Posted by: davidjmarlow | 03/05/2016

Much more than a fairytale – an appreciation of Leicester City (and Spurs)…

When Faroe Islands beat Ranieri's Greece, they called it 'the biggest footballing shock of all time...'

When Faroe Islands beat Ranieri’s Greece, they called it ‘the biggest footballing shock of all time…’. Then he got the job at Leicester!

Many congratulations to Leicester City on winning the 2015/16 Premiership with two games to spare. As a lifelong Spurs fan, I am proud that the youngest team in the Premiership kept the contest alive until Match 36 (of 38), and that we may finish with the best goal difference in the league. Leicester’s success – coupled with Shelby’s concurrent World Snooker crown – represents a remarkable double-landmark for a city which is too often underrepresented in major city debates.

What though are the lessons of these triumphs, and of Spurs’ coming up short, for the future?

Twenty years ago I joined Southampton City Council as part of the senior management team that took the city unitary in April 1996. Since then my professional career has championed the potential of ‘regional cities’ as drivers of growth and development, agglomeration on a human  scale, and constructs where tolerance and talent can flourish.

Leicester is an exemplar ‘regional city’. Not considered by the founder members to be large or significant enough to be a member of ‘Core Cities Group’, its population is actually larger than both Newcastle and Nottingham; its travel to work area (TTWA) labour market exceeds Bristol, Sheffield, Leeds and Nottingham; and its overall population growth rate over the last decade is only surpassed by Manchester.  For reasons of which I am not aware, it has also not joined the Key Cities Group, but exceeds the population of all members except Tees Valley (which is anyway five council areas).

It is a vibrant, cosmopolitan place, celebrated for its large black and ethnic communities – with two universities, an elected mayor form of governance, the recent Richard III ‘dividend’ and now hosts both the Premier League champions and the snooker world champion.

The point about ‘regional cities’ is they are big enough to deliver globally-competitive, nationally-significant  growth and development, whilst also intimate enough to support rich and cohesive networks to lead and deliver change.

One of UKs most consistent public policy flaws as it has ‘rediscovered’ cities has been  the determination of policy shaped by and for London and the metropolitan ‘core’ city regions. Without explicit policies designed by and for ‘regional cities’, the UKs city potential will always be significantly under-cooked. The current rush to untested intermediate tier Combined Authority structures submerge (some might even say strangle) regional cities in their sub-regional hinterlands. This will ensure the ‘devolution revolution’ remains half-baked at best in terms of realising urban potential.

My second key lesson is about outrageous ambition and unanticipated outcomes. The Leicester City example might be seen by some as a ‘fairytale’ – but for others it is an affirmation that seemingly modest places and institutions can achieve the most outstanding results. Cities like Adelaide, Calgary and Helsinki occupy ‘top 10’ rankings in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s global liveability index. Those such as Vienna, Zurich, and Auckland are in Mercer’s top ten for quality of life. There are NO big metropolitan ‘beasts’ at the top of these rankings. Where is England’s next ‘Vancouver’ or ‘Perth’? Perhaps in Leicester?

If, last August, I had been told that Spurs would go into the last two games of the season trailing Leicester City by seven points, I would have assumed we were doomed to relegation. On the other hand, had I been told we would go into the last two games as the leading London club, uncatchable by both Manchester and  Liverpool teams, and with by far the best goal difference in the league, I would have assumed we were destined to be champions. Both ‘predictions’ have come true – but both presumptions I would have made are wrong.

Related to these reflections is the need to NOT settle for draws. Ultimately I believe that it is our thirteen draws that have cost Spurs the championship. Ten of these have been the head-to-head fixtures against Arsenal, Chelsea, Everton, Liverpool and WBA. Instead of drawing these games, had we won one and lost one against each team, we would now be only two points behind the Foxes, and the competition would likely extend to the final day of the season. More pertinently, we would have overtaken Leicester to hit the top spot after the Arsenal game in early March. We never, in the end, got closer than two points behind. Perhaps the Foxes might have stumbled under the pressure of chasing (as we have done), rather than going on a five game streak of 1-0 wins.

Pursue the very best you can become, single-mindedly. Whilst you may fall just short of the peak (and suffer the odd additional loss), you shall have credible success. This is also, in the long run, the best opportunity to provide a game-changing platform for reaching the pinnacles of achievement.

Ultimately, my hopes for both Leicester, and for Tottenham, as probably one of the most unfashionable areas in London, are as follows.

The achievement of the Foxes should inspire the city to become a leading city exemplar in UK and EU urban policy and practice.

Similarly, with the new stadium beginning to take shape, and as the youngest team in the Premiership matures, Tottenham can finally begin to enjoy the benefits of being part of Europe’s most prominent world city.

Leicester will need more proactive support of a government finally turning its attention to empowering regional cities. Tottenham will benefit quicker and more deeply if the world city elects a Mayor who gravitates less to the Etonian elites of West London.

Both hopes, though, will take determined leadership and a lot of hard work. The Spurs motto – ‘To dare is to do’ – epitomises the need for places to be bold and daring in their search for glory. ‘Foxes never quit’ ( apparently Leicester City’s motto) illustrates the tenacity and resilience required to turn one glorious season into enduring success – particularly if government continues in setting urban policy for the northern metros, or the London electorate vote the ‘wrong way’ later this week.

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