Inside Tottenham's Civil War: Why the club and its largest fans' group are at each other's throats

·5 min read
Daniel Levy - REUTERS
Daniel Levy - REUTERS

On the same day that the grey cloud above the heads of Newcastle United supporters was lifted, the relationship between Tottenham Hotspur’s largest fans' group and the club’s board hit an all-time low.

The Newcastle fans who had witnessed two relegations from the Premier League and the effect of years of neglect under Mike Ashley had probably wondered what all the fuss was about when reading about dissatisfaction among the Spurs supporters, who were in Madrid for a Champions League final only a couple of years ago.

But the Toon Army might just feel a little more sympathetic when they officially toast the end of the Ashley era on Sunday with the visit of Tottenham to St James’ Park.

As Newcastle fans prepared for the announcement of their Saudi Arabia takeover last week, chairman Daniel Levy and the Tottenham board turned down a request to meet with the club’s Supporters’ Trust over concerns shared by thousands of fans following two years of decay since that night in Madrid.

The Trust has a membership of around 25,000 and while it does not represent the feeling of all fans, many of whom are still grateful to Levy for the transformation the club has undergone off the pitch with the training ground and stadium, it is the largest group of Spurs supporters.

A total of 8,358 fans responded to a Trust survey that was carried out during the summer in which 75 per cent said they felt the running of the club had declined over the past year, with only five per cent confident in the long-term strategy of Enic, the company that owns Spurs.

Tottenham fans held up a banner protesting against Daniel Levy earlier this month - GETTY IMAGES
Tottenham fans held up a banner protesting against Daniel Levy earlier this month - GETTY IMAGES

The Trust passed the findings of the survey to the club, but have never heard anything back on it and, in the words of co-chairs, Katrina Law and Martin Cloake, last week’s refusal to meet represented a pulling up of the drawbridge by Levy and the Tottenham board.

There was the hint of an olive branch extended towards the Trust on Friday afternoon, when Tottenham issued a statement to be shared with the group’s members, recognising the relationship between them was “strained” and underlining a desire to work together.

The Trust is planning to talk with members of the Spurs board next week, but there is a lot of work to be done before the relationship is repaired.

“This has to be the worst the relationship has ever been, simply because there has been no direct line of communication at board level between the club and the Trust,” said Law.

The breakdown in the relationship between Tottenham and its biggest and most active supporter group can be traced back to the club’s involvement in the European Super League plot, which prompted a call for Levy and the executive board to resign.

Having sought assurances on a number of occasions that Spurs would not be part of any European breakaway without consulting supporters, the Trust felt the basis on which they had conducted conversations with the club had been undermined.

“How could we convince our members that what we were being told in those meetings was genuine?,” said Cloake. “The call for the executive board to resign was never personal. But we felt that those responsible should be accountable for their actions. With the punishments being discussed, including points deductions, a European ban and heavy fine, we also felt it would be the best way to try to mitigate some of the impact felt by the club.”

One of the questions the Trust wanted to ask in the meeting Tottenham last week declined was who paid the £3.6 million fine the club incurred for their part in the Super League plot. Did it come out of club funds or has it been covered by owner Joe Lewis or Levy himself? So far, nobody knows.

There have been accusations that the latest request to meet was a knee-jerk reaction to three straight defeats, but performances on the pitch have rarely been at the top of the Trust’s agenda.

“The two biggest subjects that our members have approached us on, probably in the history of the Trust, was the furlough scheme and the European Super League. These are the two issues we had more letters and emails on than anything else,” said Cloake.

Law added: “They are also two of the main issues that have represented how important fan engagement is because the reaction to both resulted in the club’s decision to furlough staff and the ESL being reversed.”

Some of the questions the Trust this week made public do touch on the football side of the business, but the majority, such as a request for an update on the naming rights for the not-so-new stadium, date back much further than a North London derby defeat or a Harry Kane transfer saga.

The Trust turned down the opportunity to meet Levy and the Spurs board in the immediate aftermath of the ESL debacle, refusing to agree to the suggested terms that all talks should be kept private from their members and instead offering the club the opportunity to provide a written statement to a meeting of their members, which the board declined.

There was a meeting in May over attempting to find a constructive path forward after which Levy told supporters: “It has never been because we don’t care about or respect you, our fans – nothing could be further from the truth.”

But in-house interviews, such as the one released with managing director of football Fabio Paratici the day before it was revealed Tottenham had rejected the chance to meet the Trust, have replaced real engagement and Newcastle fans know better than most what it feels like to be cut off.

“The board always like to say they do everything in the best interests of the club,” said Law. “Well, the Trust really does try to work in the best interests of both the fans and the club.”

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