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Interview The making of a mural

Morning Star sports editor BELLA KATZ speaks to THST board member ROB WHITE about the process behind making a mural, and what the project means to the local community

ON MONDAY the Tottenham Hotspur Supporters’ Trust [THST] unveiled a 25-foot-high piece of artwork depicting club legend Ledley King, a rare one-club man.

King made over 250 appearances for the club, and captained Spurs to win their most recent piece of silverware in 2008.

The project itself was in the making for around 18 months, and I had the pleasure of talking to THST board member Rob White about the process. 

White has a strong connection to the club as his father, John White, played for the double winning side of 1960-61.

The mural, which came to life on the side of the local community sports, cements King’s place both in Spurs history and as an important figure to the local community. 

How did the idea first come about?

I’m a creative anyway and I’ve kind of always, I guess for the last five years, maybe slightly longer, been slightly obsessed with street art — in particular connected to football. I think that there’s a resonance definitely with Maradona and the stuff that I’ve seen in Europe, where they seem to do a lot better than us (laughs), I think that in particular. 

I used to spend a lot of time in Farringdon around that area, and you notice especially in the city — Spitalfields, that way — there’s obviously been a boom in street art, and maybe about two years ago I started thinking about it. I moved back closer to the stadium — I live really close to the stadium — and I think it ties into the new stadium. As much as I absolutely love the new stadium, I hold my hands up and say I’m a traditionalist and I was sort of fearful of what was going to become of the area, but actually I think it is an amazing thing. 

However, I do think that there’s a sense of disconnect sometimes, especially with out of town stadiums, and new stadiums sometimes. They take a bit of time to get an identity. I don’t think it is anyone’s fault but I think there’s an issue sometimes between clubs and the community, where a club doesn’t particularly knit itself into the community, and likewise, the community sometimes can be quite fault-picking with a club.

So basically, I thought a really good way of trying, I guess, to get a bit of cohesion between the community and the club was to start to establish a series of murals throughout the borough.

I think if you look at Haringey as a borough, we have such a diverse population which makes it a fantastic place, but I think there’s a point where people assume that everybody knows the story of Tottenham Hotspur and everyone knows the characters and everyone knows the history, and I think that’s far from the truth —and I don’t just think for locals, I think for the sort of new wave of Premier League fans that we’ve got. The heritage and the history is really important to me and I think that was part of my rationale in getting this project established. 

 

How did you go about finding the right artist for the job?

I’m a photographer, that’s my profession and obviously football is an obsession. I have a profession and an obsession (laughs), so football is an obsession of mine, particularly the imagery around football. My dad played for the double team, so therefore I have a sort of obsession with that era in particular. I thought it would be a really really simple process — and it wasn’t.

I found out that in Tottenham, in Bruce Grove, there’s one of the biggest spray paint suppliers in London. So I went down and talked to a guy called Billy who runs it, and I chatted to him really — just about how you get this sort of project off the ground. He said the most important thing is to obviously find the wall and find permissions for that wall. And that was my real start, I wandered around with my Camera and iPhone, looking for good sites. 

I quickly found out that most of the really good sites down in Haringey around the stadium are either owned by the club or Haringey council, both of which came with their own challenges in terms of granting permissions.

At the same time, I was introduced to a guy called Marc Silver who runs a company called MurWalls. When I first met Marc, they had only really just started up. They’d done some really good stuff with Liverpool, and Mark was trying to establish a mural through another source at the club, and we were introduced to each other and we decided to team up and pool our resources — not financial resources necessarily, more to do with our skill sets I guess, and our knowledge and contacts. And then from there, it was really question of identifying sites and having endless meetings (laughs) — it’s such an apt cliche quote for it, but we have literally been round and round the houses on this project. We must have identified probably a dozen sites that were all ruled out for one reason or another.

 

Why was Ledley chosen out of all of the legends specifically for this mural?

I think in hindsight all throughout the project, Ledley was the one that I wanted to do and I think also Marc [did too].

We’d found an absolutely fantastic site, and the two of us kept saying “that’s where we are going to put our Ledley King mural.”

I think he’s such an inspirational person for that site. Kevin Lincoln who runs the community sports centre put his hand up in a community meeting that I was in and said “I hear you’re looking for sites for a mural,” and that was the site that we chose. 

That sports centre is used by hundreds of local residents, a lot of kids. It’s on the side of a boxing gym and it’s just such an inspirational fitting figure. Ledley ticks so many boxes and is such a fitting person for that wall, it fits so beautifully. 

