By Tony Attwood
On 8 July Untold ran a little piece about Tottenham and Chelsea and their plans for a new stadium, mentioning that there had been quite a bit of talk about Tottenham going to Wembley for a season. The thought was raised in that piece, that this could be an issue if Tottenham got to the FA Cup semi-final that season and so had the pleasure of playing on neutral territory at home.
Following up on the story on 18 July the Independent published a piece in which they stated that “The Premier League will block any attempt by Tottenham to use Wembley and Milton Keynes while White Hart Lane is being redeveloped. They would also prevent Chelsea using Wembley during the three years it will take Stamford Bridge to be turned into what the Premier League champions are calling “a cathedral of football” if any fixtures are shifted from the stadium.”
Both Chelsea and Tottenham have the problem of wanting to re-develop their grounds rather than move to a new ground. And for several years Tottenham spoke about the notion of playing one season on a three sided ground, (as Arsenal did when the north bank was made all seater) but it seems that this idea has been abandoned. There has been mention that the health and safety logistics have made that idea impossible.
Tottenham first announced the current round of new stadium plans in 2008, but the first plans were withdrawn and a second set (which ultimately became the current plans) originated in 2010. So we’ve been with the problem for quite a while – and still it seems there is no resolution.
Richard Scudamore, The Premier League’s executive chairman, said that any idea of a move to Wembley would be vetoed by the League, and that the most logical place for the Totts to play the 2017-18 season was at the Emirates Stadium. Which is only logical if you take emotion out of the equation, not to mention such issues as Tottenham playing in a stadium bedecked with the details of Arsenal’s FA Cup and League titles, red and white, and overall Arsenalisation.
Most visiting supporters behave perfectly decently when going to an away match, but occasionally there are a few who do misbehave, and the temptation to doing something naughty in the Emirates during an entire season, for a very silly minority, might be too much for them to cope with.
It is true of course that Arsenal and Tottenham have shared grounds twice – once in the first world war (Highbury) and once during the second world war (WHL), and the clubs even looked at the idea of building a joint stadium at Alexander Palace in the last century. But in both wars one of the clubs had no choice but to move, and in wartime all attitudes change. The notion of doing such a ground share now feels to me to be impossible.
In a meeting between the board of Tottenham H. and the Tottenham Supporters Trust in April this year, Tottenham said they fancied Stadium MK. That stadium in Milton Keynes has a capacity of 22,000 but has been built with the chance of extending the upper tiers to give it 32,000. It is a good, modern stadium, and one built with the hope that the local club will grow in future.
Scudamore’s objection to a Wembley and MK share was slightly odd, it seems to me. He said Tottenham, “would have to play in a single stadium for an entire year for the integrity of the competition. You cannot have 19 home games with 10 at Milton Keynes and nine at Wembley. That is completely, completely unfair. That will not be allowed in our competition.
“They know the rules and what we require. They have to provide a stadium. We can’t have a fettered fixture list. Clubs have to be able to deliver 19 home games in the slots that are required. So, if they share with a rugby league club, we cannot be fettered as to when they can play.
“They have to work it out with Wembley or wherever they want to play, and decide if they could deliver that level of commitment to us.”
I am not at all sure why this is so much of a problem – but I suppose with the number of games moved to meet the rapacious demands of TV, it might be that a ground wasn’t available at some time. But if that were the case, surely Tottenham could give up its TV money for a season.
Wembley’s problem is that it already has a number of matches booked for each year – such as the aforementioned cup semi-finals, and the NFL games. And like all venues it is licensed for a set number of events a year. Councils are very reluctant to allow extensions for such matters because of the problem of “event creep”. A few more games this year, and that is the reason for allowing a few more next year.
But then Arsenal’s ground has the same licensing arrangements based around 19 league home games, up to four FA Cup home games, up to six European home games, and up to four league cup home games. Plus the very occasional women’s game and youth cup game.
Even if Wembley were to become viable there would be a problem because both Chelsea and Tottenham are looking at the prospect. Although they might not both want it for the same season, Brent Council, and the League both know that if they give in to one, they’ll have to give in to the other.
The other possibility is the Olympic Stadium. The problem there is that at any other time in their history WHU would have loved to have another source of income. But having been given the Olympic Stadium for a pittance, with a rent so low it is laughable, they have no need of money, and no desire to help their local rivals at a time when they are attempting to play catch up. Even before they were asked, they said no. Besides which huge enmity arose when Tottenham tried its own bid for the Olympic Stadium. WHU were said to be rather upset at that one.
Scudamore however is a simple soul. He said, “Premier League fixtures are paired so Liverpool and Everton, Tottenham and Arsenal and Manchester United and Manchester City do not play at home on the same weekend. So it is perfectly possible to have two teams playing in one stadium.”
According to the Independent, a poll conducted by the Tottenham Supporters Trust, moving all their home games to Wembley while the ground in Tottenham High Road is rebuilt, was the choice of the fans. 40 per cent of season ticket holders said they would only renew their season tickets if Wembley were the sole venue.
It is a little strange that such matters are still up for grabs with a building project that has been debated in detail for seven years. In the end they may be forced to find a way to play in a three sided stadium, for one season, as Arsenal did. It wasn’t fun – but I guess in the end we got used to it.
Woolwich Arsenal: The club that changed football – Arsenal’s early years
Making the Arsenal – how the modern Arsenal was born in 1910