently backed in surveys, and lobbied the FA for, and we’re glad the club, the FA and Wembley have listened to the fans.”

In research conducted by THST, over 80% of fans backed the Wembley option. Reaction on social media to confirmation of the move was mixed. While many fans highlighted the practicality of switching to Wembley, others expressed disappointment, citing travel difficulties and the ‘emotional cost’ of not playing games at White Hart Lane.

THST will be working with the club to try and allay those concerns. “Access and atmosphere are the two areas we’re focusing on,” says Cloake. “We’re talking to the club about pricing for the CL games. We want them to continue the successful policy of pricing cup games accessibly that they’ve implemented for the past two seasons. Maximising bums on seats is going to be important and pricing is key to that. We’ll also be looking at dedicated areas for fans that want to be a bit more noisy and visual with their support, so that like-minded fans are able to group together.

“We’ll also look at those issues for the games during our season away. We’ve said we don’t want any fan to pay more for watching Spurs at Wembley than they would at White Hart Lane. Again, if we want to fill the stadium, pricing is important. We’ll also be feeding back reaction to the club’s view that, because Wembley was the fans’ preferred choice, there will be no amnesty for season ticket holders that don’t want to renew at Wembley.

“We want to ensure that as broad a range of fans, so that’s season ticket holders, members, more casual fans and fans who haven’t had the chance to go to a live game before, get a chance to see the team.”

Many of the details of the deal are yet to be confirmed. Some reports suggest Spurs will have to pay £26m to the FA for the privilege of playing at Wembley. “If the £26m figure… is right, that’s over 10 times what West Ham are paying for an entire season at the Olympic Stadium,” says Cloake, “even before some of the costs the taxpayer is footing at the Olympic Stadium are deducted.”

Wembley will host Tottenham's home Champions League fixtures next season as the Premier League club redevelop White Hart Lane.
Wembley will host Tottenham's home Champions League fixtures next season as the Premier League club redevelop White Hart Lane.

Whatever the true figure, the Spurs deal looks like being a positive one for the governing body. FA chief executive Martin Glenn cited the obvious financial benefits, saying: “The increased revenue will help us meet our targets for improving coaching and grassroots facilities and growing participation.”

It will also be good news for the FA’s balance sheet in paying off the debt incurred by the original £757m needed to build the stadium. That burden was eased by a re-financing package in October last year, on top of job cuts, but any additional revenue will be greeted with open arms at FA HQ.

For Tottenham’s owners Enic, the deal solves a number of potential problems. In a statement, Chairman Daniel Levy said: “our season ticket waiting list is over 50,000 so this now also offers us a great opportunity to provide more of our supporters with a chance to see the team play live during our CL campaign. Importantly, as we know it was our fans’ preference, it means that we can play our home matches in London during our season away.”

That claim of a 50,000 waiting list has been treated with some scepticism by supporters, but Wembley will certainly enable more fans to attend games than at the existing White Hart Lane, with its capacity of around 32,000 for next season. The various covenants agreed with the local Brent council that determine how many games and events Wembley can host and to what capacity means Premier League games for the 2017-18 season will probably be limited to 50,800, but it is believed there are options for allowing the full 90,000 capacity in special circumstances - a major Champions League knockout tie, for example.

That of course, will be dependent on Spurs maintaining the progress of Mauricio Pochettino’s side. The new White Hart Lane - its official title to be determined, subject to the signing of lucrative naming rights - is viewed by Enic as fundamental to that progress, eventually providing the revenue that will make Spurs competitive with the Premier League ‘Big Five’.

Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino.
Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino.

The new stadium has been an ambitious project 15 years in the making, but has been beset with difficulties and delays. At one stage Levy made serious attempts to secure a move to the Olympic Stadium in East London.

That option was closed off when a long-term tenancy at the arena was given in highly controversial and bitterly contested circumstances to West Ham United, but the possibility of Spurs being uprooted from their 134-year home in Tottenham angered many fans at the time and led to a vocal ‘Say No To Stratford’ campaign.

Supporter doubts have lingered as long as the immediate future of where Spurs would play their games has been uncertain. With the threat of Milton Keynes lifted, the general consensus appears to be that Wembley is the best option, if not an ideal one. The wisdom of actually playing at the national stadium in terms of results is less clear.

There is a precedent. Tottenham’s deadly rivals Arsenal played six CL matches over two seasons in 1998 and 1999, winning only two of them and losing three. Those results have been in the minds of critics of Tottenham’s decision to play at Wembley, in the belief that opponents raise their game when playing on such a prestigious stage.

Spurs will of course be looking for better fortunes. The club takes great pride in its European record, and will hope the temporary Wembley setting will prove more positive than what has turned out to be Tottenham’s last ever European game at the ‘old’ White Hart Lane, a 2-1 Europe League defeat to Borussia Dortmund.

For Wembley meanwhile, Tottenham’s arrival increases activity at the stadium. With more NFL games to come, it means the ‘hallowed turf’ will be busier than ever.

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