Heart and Soul
Ahead of The London Football Awards Rory Smith, Football Writer, shares his thoughts on the capital's football:
"To many, London is not really a football city. The sport is not the capital’s lifeblood, not in the way that it is in the game’s great northern strongholds. London does not rise when one of its teams wins, as Liverpool and Manchester do, and it does not sink into a deep gloom when they lose, as Newcastle and Leeds – my home-town – often do.
When that sentiment is expressed, especially in the north, it takes on the timbre of criticism. Weaved into it, though, is the highest praise. London is too big, too varied, too polychrome to be defined by one thing. London offers too many other distractions – the arts, the culture, the markets, the food, the queuing – to devote itself to only one of them. When a place pulses with energy 24 hours a day and seven days a week, it cannot simply switch off in the long wait for Saturday.
But while football is not as central to London’s identity as it is to that of those northern citadels, it increasingly feels as though it is part of its fabric, its infrastructure. Across the city, projects are underway which see football not simply as yet another day out, another form of entertainment, but which have pinpointed it as an engine of social change.
Central to Tottenham’s plan to build a new, state-of-the-art home next to White Hart Lane is the regeneration of the area they have occupied since their birth. Shops and businesses and jobs will come to one of the few parts of London left behind by the city’s great leap forward.
Queens Park Rangers have the same hope for their new stadium in west London; in the east, West Ham’s occupancy of the 2016 Olympic Stadium – for all the controversy – will help with the continued transformation of Stratford. Chelsea, of course, do not reside in the sort of neighbourhood which needs much help, but they too have their eye on transforming London’s skyline, just as Arsenal did when setting the trend with the Emirates Stadium.
The Premier League has long been one of Britain’s economic success stories – it is a personal view that it has become arguably the country’s greatest export, ahead even of James Corden and talking about the weather – and it makes sense for another, London, to place it front and centre in its own vision of its future.
But this is a year, too, for thinking about the past. 2016 marks 50 years since Bobby Moore lifted the World Cup at Wembley, the proudest moment in English football history. Some eight of the 22 members of Sir Alf Ramsey’s victorious squad had links with the capital: seven playing for London clubs, as well as Ron Springett, of Wolves, who was born in Fulham. It was England’s triumph, of course, but in some way it was London’s, too.
The old charge that the capital is not a football city is disproved by the past and condemned by the future. London is not just a football city, of course: it is not just an anything city. But football is part of its heart and its soul and, increasingly, its bricks and mortar. It is part of its history and part of its destiny, too."
- Rory Smith, Football Writer, The Times