Simon Felstein

The last few years have certainly been varied for Tottenham Hotspur. A seemingly endless self-imposed exile at Wembley concluding with a homecoming to their very own stadium. The highs of Champions League glory in the summer heat of Madrid giving way to Carabao Cup defeat in the autumn breeze at Colchester; the understated assuredness of Mauricio Pochettino replaced by the brash swagger of Jose Mourinho: Cambridge’s closest Premier League outfit (all of 10 miles nearer than Anglian neighbour Norwich) have offered plenty to gaze upon from the outside.

Behind all of these, however, has been one constant - the notoriously shrewd Chairman and Sidney Sussex alumni Daniel Levy. After graduating in 1985 with a First in Economics and Land Economy, Levy went to work at his family’s clothing retail business before moving into property development and eventually sports and media. Having replaced Alan Sugar as Tottenham Chairman in 2001 (making him the Premier League’s longest serving chairman by some distance), Levy’s brand has grown considerably as he has gone on to forge a reputation as one of the most unflappable negotiators in football while simultaneously remaining enigmatic and private, rarely providing interviews beyond pre-released media statements.

But what role can Cambridge be said to have had in the development of this canny operator? What drew him into a love of the game in the first place? And what does he make of Saturday afternoon broadcasting rules? Levy revealed all with Varsity.

What was your involvement with sports before you arrived at Cambridge?

The first team I ever went to watch was Tottenham. My great-uncle took me and that’s how I became a Spurs fan. I started to go and watch Tottenham from when I was about eight years old. The first game I went to see was against QPR. I was never particularly athletic when I was at school, so I only ever really participated in what was necessary but nothing more than that. It was the same when I was at Cambridge. I was never really a great sportsman even though I have always enjoyed skiing and abseiling.

Were you involved with any non-sport societies at Cambridge?

I used to go to the debating society. I went from a state school and then into Cambridge - my focus at Cambridge was to get a decent degree because I saw it as a means to getting a good job, that was where I concentrated all my energy. I thought that I had been given a great opportunity and I was determined not to mess it up. I enjoyed my time at Cambridge, but I wouldn’t say I lived the typical student lifestyle.

How much were you involved in college life at Sidney?

I had a group of friends at Sidney and we used to have dinners together as a group but nothing more out of the ordinary than that.

How much has Cambridge impacted your professional life now?

Any university can give you a good grounding for your future career, but it doesn’t guarantee anything. My experience at Cambridge was really about believing I could achieve anything. I went there to get a degree, but I never thought I would do as well as I did there.

When I took my finals, I honestly thought I had failed. I remember working every hour in the last few months leading up to them and thinking that I just wasn’t good enough. The way you received your results, you had to go and look at a big board, which was in grade order. I remember looking at it - third, two two, two one, and I couldn’t find my name. Then I saw I got a first and I was honestly on the floor. I was stunned. It proves that anything is possible with hard work.

What is it that captures your interest in sport?

It’s the challenge. The business of sport, and a football club is one of the hardest things to run. If you analyse it, within a football club you are running lots of different businesses, whether it be catering, merchandising, licensing or ticketing but the heartbeat of it is clearly the football and what happens on the pitch. That’s the one aspect that’s not possible to control. You can have some influence on it in terms of your recruitment policy and coaches, among other things, but you can’t control it. I have always enjoyed a challenge.

What are your thoughts on the recent debut of Amazon as another broadcaster for Premier League games?

The fact there is now a third domestic broadcaster in the UK is great for competition. Any new broadcaster coming in will always look at things in a different way. The way they’ve been doing their live broadcasting has created quite a bit of attention so I think other broadcasters may also look to adapt the way they produce their coverage too. Competition is good for everyone.

What are your feelings toward the current rules prohibiting football broadcasts on Saturday afternoons?

Personally, I’m not so wedded to something that is so historic. Just because it has always been there doesn’t mean it needs to be there forever. I think it is something that could be looked at in the future.

With the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium recently hosting an NFL game between the Chicago Bears and the Oakland Raiders, can you ever see PL games being held abroad?

It’s important that we are always open-minded to anything that is proposed. We are in an industry where we are competing for talent, viewership and sponsors with other leagues across the world alongside other sports so we can never rule it out completely. In Spain, they are playing the Supercopa in Saudi Arabia this year, so we’ve got to be conscious that there needs to be a balance.

How do you view the FIFA Club World Cup? How can its status be elevated in the UK?

I suspect there will be more clubs from the UK participating in the future and that in itself will elevate its profile in this country. It’s possible that it could be a substitute for pre-season games in certain territories around the world one day too. I can certainly see it becoming more important in the future.

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