Tottenham stadium delays show fans are being treated as cash cows
It was one of football's worst kept secrets. For months now there have been rumours circulating that Tottenham's new stadium at White Hart Lane was running well behind schedule -- aerial photographs had suggested a ground that looked far from ready -- and that the chances of completing all the necessary safety checks (including several trial games at less than full capacity) before the home game against Liverpool on Sept. 15 was always going to be a long shot.
Now we have had official confirmation of the delays and both the Liverpool and Cardiff Premier league ties -- along with a lucrative NFL fixture between Oakland Raiders and Seattle Seahawks scheduled for Oct. 14 -- are to be played at Wembley instead.
Meanwhile, Tottenham appear to have had a slight case of amnesia over the Champions League. The first group-stage matchday takes place on Sept. 18-19, while matchdays two and three are in October and the fourth game is in early November. So Spurs are bound to play at least one, if not two, of their games at Wembley too. And if the club get a home draw, then their first Carabao Cup game will not be played at the new stadium either.
In the grander scheme of things, none of this matters too much. Large construction projects often over-run and the new £850 million stadium always appeared to be on a ludicrously tight schedule. A couple of months delay will long be forgotten in a few years' time.
And yet the whole saga leaves an unpleasant feeling in the mouths of most fans. Not least the season ticket holders, who feel they have been taken for a ride yet again by a club that puts profit before customer relations. Not for the first time the supporters feel like they have been treated as cash cows.
Think about it logically. Spurs must have known that the chances of the ground being ready in time for the opening of the current Premier League campaign were slim to none by the time they put on sale their season tickets at vastly inflated prices -- my own underwent a 50 percent increase from £1,000 to £1,500 to sit in exactly the same area of the ground -- and yet they pressed ahead regardless.
The supporters signed up and handed over their money in good faith. We took the club at its word and assumed it had pulled out all the stops to achieve the apparently impossible to deliver the project on time.
Then came the news in June that the first home game against Fulham this Saturday was to be switched to Wembley. Again, seemingly no big deal. Except the club acted like cheapskates. The honourable thing for Spurs to have done would have been to immediately offer a refund on the price of the Fulham game due to its failure to meet its promise to play the game at the new ground. Instead, it merely offered a credit note to those season ticket holders who purchased a second ticket to attend the rescheduled game at Wembley.
Belatedly Spurs appear to be trying to salvage a little good PR. After a deluge of complaints the club announced on Tuesday that full refunds will be on offer for the Liverpool and Cardiff games. But that still might not be enough to reclaim the goodwill of many supporters.
Only last week -- at a time when the club must have known how seriously late the stadium project was going to be -- it invited season ticket holders to sign up to the autopay cup ticket scheme at the new ground. For matches which it knew were going to be played at Wembley. This feels dangerously close to sharp practice.
And this could still only be the thin end of the wedge. The Liverpool, Cardiff and NFL fixtures are only the latest ones to be confirmed as rescheduled at Wembley. There's always the distinct possibility that more could soon follow.
Newspaper reports alleged that Spurs have signed an agreement with the owners of Wembley allowing them to play all their home fixtures at the national stadium up until the New Year. If that happens, it's a half-season of broken promises to supporters who had been sold the expensive promise of watching football in the new state-of-the-art stadium.
And what if it doesn't end there? What if there's extreme bad weather in November and December that further delays the completion? Might we then be looking at February or March before the first competitive game at the new White Hart Lane?
As so often with Spurs, it's the lack of transparency along with the financial disingenuity towards supporters that is so damaging. And it could have serious knock-on consequences. When a club is perceived to be acting in less than good faith, then everything is viewed through a prism of mistrust. Can anyone now truly take Spurs at its word that the problems with the stadium had nothing to do with its failure to make any signings to strengthen the squad during the domestic transfer window? I don't think so.
Everything the club does or says will understandably be now met with scepticism -- if not outright suspicion -- in the coming months. Already there are rumours that both Danny Rose and Christian Eriksen might be sold abroad before the end of the European transfer window at the end of August.
If they go, many supporters will find it hard to forgive the Spurs board. It's one thing not to strengthen the squad. It's quite another to severely weaken it.
Tottenham should understand they are skating on thin ice with the supporters. Patience is running out. If Spurs want to be considered a big club, then it's time they behaved like one.