When Tottenham Hotspur were in the process of visiting over 300 stadiums to survey possibilities and elements for their stunning new ground, chairman Daniel Levy would often accompany architect Chris Lee, until the latter just had to stop.
“Daniel is one of the most demanding clients I have ever had,” Lee, the managing director of Populous, said on Tuesday’s media day ahead of the grand opening. “Certainly, he is a perfectionist and it was a challenge trying to get perfection. I quickly stopped travelling with him because he never sleeps. We would arrive somewhere at two in the morning, talk for a few hours, then he would say ‘we have a meeting in three hours’. After a few of these trips I quickly stopped. It has been a great experience, trying to strive for perfection.”
It was this obsessiveness, and extreme attention to detail, that greatly stood out from what was a rare audience with Levy on Tuesday. Many might fairly debate his approach to running the football team, and Mauricio Pochettino conspicuously took the opportunity to tell the world it’s time for Tottenham Hotspur to now start “thinking” and “behaving” differently, but no one should doubt Levy’s deep commitment to what he feels is best for the club. As much as an obsession, this has genuinely been a “dream” for him, and “the end of an 18-year journey”.
Levy famously refuses to give an inch in negotiations, and the same evidently applies to this stadium. There really wasn’t an inch that was not scrutinised in extreme detail.
Take the roof, that gave Levy “serious sleepless nights”.
“We wanted glass and everyone said it wasn’t possible,” the Spurs chairman explained. “So we found a solution, so this roof will look brand new in five years’ time. If you go to any other stadium, in five years that definitely wouldn’t be the case.”
There were then the 2am messages where Levy would go onto the website and zoom in on certain areas of the stadiums, wondering why something wasn’t working or hadn’t yet been done.
And whatever about a “dream”, it has all added up to a spectacular image, and a special experience.
What stands out about the stadium is not just that it obviously makes every other Premier League ground feel instantly dated. It’s that it makes them feel so unsatisfactory, so short of what is possible in a stadium.
Claims from Lee and Levy that this just might be “the greatest stadium in the world” don’t feel self-aggrandising when you walk around it.
There will be many executives from other clubs visiting and thinking that they’re missing a trick, as Levy even mentioned.
“I already know other clubs are looking at what we’ve done and how can they improve the experience for their own fans. So yes it will drive up the standard.”
You can certainly see the influence of the NFL and Dallas Cowboys’ stadium, as well as the full effect of that £1bn spend – a figure Levy all but confirmed.
While many of the most recently built stadiums still just feel like places all designed to merely sit in your seat, watch football and leave, this is so much more. It would make fans want to stay for hours, and to make it a home in an even deeper sense.
Much of that is down to the various modern comforts and conveniences – from the space around it to the amenities – what truly brings it together to complete the ground and the experience are gloriously traditional touches. The stands are strikingly steep, of the type of design that triumphantly traps noise to foster a genuine intensity. Lee said that the architects looked to the traditional ‘Kop ends’ of English football history, and that Borussia Dortmund’s famous Yellow Wall was an influence on the South Stand.
The ultimate source of all this, though, was a much more problematic image. Spurs rather bravely and strikingly decided to open their Tuesday presentation to the international media with a picture of a burning car. That was from the 2011 Tottenham riots, that executive director Donna Cullen said was “the trigger” to finally act on initial 2001 plans to build a new stadium. She pointed out this is the first serious investment that London’s fifth most deprived area has seen.
One grand aim is to create a “virtuous circle” that “gives people somewhere to live and work”. Local MP David Lammy appeared in the presentation describing the stadium as “probably the most exciting period” of his 18 years representing the area, and a “massive, massive difference to the people of Tottenham”.
Some of the people of Tottenham might dispute this, though. One issue that has arose among community groups and local shops is that this is just the construction of something far too expensive for those that live around it. This is a borough where there is just over 30% unemployment and almost 40% of children are estimated to live in poverty. The stadium could just represent the first step of a gentrification – rather than a regeneration – that forces poorer parts of the population out.
The next step for the ground, as the various other elements of the project are completed, will be to disprove that; to bring the virtuous circle Cullen spoke about.
Then we’ll know, as Lee argued, if this is really “the most democratic stadium ever designed”.
The next step for Spurs as a whole, meanwhile, will be to ensure that the club and the team are on the same page in – as Pochettino put it – this “next chapter”. It has often felt over the past half-decade that the Argentine has ensured the football side is drastically ahead of schedule and the rest of the club, as somewhat reflected by the inability to really deeply invest in it and improve it. That makes the team’s recent run, which represents the worst since Pochettino took over in 2014, all the more ironic as they finally enter the stadium. It also shows they’ve long needed that investment. This is a side pushed to the limit.
Hence Pochettino’s comments that it’s time to start “behaving like a big club”.
Levy, however, did touch on this himself.
“When I took over the club, Tottenham was not a club that was a regular European challenger,” he said. “Clearly, we are now and my dream is obviously to win. We want to win, and winning is both on the pitch and off the pitch, so we are going to keep going until we get both right.”
He reckons they’ve already got a lot right. Levy thinks that the stadium, to go with their training ground, now makes them one of the biggest and best clubs in the world. But that made Pochettino’s comments later in the day all the more pointed. He insisted it’s “time to behave like a big club”. That’s the only way to get the perfection they really want, and that really matters. There is, at least, a ground for improvement.
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