Were King Solomon here today, he might just solve the Olympic Stadium dispute better than the Olympic Park Legacy Company, through his unique arbitration method. Splitting the stadium in half could be a better way to resolve Tottenham and West Ham’s battle to win the bidding war.
But both bids really are fatallly flawed, most of all by the complete ignorance of the perils that face Leyton Orient should one of the Premier League sides move in on their doorstep. It is a bit like opening a huge Sainsbury’s in the local village. The analogy is not perfect, but the saturation of the support base for the League One side would spell the end of their existence as a viable football league outfit.
And the survival of Leyton Orient is important, for their fans and for football. Tottenham’s bid is motivated by financial expediency, and understandably so. That is the reason football clubs renovate or move stadiums. It is reasonable for the North Londoners to move based on this motive, but it is unreasonable for them to destroy a lower league club in order to maximise their income.
Yet if one of the Premier League sides does move into the Olympic Stadium, or in Tottenham’s case knock it down, it should arguably be the North London side who win the race. Yes, there is a significant legacy at stake that the stadium should be there to provide, but Tottenham are proposing to redevelop Crystal Palace. It would mean a broken promise to the IOC, but quite frankly, it won’t be the first or last broken promise in the world of international sport.
And most crucially, there would be a genuine athletics legacy at Crystal Palace which Tottenham would be providing. West Ham’s case is less convincing. The Hammers are looking to move into the Olympic Stadium as it is, running track included. Some say what does it matter? And they point to running tracks in other famous stadiums – the old Bayern Munich ground, the Stadio Olimpico two of the prime examples. But at both stadiums the fans are so far from the pitch that it removes a real part of the matchday experience. And secondly, it reduces the commercial profitability of the stadium due to the reduced prominence of the advertising boards, something which is rarely mentioned.
Harry Redknapp may have been serving Tottenham’s cause when he suggested that West Ham moving into the Olympic Stadium would turn it into a ‘great bowl of nothing’, but he had a point nonetheless. The main objections to the Tottenham bid are those who made promises to the IOC, such as Tessa Jowell, the former Culture, Media and Sports Minister, and those at Haringey council and local businesses in the area, who would suffer economically from Tottenham’s departure. Quite frankly, Haringey council have had a simple choice for some time now; redevelop White Hart Lane or see Tottenham leave. Their failure to act means that they have little ground to stand on if they are going to protest this move.
If the Tottenham fans are the concern, then they should not be. Only a minority have protested against the move, on the highly spurious grounds of ‘tradition.’ It was tradition for Arsenal that they were onced based in South London, in Woolwich. They moved to North London, which Tottenham fans have never forgiven them for. For Spurs to do that to West Ham would be ironic, but not wrong. And more to the point, most of Tottenham’s fans come from 20-30 miles away anyway, another five miles is hardly going to be a big issue for those supporters.
But it is the concern of Leyton Orient which should trump both bids. To put a football league club’s future in existential danger over concerns for profit would be damaging not just to that club, but to the game and its integrity. There are some things money can’t buy. The life of a football club should be one of those things.