Tottenham Hotspur icon Gary Mabbutt last night entered the increasingly bitter Olympic stadium debate by warning the north London club will struggle to play Champions' League football if they do not move to a bigger ground.
On Friday, Spurs and West Ham submitted final offers to the Olympic Park Legacy Company for taking over the stadium after next year's Games. The OPLC are due to announce their preferred bidder at the end of the week, with both clubs adamant they have the better case. "It's a hugely emotive issue but we are talking about Tottenham trying to compete with the best," said the ex-Spurs captain Mabbutt. "For us to maintain any possibility of being a top-four team year-in, year-out, we have to move to a bigger stadium."
Hundreds of fans protested last week against the club abandoning their roots. Mabbutt, who played 482 times for Spurs during 16 years at the club, said the team simply had to play in front of a bigger audience.
"The question is still where do we move to, when and at what cost? Everything being equal the club will develop where we are. But we only get 36,000 fans. United get 72,000, Arsenal get around 60,000. To compete with all that, we have to move."
Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy has urged the club's fans to understand the motives for moving, assuring them they would have one of the finest venues in Europe. In an open letter on the Tottenham website, Levy explained why the Olympic venue is becoming a more viable option than turning White Hart Lane into a 56,000-seater as part of the Northumberland Development Project.
The Olympic Stadium, he said, would be designed along the same lines as a rebuilt White Hart Lane. Levy was at pains to identify a string of benefits and non-football activities, stressing how much easier it would be to get to Stratford by public transport compared to White Hart Lane.
Whether Levy's remarks will wash with Spurs fans remains to be seen. Although he detailed exactly why the athletics track would have to be removed to give fans a proper match-day experience, nothing he wrote was new in the sense of appeasing those fundamentally opposed to a move.
Mabbutt added: "We see other teams getting double the revenue every time they play at home. For us to push for the Champions' League every year, which is the ambition, everyone would agree we have to get to a bigger stadium."