#LevyOut – what is it Spurs fans are so angry about?

The chanting was quiet at first, but it immediately perked up the ears of the stadium. Then it got a little louder. “Daniel Levy, get out of our club,” they sang. For the first time since football stadiums returned to normal after the COVID-19 pandemic, Tottenham fans made a loud statement against the club’s owners.

A few days later at Selhurst Park, the game was not even 30 seconds old when the away end began with “we want Levy out.” Spurs celebrated their 4-0 victory, but the same chant was heard sporadically throughout the game.

To an outsider, that might be surprising. ENIC Group and chairman Daniel Levy have overseen the construction of one of the best football stadiums in the world in recent years, hired a head coach in Antonio Conte who many thought was unattainable, and last summer invested £150m ($182.3m ) to the club, financing notable transfers such as Richarlison, Cristian Romero and Yves Bissouma in a change of approach from previous years when net spending was much lower or, in some cases, non-existent.

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Last summer, the Tottenham Hotspur Supporters’ Trust (THST) conducted a survey of 6,000 fans. One of the questions was about how they view ownership – only three percent of respondents do not want ENIC at the head of the club.

While the views of those 6,000 fans may not be an entirely accurate representation of the entire fan base, it’s still probably safe to say that the dial has moved since then. So what has changed? And why does the number of people who want new owners at the helm seem to be increasing – not only on social networks, but also on the forums?

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It’s not an easy question to answer, but there’s clearly more to it than the last few performances and results.

Spurs’ season may not have gone to plan so far, but they are fifth in the Premier League, through to the last 16 of the Champions League and, with Preston coming up in the fourth round, will want an FA Cup appearance as they bid to end a 15-year wait for silverware. They managed it despite unfortunate injuries, especially to Richarlison and Dejan Kulusevski, and despite the struggles of last season’s Golden Boot winner Son Heung-min.

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But it is more than that. Whether they are ‘Levy in’ or ‘Levy out’ fans, many will some the kind of complaints from any moment during his 22-year reign as president, whether it was the sacking of Martin Jolo, the farcical managerial search last summer that ended with the hiring of Nun Espirito Santo, failed big-money signings such as Roberto Soldado and Tanguy Ndombele , a stadium redevelopment that drags on into the second season means months at an empty and half-empty Wembley, flirting with the club’s move to Stratford 12 years ago or that ill-fated toy with the failed Super League project.

Daniel Levy Tottenham

Tottenham fans protest against the European Super League in April 2021 (Photo: Getty)

There’s a lot of historical context there. There will also be envious eyes on clubs with similar or smaller fan followings who enjoy more success, sometimes because they are funded by deep-pocketed overseas owners. Some fans will see it and want it. Arsenal are top of the table, which doesn’t help. Newcastle are above Spurs in third despite not spending what you’d call stupid money yet, plus the prospect of more to come. Perhaps the fans fear that Spurs will be left behind if change does not come.

And then there’s that trophy drought. Wigan Athletic, Birmingham City, Leicester City and Swansea City have won the cup competition since Spurs beat Chelsea at Wembley to lift the League Cup in 2008. But Spurs have reached the Champions League final and qualified for the competition six times since then, an achievement which would envied by the vast majority of English clubs. Yes, it’s complicated.

“What the fans want to know is; ‘What’s the strategy?'” says Steve Cavalier, co-chairman of THST and a Spurs fan for five decades. The Athletic. “So how do you measure success against that strategy? And does that fit in with what Antonio Conte is saying?”

“The trophy is a big factor. To qualify for the Champions League last season was a huge achievement, credit to that and we want to be in the Champions League; AC Milan game (Spurs last 16 next month) is the one you want but 2008 is too long.

“Trophies are important. Yes, we will remember the top four finish, that Ajax semi-final, but in the end as a fan what you remember are the moments when your captain lifted the trophy, and we missed that for too long. It wouldn’t solve everything, but players and managers go into the game to win trophies.”

There has been a noticeable shift in mood recently and judging by what you hear at matches, not just what you read on social media, the support, at least by a vocal minority, is against ENIC and Levy, and overwhelmingly in favor of Conte. It is widely believed that if Conte gets what he wants – ie a hefty boost in the transfer market to sign players around which he can build a squad that will compete for major honors on a consistent basis – Spurs can thrive. They have the foundations in the form of an incredible stadium, a world-class training ground and an impressive academy (albeit one that could produce more first-team players). It is only the final detail, the most difficult, that is missing. And with Conte out of contract next summer, the situation will soon come to an end.

Again, it’s much more complicated than that. In reality, it’s not as simple as Conte vs Levy.

