It can often feel like speaking out against football clubs is pointless, but the last couple of weeks have shown that sometimes, they do listen…
There are some announcements in the history of football that shocked the world. Bolts from the blue, with no warning, tipping everything on its head and making us think that all we knew before was wrong.
February 22 1991: Kenny Dalglish’s resignation from Liverpool, for example. May 18 1997: Eric Cantona’s departure from Manchester United. And perhaps we can now add April 12 2020: the day Daniel Levy backed down.
Tottenham’s announcement on Monday that they had changed their mind about utilising the government’s coronavirus job retention scheme, which would have involved furloughing a large number of their non-playing staff and reclaiming 80% of their salary, up to £2,500 a month, was as welcome as it is unexpected.
Levy is notorious for his stubbornness, whether that’s in transfer negotiations or in the construction of their new stadium: some clubs reportedly are reluctant if not entirely unwilling to engage the club such are his tough stances, and if you talked to people involved in the development of the new White Hart Lane they would speak of a “keen attention to detail” from their client, as their eyes told you they lived in fear of their phone ringing again.
All of which is not necessarily a criticism. One man’s infuriating stubbornness is another’s admirable single-mindedness. Sometimes Levy’s decisions have not proved advantageous, but everyone gets things wrong sometimes, and let’s not forget that this is the man who turned a profit on Mido.
But it did generally lead to the conclusion that Tottenham’s mind was made up, that they would be taking advantage of the scheme no matter what and absolutely no amount of protesting and anger would sway them.
And there was plenty of protesting and anger. It was a pretty strange for more or less every voice to be making the same point, that it was immoral to collect funds that in spirit were designed to help small businesses avoid extinction, not for football clubs who in the normal course of things merrily brag about how much money they’re making.
Even when Liverpool caved to the pressure/listened to reason (delete as applicable), you didn’t exactly have any faith that Tottenham would come around too. As for Newcastle…well, if Tottenham’s welcome u-turn was unlikely, Mike Ashley doing the right thing is in the realms of Jesus taking a stroll on the Sea of Galilee. Miracles do sometimes happen, but not when it comes to the owner of Sports Direct growing a conscience.
We’ve become used to the voice of the fans not being heard much these days, not just at Tottenham but up and down football. Clubs have supporter liaisons, but more often than not the desires of the match-going fan are ignored in favour of whatever makes more money: even things that are ostensibly for the fans are frequently either PR moves or simply initiatives designed to encourage us to give football even more of our cash.
This time though – this time was different. This time, they did listen, like Liverpool before them. Perhaps they don’t deserve much praise for belatedly doing the right thing, and perhaps they came to this conclusion because they reasoned it wasn’t worth the bad PR. But at this stage, with things as they are, it surely doesn’t matter too much what their motivation was, only the outcome. The important thing is that they listened, and for that they do deserve credit.
Of course it wasn’t just the weight of opinion from the general populous that swayed Spurs, but it was also partly thanks to great efforts by the Tottenham Hotspur Supporters’ Trust, who carefully put pressure on the club, leaving the screaming and shouting to the rest of us while setting out well-considered and practical solutions.
‘This is the first step, but a big step, in restoring relations between fans and the Club,’ said THST in a statement on Monday. And that’s the real hope: that this sort of thing isn’t just confined to these – as every opening line to an email you’ve received in the last few weeks says – strange times. The hope is that we all emerge from this recognising that we can all do things better, we can all listen, we can all do the right thing.
It’s pretty easy to feel helpless in modern football. Modern society even, and now more than ever. But these last couple of weeks have at least shown us that fans do sometimes have a voice. If your club has done something wrong, tell them. These last couple of weeks have shown that sometimes, it works. It’s a little bit of hope, and we probably all need that right now.
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