LONDON -- Daniel Levy, chairman of Tottenham Hotspur, doesn't like to take 'no' for an answer. He imagined a custom-built stadium that could stage both English Premier League and NFL games. He could even see a time when a Spurs home match and an NFL game featuring a London franchise could take place on the same day. But people around him doubted his vision. "I knew how compelling and unique it would be to bring the world's two most popular sports together in one stadium," Levy said.
Despite the doubt, Levy and the club went through with the plans. The new stadium, which is sprouting next to the site of Spurs' old White Hart Lane ground in north London at a cost of £850 million, is due to be completed in time for the start of the 2018-19 Premier League soccer season starting in August. The 61,000-seater stadium will be the first arena in Britain ever built with the needs of American football in mind.
And on Thursday, his dream came another step closer when the NFL announced that the first NFL match in the 10-year deal between Spurs and the NFL would see the Oakland Raiders host the Seattle Seahawks on October 14.
"This partnership with the NFL has enabled us to push the boundaries of stadium design to ensure customised and dedicated facilities for both NFL and Premier League," Levy said. "It is something that has never been done before anywhere in the world.
"The efforts we are making mean that the stadium is designed to cater for anything an NFL side could desire, as opposed to feeling like they are renting a stadium."
While Wembley Stadium and Twickenham have been successful London hosts for the NFL, having now staged 21 matches between them since 2007, adaptations have always been made when the NFL comes to town, particularly because of the sheer number of people who are on and surrounding the pitch during games."For instance, at a Twickenham NFL game, we have to knock down a bar that's adjacent to a dressing room in order to build the room up to an adequate size," said Alistair Kirkwood, NFL UK managing director.
"Now, though we'll have a stadium that's unique in the world, not just Britain. I can't think of anywhere where two major sports not only share a stadium but [also] have their own complete bespoke needs satisfied."
The Spurs stadium is the result of unprecedented cooperation and planning between the club and the NFL, which though it has never released any details of its financial commitment, is understood to have pumped £10 million into backing the project.
"It is vital [that the NFL has] been part of every aspect of the construction because we want the stadium to be seen as a joint soccer and NFL venue," Levy said.
The stadium is designed with one side as a dedicated soccer entrance and the other a dedicated NFL entrance. "There are a wealth of considerations that come with making this stadium purpose-built for two sports," Levy added. "We need to ensure we have sufficient space to provide for both and the capability to turnaround from one event to another in a short space of time as the requirements are very different.
"For example, NFL teams tend to bring four times the amount of backroom staff than Premier League teams, as well as additional luggage and kit. Even down to catering, the expectations are completely different with NFL fans known to have up to four visits to concessions during an event day, compared to half that figure for a typical soccer fan."
The key has been to make American football feel at home in England. The support for the game is unquestionably present: The NFL sold 40,000 season tickets alone for the last batch of four matches in 2017.
"We would welcome the prospect of hosting a franchise should the NFL decide to move a team to London. That decision, however, is totally down to them," Levy said.
Yet for the moment, Kirkwood thinks it is important for any of the visiting teams that cross the Atlantic to feel comfortable with the experience.
"They have to feel they've been given a good competitive chance of playing well," he said. "If teams felt it wasn't a good experience you'd find it very difficult to get other teams to come over. Players will have their own locker rooms, branded and designed by ourselves, and a field surface that they're familiar with."
This is thanks to a revolutionary new sliding pitch system -- a retractable natural turf pitch for soccer and, beneath, a dedicated AstroTurf field for American football.
The artificial pitch will also be used to stage other sporting contests and major international concerts. The innovative real turf surface, housed in three pitch-long steel trays weighing more than 3,000 tonnes each, will be rolled out from underneath the South Stand -- a vast, steep, single-tier stand of 17,500 seats, the largest of its kind in Britain, in just 25 minutes.
"We would welcome the prospect of hosting a franchise should the NFL decide to move a team to London. That decision, however, is totally down to them."Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy
When English clubs move homes, the lament from their fans often centres on how the shiny new arena lacks the atmosphere of their former ground. Yet Spurs, who are currently playing home matches at Wembley while waiting for the new stadium to be completed, have tried to ensure it will enjoy an even better atmosphere than the noisy old 'Lane', which staged its last game after 118 years with an emotional win over Manchester United last May.
They are doing so by creating the South Stand, which, for Premier League matches, will be populated by the home fans, who can create a wall of sound to rival Liverpool's Kop end or Borussia Dortmund's Yellow Wall.
"Our brief was to not only design the perfect atmospheric and authentic home for the club for the next century, but also to revolutionise modern stadium design in creating a stadium where multiple professional codes could play in a bespoke environment," explained Christopher Lee, the managing director EMEA of the stadium architects Populous, on the firm's website.
"This has always been the holy grail of stadium design; a multi-use stadium perfectly designed for the needs of all participants - players, spectators, media and operations."
Only time will tell if that 'Holy Grail' has been unearthed in Tottenham but no expense has been spared in the search, especially in making this the perfect spectator experience.
"We are also mindful of the way fans consume their sport today, thanks to developments in technology, meaning that the game-day experience for many starts long before the main event begins. So we will be implementing wireless connectivity throughout the stadium and flexibility to cater for future demands and developments," said Levy. "We are driven to make this the most technologically advanced stadium anywhere."For the best acoustics possible, Lee even worked with a sound engineer from the band U2 while Populous also came up with a solution for a viewing conundrum.
"When the natural grass pitch slides away, the artificial surface will lie 1.5 metres below," Lee said. "This approach allows the front row of seats to stay in exactly the same position; up close to the action and at pitch-level for football and six feet above the game for NFL, meaning that every fan has perfect sightlines over the entourage of players and coaches on the sidelines."
Ultimately, though, for Levy, this is going to be more than just a stadium. He wants it to be a "unique venue that will help attract tourism to Tottenham 365 days a year and act as a key driver for the regeneration of the local area."
Tottenham, the flashpoint area of north London back in 2011 for the riots that spread across English cities that summer, remains one of the most deprived areas in the whole of the United Kingdom.
"This isn't just about a stadium. The scheme has helped to kick-start regeneration plans that will see the area transform over the next 20 years," said Levy.
"When complete, the stadium development alone will support some 3,500 jobs, with £293 million injected into the local economy each year. That's an increase of 1,700 new jobs and £166 million local spending a year -- a huge impact for an area in real need of new jobs and greater economic activity."
It is still premature, believes Kirkwood, to start hailing Tottenham as the NFL's new English home because Wembley -- which will be staging two more matches this year to take its grand total over 11 years to 20 -- has been the sport's traditional American football home and remains hugely popular for the fans.
"I actually think they'll be two very different but complimentary experiences," Kirkwood said.
Yet it seems clear that the NFL has not thrown its weight behind this extraordinary project without expecting this state-of-the-art stadium to stand as a monument to their own global ambitions.