I don’t know how to phrase it properly, but I was sort of aware of not having too many old white faces in the area immediately. That’s just a  fact of our history, you know, Spurs’ history and the history of where we lived and where we grew up. But actually, because it’s the first mural in what will hopefully be a series that helps to reflect and show Spurs history, then I think that’s a really brilliant starting point for so many reasons that are hopefully illustrated through this inspirational figure in the local community.

I’ve been lucky enough to meet Ledley a few times, but I met him again yesterday and we were chatting. I don’t see there’s going to be that many one club players, if any, in the rest of our Tottenham supporting lives really. So he’s already become a bit of a — he won’t thank me for saying it — but almost an old school player type. It’s an era maybe we won’t see again, somebody who stays at the club for that long. 

 

That quote ‘this is my club, my one and only club’ is so powerful, in football now, people just don’t tend to stick around the way they used to.

It’s funny that quote, I was talking about that yesterday. When we’d mocked up the artwork and Marc Silver said to me “What’s Ledley’s inspirational quote?” and somebody mentioned that, I was convinced it wasn’t Ledley who had said that. I don’t mean to put Ledley down at all, it’s such a brilliant quote — I mean it’s up there with Bill Nicholson or Keith Burkinshaw —it’s really up there as an iconic quote. So yeah, it’s beautiful, it’s such a fitting thing really.

 

The area is a vibrant place and the club and the stadium are kind of at the heart of it — what do you think the main importance of the mural is to the local community?

Hopefully what it’ll do, or what I see it as doing is it will be the first in a series. About five years ago myself and Julie Welch, we co-wrote the book about my dad called The Ghost of White Hart Lane, and another trust member Pete Haine —[worked on] a Spurs history walk that goes from Tottenham Hale right the way through the area and ends up back at The Antwerp Arms, and that helps to verbally and visually document what’s happened since 1882 in the area. 

My ultimate vision [for the] series of murals throughout the immediate vicinity of the stadium, is to help to tell the tales of the history and heritage, which is the two words I keep coming back to. 

If you’ve arrived in Haringey from wherever, however you’ve come here, you may not know anything about Ledley King, or even Lucas Moura or Walter Tull or John White. All of these things, and I think theoretically what these should do, or they will do, is just to help soften some of the barriers that exist between the community and the club, and the club and the community. 

One of the brilliant things about this, from my point of view, about this project has been the great illustration of how the Tottenham Hotspur Supporters Trust — but not just that — the wider supporters body, the community through the Tottenham community sports centre, and the club, have come together and delivered an absolutely fantastic piece of work that we can all be proud of. Harmoniously, it’s worked. This for me is something that transcends all of the politics of club and fans really. Ultimately, it’s just a beautiful thing that everybody should be proud of.

Back to the example at Liverpool, they’ve got some beautiful murals up there actually — from Ray Clemence, to Ian St John, to Steven Gerrard. I know there was a turning point with that once the first mural went up. People really understood it, and they weren’t scared of murals, and they sort of get the point of actually, ‘yeah, this is something to help us be proud of where we are,’ rather than the opposite I guess. 

 

Do you think that this project will expand and if so, where would you like to see it go?

Not necessarily taking the same path as the history walk that we’ve done, the vision I have for it is maybe a dozen — I say a dozen, I’m exhausted getting one done! (Laughs). It would be lovely. They don’t all have to be 25 foot, some of them can be A3, some of them can be small. 

Really beautifully, this morning I’ve got an email from Norway Spurs who are interested in finding out how much it would be to commission and to get in place a mural that portrayed the Norwegian players that played for Spurs. For me, that’s absolutely fantastic, and that’s sort of what I had in mind when I started this off. A fan-led thing, which I can help to organise and through MurWalls, help to get these things up and running. 

I don’t particularly want to take full ownership of this project, I want to help people get these things up there. I think it could be a beautiful organic project that develops over the next five years really.

Tottenham, the area, is famous worldwide — and the reason it is famous worldwide is because of the football club. But it’s got so much more that we can celebrate, and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be famous for this fantastic display of football murals. 

I only feel that I’m the, not even the curator, I’m just the facilitator or whatever of this project — it’s not my project. I want it to be the community’s, or everybody’s project. And the community from the Haringey community, to the Tottenham fan community, to whoever wants to get involved really.

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