The digital hoardings at Unsponsored Spurs Stadium tell a story about the club in 2023. During the many quiet moments of matches this season, adverts for energy drinks, crypto exchanges and car vendors have been about as interesting as the football.
There are also reminders about the most exciting upcoming events in N17. Note Wednesday’s visit of AC Milan, but Beyonce, Wizkid and Red Hot Chili Peppers. All three are performing at Spurs this summer, the NFL returns twice next autumn, some rugby and boxing are available and this week plans were announced for a go-karting track underneath the South Stand as part of a partnership with Formula One.
With these extra curricular activities Spurs claim “an estimated 5.9 billion people globally are interested in events held at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium – equating to nearly 80 per cent of the world’s population,” or roughly how many people are in the queue for Seven Sisters station after and games. Clearly, such diversification helps to make the club financially secure.
But while a gleaming stadium selling local beer from very long bars is lovely, many Spurs fans would have preferred a proper FA Cup run. Supporters of around 88 of the league’s other teams may find themselves wailing afterwards Wednesday night’s defeat to Sheffield United a bit rich. This after all is a club who completed a fairytale run to the Champions League final as recently as 2019, who are still in this season’s competition and, for all their anguish this season, still sit fourth in the table.
You think losing to Sheffield United is bad? Try supporting Southampton. But there are several reasons for Tottenham fans’ peculiarly strong reaction to every new setback. Most pertinent is the growing sense of a dying cycle. When Spurs appointed Jose Mourinho it was hoped his trophy-guaranteeing record would continue. Finding his brand of myth-building and ritual sacrifice unsuited to their vibe, they attempted to reset with Nuno Espirito Santo. That, politely, did not pan out, so Spurs went back to the well of surly proven winners. Antonio Conte has had a wretched season with the death of three close friends and his recent gallbladder surgery. He misses his family in Italy and a new contract remains unsigned.
It seems less likely with every passing day that he will be their manager at the start of next season. Three wins from three under deputy Cristian Stellini before Wednesday night may be a mere quirk but the 4-1 defeat at Leicester when Conte made a premature return did not suggest a team responding to their manager. The meek defeat at Bramall Lane continues a cup malaise which has now ended with defeats to Sheffield United, Middlesbrough, Everton and Crystal Palace in the last five seasons.
It does not help that Arsenal are mounting their first credible title challenge since Harry Kane was in short trousers (and frequently wearing their red shirt). Newcastle and their convenient nation state backing loom in the medium-term future. Liverpool are improving, Chelsea will not be this flaky forever. Tottenham’s position at the top table is under threat. Twas ever thus, but currently the reasons to feel downbeat are everywhere.
If the rest of the big six are heavyweights, Tottenham are in the category below: banterweights
Harry Winks, under-used by Conte, is thriving at Sampdoria. Richarlison, a sensible signing in theory, has not yet scored a league goal. On reflection, the last Adele album was slightly disappointing. Of course it makes financial sense to prioritize the league but it does not make it any more palatable to see Kane rested in a competition which Spurs had won more than any other club until 1996, when overtaken by Manchester United.
Arsenal passed them too in 2003 and Liverpool and Chelsea have also now matched Tottenham’s eight, the last of which came in 1991. Ultimately focusing on finishing fourth in any league, regardless of the riches which await, is a deeply unsatisfying mission for fans.
It can be fun if it is new (Newcastle this season) or unexpected (Leicester in the early Rodgers years) but not for a club in Spurs’ awkward position as the smallest big club. If the rest of the big six are heavyweights, they are stuck in the category below: banterweights. Failure to qualify for the Champions League is disastrous, but success is just more of the same. And nobody associated with Tottenham seems to want that.