Post 19

20th June 2017

I am not your typical Talksport radio listener. I’m certainly not part of their target demographic (I usually mute the radio when the monotonous / inane ads are broadcast every 15 minutes). And I only listen when I’m driving in the car. It’s my guilty pleasure that I choose Talksport (most of the time) over other stations such as 5Live or Radio 4.

Despite the graphic, this isn’t a post about Fake News. My use of ‘Talkshite’ in the title isn’t one of those derogatory nicknames. It’s actually a term of affection for most fans. Talking heads who debate sport seriously are better than dick heads who trivialise sport as something that should never be taken seriously.

I listen to Alan Brazil, Hawksby & Jacobs, Drive (Durham and Gough), Mark Saggers and the Moose. I respect them all for different reasons. I used to quite like Keys & Gray, and Colin Murray. I’m less keen on Jim White who’s a bit too ‘Sky’ for my taste and comes across as rather ‘self-promotional’. Danny Kelly is rarely on when I’m in the car. Of them all, Alan Brazil is my favourite though and, surprisingly enough, I like Ray Parlour who’s a Gooner and perhaps not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but he has a nice light touch.

Anyway, the reason for this Post is that I was driving into work this morning listening to ‘The Two Mikes’ (Graham & Parry) who also do a good job. They can talk about more than just sport and they occasionally make me chuckle aloud with their banter.

Today their ‘topic’ was Spurs inactivity in the transfer market. I was only listening for about 25 minutes (15 mins of actual discussion) but they fielded a couple of calls from Spurs fans. One fan eloquently put forward a positive argument but he was accused of having ‘rose tinted spectacles’.

This Blog began with a Post (‘Spurs set up for Storybook finish’) about “media narrative” and it’s a theme I’m sure I’ll often return to. For the first time, I even considered phoning into Talksport to debate with the Two Mikes but I had a business meeting I had to attend.

My first job was as a journalist 41 years ago, as a cub reporter on a French regional newspaper. I saw the 1976 Lemans 24 Hrs, the French Open tennis at Roland Garros, the Stones and Bowie in Paris, and attended Mitterand and Marchais political rallies.

I learned two lessons on that job. The first is that I wasn’t cut out for ‘door-stepping’; in this case a traumatised wife whose husband had been arrested for rape (waiting outside her front door for days with two dozen other reporters and photographers). The second is that 95% of the time journalists have to appear knowledgeable about topics they’re far from knowledgeable about.

The internet has changed research beyond all recognition. Forty years ago you went to a library, spoke to an ‘expert’ (somebody who knew more than you), checked any facts you could. Now you simply use your phone or tablet and within seconds have millions of pages of ‘information’.

Few people would argue things aren’t better nowadays. I certainly wouldn’t. BUT one consequence is that the internet feeds a Narrative. In the rushed competitive world of modern media, you need to become knowledgeable fast. By definition, the few pages most journalists (or broadcasters or their researchers) have time to absorb – the ones near the top of a search – preach and ‘prove’ a particular version of events, or storyline.

In my opinion, the vast majority of professional journalists do their best. Only a few knowingly peddle outright lies. But very few hacks are experts in what they’re writing or talking about. They can’t be. Both Mike Graham and Mike Parry are intelligent. They clearly know sport, journalism and lots more besides. They probably know a fair bit about Spurs. But it was quite evident they knew little or nothing about Spurs’ finances. In terms of real figures or even educated guesswork like mine. They simply spouted the party line. They talked about the cost of our new stadium, about our best players leaving, about us not signing anybody, about what happened down the road after Arsenal built the Emirates. In fact every word I wrote in the opening paragraph of ‘Reasons to be Cheerful #3’ (Post 16) only 5 days ago.

There is a tipping point in every narrative. May is competent, Corbyn is mad. That’s what all the research said; every article, every opinion, all the evidence. The only commentators who presented a different view at the time were biased fans or professional contrarians. Then, with frightening speed, May becomes incompetent and Corbyn is a visionary. Go online now and every article, all the evidence points to that narrative – until the next tipping point anyway.

You can look at the historic evidence at Spurs over 10-15 years and spin it two ways. One is that Spurs are doomed always to play ‘catch up’. Levy is miserly and our salary structure will always hold us back. We’ll never take that final step. The Big Clubs have more money and money talks. In the end. OR you could consider the alternative. That despite having much less money Spurs have been steadily reeling in the bigger fish for a decade, on and off the pitch; Top 5, Top 4, 3rd, 2nd, Hotspur Way training ground, new stadium half built. If Spurs can actually do that with much less money … just imagine.

I think it suits Tottenham Hotspur in general, and Levy in particular, to operate under the old assumptions for as long as possible. ‘Spurs are skint’ is a useful negotiating tool. Our wage bill is 48% of turnover (£100m / £210m in 2016) but that includes all staff, not just players and coaches. The First Team Squad is probably around two thirds of the wage bill. A substantial increase in turnover in 2017 will matched by significant raises to player salaries (Spurs 2017 accounts aren’t available yet). If Spurs turnover reaches £400m in 2019, then a total wage bill of £200m (of which £150m can be spent on First Team players) would be entirely affordable.

That’s a doubling of our wage bill. £150 million is an average of £120k per week for 25 First Team players (including NI). That’s likely to be spent in a range from £200k to, say, £50k per week. There’s a very good reason that almost all Spurs players are under contract until 2020-21. Because in 2019 negotiations can be sensibly conducted in a new financial climate. I’m not saying Spurs will abandon a ‘wage structure’ because I think it’s cultural as much as financial. We don’t want mercenaries. We don’t want envy in the dressing room. But the budget will be transformed.

I should probably have found a way to phone the Two Mikes. I would never claim I’m an absolute expert in Spurs’ finances and I can’t see into the future. But I know quite a lot more than they do about my chosen subject. It could have been interesting.

However, I’m saving my first call-in for Adrian Durham. He’s my biggest guilty pleasure. He may be an “expert phone-in troll, arrogantly spouting inflammatory football opinions in the hope of prompting some indignant phone rage from an uppity fan” (in the words of the Guardian) but he’s immensely good at his job. I wouldn’t say I respect him, since there’s a little too much of the playground bully in his method. But I admire anybody who’s very good at their job and he’s undeniably good at his.

I’m in no rush. But one day, Adrian, we’ll speak.

And I’m sure you’ll have done your research.

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