Tottenham Hotspur's ticket offices sit closed on the first weekend of the Premier League season, the club's home match against Everton having been cancelled. (Photo: Scott/Heavey/Getty Images)
On August 25 last year, Tottenham Hotspur qualified for the Champions League, world soccer's most lucrative club competition, for the first time, having previously been the richest club on the planet never to have done so. Today, the unemployment rate in Tottenham - the place of origin of the London riots - is 8.3 percent, just under twice the London average (4.2%).
The juxtaposition is clear. Many suggested a disenfranchised class that feels disconnected from English society was behind the main body of the London violence, but looters came from all walks of life. One of the first before Highbury Magistrates' Court on August 10 was a 31-year-old teaching assistant from south London, convicted of burglary with intent for stealing a television from a shop. If the materialization of society is a motivation, then the riches of professional soccer seem poles apart from the everyday lives of most of London's inhabitants.
"It's a disconnect with me ," Grant Cornwell, the CEO of the Tottenham Hotspur Foundation told BBC Radio's Today two weeks ago. "I'd love to be earning £80,000 a week. But what we have to show our young people is what they can achieve - to give them tangible goals in the first instance and hopefully they go on and make a success of their profession."
It was in Tottenham, a district of north London, that it all started. In the early evening of August 4, a minicab carrying Mark Duggan - who was being investigated by the Metropolitan Police's Operation Trident, set up to investigate gun crime in the capital - was stopped by police. The details of the ensuing confrontation are still disputed, but Duggan was shot twice and died shortly afterwards. A peaceful protest outside Tottenham Police Station by his friends and neighbors on August 6 erupted into violence when cars were set alight in the evening, and trouble quickly escalated. Copycat incidents spread all over London in scenes that shocked the world.
The pertinence of Tottenham being the epicenter of the trouble was lost on few in the UK. It was the scene of the notorious Broadwater Farm riots of 1985, which followed the death of a local black woman, Cynthia Jarrett, and ended with the murder of PC Keith Blakelock. Broadwater Farm is a densely-built housing estate in Tottenham, home to almost 4,000. Its name is synonymous with the awful events of 26 years ago and with the worst failures of government-sponsored social housing schemes.
Yet current problems are more complex than this. In a 2005 BBC Radio 4 documentary Down The Farm , recorded to mark 20 years since the riots, presenter Christian Wolmar was stunned to find an "astonishing" transformation in Broadwater Farm. Investment was made after the riots, but Wolmar wisely estimated that "the estate needed more than physical changes," and the set-up of a local management team on-site notably improved the atmosphere. Both rent arrears and break-ins dropped to "virtually zero," with youth workers like Clasford Stirling running activities for young people on the estate, including soccer teams.
A burnt out William Hill near Tottenham Hotspur Football Club. (Photo: Scott/Heavey/Getty Images)
While Tottenham undoubtedly remains a deprived area, the horrible circularity of 1985 to 2011 shouldn't sweep away the hard work and progress made by local people in the interim - or lead us to ballpark conclusions as to the root causes of current issues.
When the new English Premier League season kicked off on August 13, games at Fulham and Queens Park Rangers - both in west London - went ahead. Tottenham's planned match with Everton was postponed with not just security an issue, but with the scars of the community still raw.
"It's a really sad time for all of us," said Cornwell, "and it's going to take a while for this to heal. But we all have to play our part. Tottenham Hotspur have been here for 125 years and set ourselves at the heart of the community, so we want to play our part in rebuilding Tottenham and Haringey (the borough in which Tottenham lies)."
Tottenham team manager Harry Redknapp, a high-profile media figure in England, said the club would aim to redouble its efforts and reach out to a fractured community.
"I'd like see us get out in those areas more with local kids," he said. "I know we do a fair bit of coaching round the back of the ground, but I think (about) getting the players into the schools. I'd go myself, and coaches as well."
It's a noble sentiment, but if that isn't what's happening already, what is the Foundation doing exactly? In an interview with BBC Radio FiveLive, Cornwell denied that Redknapp's comments were a criticism of the Foundation's work.
"The club invests a huge amount of money through the Foundation," he said, "to engage with and support young people, for training, education and employment opportunities. We are out there day in and day out, being part of the community."
For all Cornwell's praise of the players' helpfulness with the Foundation's activities, perhaps Redknapp's comments betrayed a keenly-honed PR radar - or just a lack of knowledge at how the Foundation actually works. If the boss doesn't know what the program's about, what chance have the players got? Many clubs have a separate, charitable foundation which heads community projects, rather than making philanthropy part of the club's core business. It's one thing for a club to give its players the obligation to put in a few hours in the community, but it's difficult to forge continuity if the bigger picture isn't explained to them.
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