Tottenham Hotspur's late bid to take control of the Olympic Stadium in Stratford was not taken seriously at first by fans, politicians or the Olympic community. It is now.
Originally dismissed as a stalking horse to improve their chances of getting planning permission for a new stadium at White Hart Lane and put pressure on those – Transport for London, English Heritage and Haringey council – making what the club saw as onerous demands, plan B has become plan A. If Spurs are granted preferred bidder status when the Olympic Park Legacy Company makes its decision on 28 January, they must hand over a sizeable bond to underline that fact.
The seriousness of their intent became clear in October when Tim Leiweke, the president of the US sports and entertainment company AEG, flew to London and tossed a hand grenade into the debate. Revealing that the plan was to demolish the existing stadium, remove the track and rebuild the ground as a purpose-built football stadium lit the touchpaper on a fiery debate that will not end with the OPLC's decision.
This week's salvo from David Keirle, the head of the firm of architects drawing up Spurs' plans for a new stadium that they claim will be the best in Europe, raised the stakes further. It was a high-risk strategy. On the one hand it risked fixing in the public imagination that their pitch involved tearing down a stadium built using £496m of taxpayers' money just a few months after it hosts the Games. On the other it enabled Spurs to make a pitch directly to their fans and plant doubts in the minds of their West Ham counterparts. Just as there is unrest among some Spurs fans about moving east, so there are a growing number of West Ham fans questioning whether Stratford would really be a better option.
Most of all it was aimed at raising doubts about West Ham's ability to make the economics work. The argument about knocking down the stadium is more subtle than it first appears. In many ways the real surprise is that there was not more outrage in 2005 at the fact that around half a billion pounds is being spent on building a temporary structure. Then, the default plan was to reduce it from 80,000 to 25,000 seats after the Games. Given that it will cost around £1m a year to maintain, Spurs say it is better to simply knock it down and build a state-of-the-art football stadium that can support itself for decades.
The Spurs pitch is based on economic certainty. Trust us, it is saying to the government, the legacy company and the mayor, and we will not come back with a begging bowl in years to come.
They point to a strong supporter base and a growing global brand as evidence that they can be relied upon to deliver the return that will be promised to the OPLC under the terms of the lease agreement. They can point across the Thames to AEG's success in turning the abject Millennium Dome into the hugely successful O2 and their ability to programme a calendar of sports and entertainment events that will keep the site busy for 365 days a year. In October, AEG Europe president David Campbell pushed those buttons: "We went into a big white elephant and made it work for the government and work for us. We hope we can do the same here."
More difficult will be winning over Seb Coe and the athletics lobby. Spurs are adamant that the two sports cannot coexist and claim their plans offer a better legacy for athletics in any case. But UK Athletics, and an ever-growing list of athletes, are convinced the offer to refurbish Crystal Palace and establish a "legacy fund" for the sport is nothing more than window dressing.
Ed Warner, the UK Athletics chairman, believes the inspirational effect of giving British athletes the goal of competing on the same track where the 2012 Games took place cannot be measured in pounds and pence. The International Olympic Committee said yesterday it would prefer the track to stay but would not intervene.
Coe's insistence that the athletics legacy must be delivered on the Park is partly personal – he made the promise in Singapore and deeply believes it could reinvigorate the sport in the UK – and partly political given his ambitions in global sports politics beyond the Games. But Coe does not perhaps have the leverage he once did.
For the club there are 200 million other good reasons for the move. It estimates building the 60,000-capacity football stadium and renovating Crystal Palace will cost £250m, and they could potentially recoup a considerable sum of that by selling the naming rights for the ground. By contrast, the plan to rebuild White Hart Lane has been costed at nearer £450m.
The club reason that, with fans travelling an average of 40 miles to White Hart Lane and a high proportion coming from Hertfordshire and Essex, the benefits to the club and supporters of the new location will outweigh their historical attachment to N17. They believe they can argue that the design of the new stadium, fusing a traditional "English" football atmosphere with comfort and innovation, shows they put supporters first.
Although there is a vocal campaign against the move, the club believe the majority of fans would follow them east. With the looming introduction of Uefa's Financial Fair Play rules that will force clubs to maximise revenues to compete and the lure of a new stadium, they believe supporters will ultimately follow their heads rather than their hearts.
For Daniel Levy, the Spurs majority shareholder who has shrewdly plotted their course to the Champions League despite the limitations of White Hart Lane, there might be another motivation.
Those opposing the Tottenham plan are convinced there must be more to it than meets the eye. If Levy has got an eye on a sale - whether to AEG, the Qataris or some other suitor - then winning the race to occupy a purpose built stadium in a very well connected part of London that will soon have the eyes of the world on it will increase the value of his asset exponentially.