Finn Thomas, who leads @Tottenham Tiers fan account on Twitter, says the general consensus among the fans he follows online is that the current ownership has taken the Spurs as far as possible in terms of on-field development.

Tottenham Hotspur

Tottenham Hotspur Stadium opened in 2019 (Photo: Getty)

“The stadium, the facilities and the connections to the NFL are a direct result of the investment off the field,” he says. “However, on the pitch, fears of being left behind by the other top six sides and now other clubs investing and progressing are very real for many Spurs fans.

“Year after year we see new managers, more recently ‘serial winners’, with the same squad of players with zero squad depth and expected to fight for the most prestigious competitions in Europe, but fail to do so, which perhaps hints that something needs to change somewhere else for this club to ever progress.

“I keep coming back to that one thought: ‘How many times would Daniel Levy fire Daniel Levy?'”

Progress can be judged on many factors (finishing fourth is now considered a major achievement and a domestic cup triumph doesn’t mean what it once did) but what is undeniable is that Spurs have grown considerably as a club under ENIC and Levy , certainly off the field, but also on it, where they became a regular occurrence in the upper part of the table. In the 1990s, their average league position was 10th (including two finishes in 15th and another in 14th), while in the 2010s it was fourth.

However, as Thomas says, taking the next step to become a club that competes for honors is necessary.

“There is an undeniable correlation between added investment and winning silverware and some might point to Conte’s previous summer window closing this point, but consistent investment is needed to achieve anything significant,” he says.

“The rise of Newcastle has shown Spurs what additional investment can bring to a football club, not only financially but also the belief from a supporter’s point of view in a positive and exciting future for the club.

“They have shown that smart investment in certain areas of the squad with buy-in and trust in the manager’s philosophy can lead to immediate success and, although the season is far from over, defy expectations and take the club into uncharted territory.

“Arsenal has shown as another example that investment in the entire team and trust in Mikel Arteta, even in the most difficult times of the past few years, pays off in the long run. Seeing this definitely added fuel to the burning ‘ENIC/Levy Out’ fire, as the grass looks greener on the other side.”

Many Spurs fans are calling for Daniel Levy to ‘return’ to manager Antonio Conte (Photo: Getty)

Regardless of one’s opinion of Levy, the common theme is that communication can definitely be improved.

THST has written to Tottenham’s board with a series of questions they say the club has shown a willingness to answer, about the club’s long-term strategy, player recruitment and further investment. The trust says any concerns it has are “exacerbated by a lack of communication with fans”.

“Clubs would do themselves a favor if they shared things with independent, democratic organizations such as the supporters’ trust, who clearly want the clubs they support to succeed,” added co-chairman Cavalier.

“Communication broke down about the Super League – the club previously refused to be part of one, but we talked to them about it and have been rebuilding relations ever since.

“It’s our job to best reflect the views of Spurs fans, who vary from ‘ENIC out’ to people who are happy with the management and wonder what others are complaining about.

“I think the truth is in the middle, that there is a general concern.”

If not ENIC, who else? In theory, would Spurs fans take endless millions from anywhere if it meant competing financially with Manchester City, Chelsea and Newcastle?

“Who are you putting in? Changing owners is not a magic formula, you have to look at every investor with critical eyes,” says Cavalier. “Our attitude is not ‘You take money from wherever’, it is important who the owners and investors are.

“Our central message is that we are not asking for the departure of ENIC. We think there are valid questions; we asked the board a number of questions that we felt needed to be answered and we’re glad we committed to getting some answers.”

Thomas believes it will be difficult for ENIC and Levy to win back fans who are now calling for them to leave.

“The investment has to be consistent,” he says. A potentially one-off summer of investment wouldn’t reverse a year Tottenham failed to sign a single player for Pochettino in the summer window, or the countless times managers were given a ‘cheaper option’ for a priority target and then sacked for falling short of expectations.”

But can there be a change? Paris Saint-Germain’s owners, Qatar Sports Investments (QSI), are looking to buy a stake in the Premier League club and have held talks with Tottenham as one of several options.

QSI representatives have met Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy to discuss investment opportunities, although the north London club have denied The Athletic that there were such conversations.

Would such a move ease fans’ concerns or just create some new ones?

“Judging by the reaction to that news, I think most fans would be open to ownership from anywhere,” Thomas says, though he acknowledges that other fans are less keen on the idea.

Beat Arsenal this weekend and all will look good in Spurs’ world again, at least for a few hours. But whatever your point of view, it’s clear that there are fundamental problems that won’t be solved by what happens on the ground in the next few weeks alone.

(Top photo: Sam Richardson using Getty Images)


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