In 2017 Tottenham Hotspur were on their way to gathering their record points total, giving the old White Hart Lane the send-off it deserved with an unbeaten season, while its successor was taking shape and casting its foreboding shadow over the ageing old Paxton Road stand. On the pitch the team was the most scintillating in a generation, the manager the most beloved since General Burkinshaw. Mr Levy, it might be said, has taken a similarly opportune time to offer the next Fan Forum. Four consecutive league victories, an unbeaten start to the season, attacking football and a manager who has all the necessary personal and footballing qualities to be held in the same esteem as Messrs Burkinshaw, Venables and Pochettino.
It is hard to imagine a better line-up Mr Levy could have chosen to join him for his five-a-side charm offensive than Son Heung-Min, Ange Postecoglou, Robert Vilahamn and Bethany England. Sonny (as every man, woman and child insisted on calling him no matter how well acquainted they were) proved every bit the nicest man in football we assume him to be, belying the steely determination to succeed that has made him national and now club captain. A quiet leader of men who prefers to let his football do the talking.
Big Ange was happy to elaborate on the creation myth; his father born of a pre-war generation, a no-nonsense man who worked to provide for a family he barely had time to engage with. The only thing he took almost as seriously was football, his outlet, his release, and yet so unwavering was his belief in the right way to play the game one wonders how much joy he could possibly have garnered from it. Yet young Angelos saw the game as a means of building a relationship with his father. Ange didn’t quite go full Shankly/life/death/more important than that, but it wasn’t far off. His is a life that continues to be spent seeking the approval of a father no longer here to bear witness to his achievements.
Robert Vilahamn is considerably younger, but no more wavering in his beliefs on how the game should be played. It is easy to see how he could inspire a team and when his methods are fully ingrained one hopes – indeed expects – an improvement in performances and fortunes. It’s clear another season battling relegation is not what the club expects from its investment in the women’s team.
Central to the fortunes of the side will be the form of Bethany England, the team’s undoubted star but as she humbly said on more than one occasion it is about the team unit, not any one individual. Like Sonny she will lead the line and lead by example. Young female and LGBTQ+ fans could not wish for a better role model.
The event took place in the convivial bar area that can double as a corporate function room in the East Atrium of the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, or White Hart Lane if you please, or the Google Hyperdome as Mr Levy might have hoped it would be called by now. Except it isn’t, but no matter the fabulous riches (Kane retention-level wealth, one might suggest) that have been missed the past four years, Mr Levy was quite happy to say the value of the brand recognition of “Tottenham Hotspur” playing host to Beyonce and Anthony Joshua more than made up for it. By this logic, Tottenham Hotspur is effectively paying itself for the naming rights of its own stadium, but there was little time for fans to get their heads around this as questions were asked and usually answered, but never time to dwell on some of the inherent contradictions or fallacies in the statements made by Mr Levy.
With 250 fans riding high on four consecutive victories, delighted to be in such close proximity to their new heroes, all the more so for the somewhat unexpected nature of the event given its muted announcement barely a week before, it is understandable host Nihal was happy not to deflate the balloon. The only balloons that were deflated were black and read LEVY OUT on them, for there was hardly a dissenting voice amongst the audience. An ignorant bystander would never guess that for the first time in its history organised fan protests have accompanied Tottenham Hotspur’s past three home games.
Admitting mistakes isn’t quite the same as taking responsibility for them. Mr Levy tried to explain the thought processes that went into recent managerial appointments, but this argument seemed to rest on the idea that he had to make the wrong appointments to find out why they were wrong appointments in order to make the right one in Postecoglou. An argument which, in the spirit of the moment, was met with a round of applause for the Ange-shaped golden trinket Mr Levy was able to present to the fans as if by design, rather than what really feels more like an accident.
The headlines in the immediate aftermath were all about the Harry Kane buy-back clause, which may have felt somewhat odd to some of those actually in the room. Asked the question, Mr Levy gave a wry smile and said “of course”. An almost throw-away line that could easily have been taken as a joke the way it was delivered (Mr Levy is not totally without humour). Tellingly, this position he later clarified with the important caveats in an interview with Bloomberg. The subsequent reaction may have led to Mr Levy regretting the admission (if indeed he regrets anything; managerial appointments, ticket prices, failing to sell naming rights etc.). The Kane Question will follow Levy for as long as Kane remains a star striker for Bayern.
The frisson this answer generated only added to the sense that all is rosie in the Tottenham garden (indeed it very probably is in the tended gardens at Tottenham Hotspur Way in this Indian summer). Questions were asked about how success would be achieved on the pitch and the answers by the players and managers were all plausible, if somewhat predictable, and lapped up by an audience eager to believe that success is exactly what will be achieved. And why wouldn’t we – after all, what are fans without hope? For the most part I believe Spurs fans are realistic but optimistic and if we can’t be optimistic after our best start to a Premier League season when the hell can we?
For those looking for a shareholders meeting this was definitely not it. But as an example of how someone with even the lowest opinion poll ratings can transform their PR with the appointment of the right manager, the Fan Forum was a triumph. What Rishi Sunak would give to appoint Ange Postecoglou to his cabinet…