16th October 1998
Soccer Star Paul Gascoigne is an unlikely Jewish icon. But at the height of his career he wore the white-and-blue of Tottenham Hotspur, and the White Hart Lane faithful don’t forget their heroes. When Gazza returned to Spurs this season, as a Middlesbrough player, he was cheered frantically – by fans of both teams!
Spurs is more than a football club. It is a kind of religion, as much a part of spiritual life in one part of London as the synagogue. It is possible that more Anglo-Jews support Spurs than all the other teams in the Premier League combined.
Spurs have been losing, and losing a lot, of late. Earlier this year it looked like they were heading for relegation, and only the awfulness of a few other teams saved them. This year, with fewer awful teams in the top flight, things look bleak for Tottenham.
Tough. Every team has its ups and downs.
But Spurs is also under threat from the money men. And that’s bad, because a team with a powerful spiritual and cultural tradition could be relegated to a few rows of zeros on a balance sheet.
The current chairman, Amstrad chief Alan Sugar, is reported to be on the brink of selling up. He bought his stake in the club for £8 million. This year the Sunday Times, in its Rich List, valued the holding at £53 million. Now the investment trust company ENIC has bid £80 million – and Sugar said no.
His logic: Rupert Murdoch is prepared to pay £625 million, or a billion dollars, to own Manchester United, perhaps the most famous football club in the world. Carlton, the media group, are reported to be offering £225 million for Arsenal. By Sugar’s reckoning, ENIC has offered only 40 per cent of the real worth of Spurs. He wants £200 million.
Meanwhile, a consortium of Tottenham fans led by tabloid columnist Richard Littlejohn have been trying to talk Sugar into stepping down gracefully. The White Hart Lane masses hate him, and he doesn’t much like the masses either. Wouldn’t it be nice, suggested Littlejohn, to have an amicable divorce?
Divorces with £200 million at stake, as any tabloid journalist should know, are never amicable. Sugar’s reply was short and terse. The second word was “off”.
But the Enic deal should have been more serious. Managing director Daniel Levy is a Spurs fan, and about 24 per cent of the group is owned by Charlie Lewis, son of the Bahamas-based billionaire Joseph Lewis. Lewis senior already holds a major stake in Glasgow Rangers, who are contenders for a place in the planned all-Europe SuperLeague. Wouldn’t this be the salvation of our footballing institution?
I do not believe so. ENIC is a money machine. The men behind it could be sincere football fans, but no one person embodies a company. Even News International would thunder on without its chairman. Spurs is a club with a beating heart, and it needs to be owned by people, not corporations.
And the right people are available, and they have the money. A consortium could be floated to pay the market value for Spurs, revitalise the team by making cash available for transfers, and generate a healthy profit – without hammering a stake through that beating heart.
The technique must be to balance the consortium, between financiers with a powerful loyalty to British tradition, and popularisers with the ambition to put Spurs at the centre of Jewish culture. On the money side, I’m thinking of businessmen such as Lord Marks, Leonard Lewis, whose River Island fashion chain is a massive High Street success, and Sir David Alliance, chairman of Coats Viyella. Their combined wealth is probably enough to buy Man. Utd. and Spurs too – I’m not suggesting any club is cheap to own, but these men will know that football is no longer the province of eccentric millionaires. Rupert Murdoch is not an eccentric investor.
On the popular side, I’d love to include myself. I talked last year with Spurs directors about using my positive Mindpower techniques to reverse the malaise infecting the team. I worked on a personal basis with their goalkeeper, Ian Wilson, but the team link-up never happened. For me, working with a squad rather than an individual is a massive commitment, but I’d be prepared to do it for Spurs, if the rest of the set-up was right.
I’d love to see Rabbi Shmuley Boteach on board too. There’s a man who knows about the power of pop culture to revive spiritual life. If anyone can restore team spirit to the fans as well as the players, it’s Shmuley. Another name that springs to mind is the chatshow host Vanessa Feltz, whose new BBC deal is reputed to be worth £2m. That’s small change in football, but Vanessa has a big personality and she could give a whole generation of young women, who have been excluded from football until the television explosion of recent years, the confidence to join a Spurs revival.
Me and Vanessa as strikers, the money men in midfield, Shmuley in goal. Doesn’t that sound like a team to give BSkyB sleepless nights?
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