England selects Wembley as new national stadium

 

WEMBLEY is in line to bid for a unique hat-trick of world events after officially getting the nod to become England's national stadium.

The long-expected decision to plump for the "Venue of Legends" - sales patter for Wembley - ahead of the bid by Manchester, was confirmed by UK Sports Council chairman Sir Rodney Walker in London yesterday.

The move may see the World Cup, the Olympics and athletics' World Cup staged there in the next century.

National Lottery funding will provide almost half of the £210-£230 million needed to give the most famous sporting site in England a facelift.

Manchester's battered pride was soothed when Walker also announced that, although their bid to house a national stadium had failed, £60 million would be made available towards the cost of the 60,000-seater stadium that will host the Commonwealth Games in 2002.

And within minutes of the final decision being made, Britain's sports chiefs were thinking about turning their dreams to stage major events into reality.

"We can now go ahead, with some confidence, with our apple cation to stage the world championships in Britain for the first time," said British Athletic Federation spokesman Tony Ward.

"The indications are that the IAAF would look pretty strongly in favour of our bid for 2001. And if the world cup came here in 2006, followed by the Olympics in 2008 or 2012, what a fantastic boost that would be for the country."

The Football Association, the British Athletics Federation and the Rugby Football League had enthusiastically backed the Wembley proposals, which will see the current structure knocked down virtually wholesale - only the Twin Towers will remain - and replaced with an 80,000-seater stadium.

FA chief executive Graham Kelly, who is aiming to use the board of the success of Euro spring '96 to bring the World Cup back to England in 10 years' time, said: "This is very good news for English football, and a major boost for England's World Cup 2006 campaign."

RFL spokesman Dave Callaghan commented: "Over the years there have been some memorable cup finals and Test matches at Wembley and we felt it was an ideal venue for the new National Stadium".

The exact scale of the new Wembley is still uncertain. Leading architects are to be urged to come up with a design fit for a 21st-century stadium, with work expected to start in the summer of 1998 and to be completed by 2000.

Among the early plans proposed was one for a retractable roof, supported by Kelly, who admitted that the rebuilding work will mean that the FA will have to look elsewhere to stage England games and FA and Coca-Cola Cup finals during that period.

"We have said to the Sports Council that we will respond to their invitation to consider taking major events to the new stadium in Manchester. And we have an excellent stock of Premier League grounds in this country, for example all the grounds that we used for Euro '96."

The possibility of England playing at Old Trafford - the only other 50,000-plus football stadium in the country - for 18 months, may add to Manchester's feelings of consolation.

In addition to the money for the Commonwealth Games stadium - covering approximately two-thirds of the cost - the city will also receive £20 million towards a major new swimming complex.

Manchester had stayed in the race after bids by Bradford, Sheffield and Birmingham all fell by the wayside, but Manchester's bid always seemed doomed to failure.

Walker admitted that Wembley's international prestige had been a major factor in the success of the scheme. "Both bids had their attractions," he said. "Wembley, significantly, included proposals for a `flagship events' programme from the potential users of the stadium.

"Throughout Euro '96, so many international visitors remarked how excited they were to attend matches at Wembley. It is seen as the home of football.

"World class performances, world class facilities, world class events - it as an exciting package, and we are committed to delivering."