If you’re a Londoner, the word ‘gentrification’ is likely to conjure up images of renovated housing estates in Hackney, pricey independent coffee shops and retro-themed bars selling cocktails in jam jars.
But a little research has shown me that, whether for good or ill, this phenomenon has been rapidly infiltrating another major sphere – football.
This week, Spurs released details of their new stadium which graphically highlights the creeping gentrification of football by top teams along with rising ticket prices that is slowly but surely changing the ethos of the game.
The new 61,000-seat White Hart Lane stadium, due to open in 2018, will boast an in-house bakery, a micro-brewery and – wait for it – heated seats.
To really appreciate the changing nature of the game, you only have to go to Spurs website where you’ll be taken on a virtual tour of the bars and restaurants whose occupants make them look like trendy West End chain eateries (a far cry from the streets of North London).
Spurs Chairman Daniel Levy (who is, incidentally, a Cambridge graduate), says the new ground will “redefine sports and entertainment experiences”. Or, to put it another way, it will attract the growing numbers of the “prawn sandwich brigade” identified by ex-Manchester United captain Roy Keane at the turn of the century.
In some ways – mostly off the field – Spurs is a footballing pioneer – its owner ENIC has also had stakes in AEK Athens, Slavia Prague, FC Basel and Vicenza.
But unlike its top five Premier League rivals that are the assets of Russian oligarchs, American sports entrepreneurs and Arab princes, it does have an English owner Joe Lewis – a billionaire currency trader who lives in the Bahamas.
But while it may be gentrifying the football experience, Spurs is very unlikely to do the same to the streets around its new stadium. Unlike arch rival Arsenal, whose new ground, based near achingly trendy (and affluent) Islington, is said to lack the atmosphere of the old Highbury ground where you can buy a two bedroom apartment for £825,000 and a one bedroom flat for £515,000.
And the new Spurs ground could be overtaken in a few years, as Chelsea got the go-ahead last week from its local council to build a new 60,000 seat stadium (if owner Roman Abramovich’s yachts are anything to go by the new ground could be, well…ground-breaking).
The top tier of English football, now majority foreign-owned, has not, however, changed the ethos of the lower leagues which continue to rely on home-grown players and local supporters and struggle to stay in “business”.
Perhaps then the “real” English football is still surviving. But who knows for how long…
Love it or loathe it, one thing’s for sure – football gentrification is here to stay.