Northern chips are down

London grabs the new national stadium. No surprise, says Emma Daly
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The Independent Online
Football's staying put, it seems, spurning the siren call of Manchester for the familiar, if inconvenient, twin towers of Wembley; no surprise there, if you're Mancunian, but irritation none the less that the money, the prestige, the facilities are again going south.

Formally, the deal has not been done. The Sports Council has yet to decide on a site for a new national stadium from the shortlist of two (Bradford, Sheffield and Birmingham were dropped earlier), but the race is probably over: the Football Association, with the governing bodies of athletics and rugby league, has decided to back the London bid.

The news did not go down well in Manchester. "I think it was sadly predictable, I think it's an opportunity wasted," Paul Horrocks, deputy editor of the Manchester Evening News, said crossly. "People are sick and tired of the nation's resources being pumped into the nation's capital city."

Sir Bobby Charlton, the footballer who backed Manchester's Olympic bid, responded more in sorrow than in anger. "It should not be forgotten that there's another part of the country up here, with millions who want to see major sporting events," he said. "We don't really want to travel down to London every time something happens, which is the case at the moment."

For Terry Christian, the television presenter who lives in Manchester, it was "par for the course". "I don't even know why they tendered it out, because I don't think there was ever any intention for the stadium not to be in London." Mancunians are used to London hogging the limelight, and the south blames that chip on the northern shoulder, but a certain stoicism is also in order.

"I would like things to be in the North but the point is that London is the capital, whether you like it or not," said Sir Bernard Ingham, professional tyke. And Bernard Manning, king of uncouth comedy, is even harder on his home town's dream of glory: "It's like Berlin hogs the limelight in Germany, and Tokyo does in Japan," he said - though the German team do not restrict their play to the capital (Bonn) but play all over the country. "You've got to be sensible." Sir Bernard agrees: "I'm afraid people don't come to Manchester or Leeds in the same numbers."

But perhaps they would, if encouraged. As far as the national stadium is concerned, "Manchester makes sense from not only a financial point of view but from a geographical point of view," Mr Horrocks said. "We are basically at the centre of this country." And, he added, "Wembley isn't even in the centre of London."

But the twin towers, the World Cup victory in 1966, the tradition, apparently acted powerfully on the FA - despite the fact that until the late Fifties England played at several club grounds. Mr Horrocks sees Wembley as "the soft option"; picking Manchester, he says, would have been innovative, would have "broken the mould".

The Bernards think he is carping. "I do think there's a lot of people whingeing about this," Sir Bernard said. "They always whinge, there's always this provincial provinces versus London, and I'm normally on the side of the province, but I do think you have to face the fact that you have a capital.

"It may be that people want a different capital,'' he added, raising the possibility of Marston Moor in Yorkshire as a new site. "I think there's quite a lot of snobbery in London about the North, I think there equally is a great deal of ignorance in London about the North."

And indeed the region has a flourishing life, sporting and cultural - Manchester United might have been humiliated this week, but at least the drubbing came from Newcastle and not Arsenal. A disproportionate number of English pop stars of the last 30 years have come from Liverpool or Manchester. Two out of three major soap operas are set in the North and it seems at times that all our favourite modern dramatists - Alan Bleasdale, Willy Russell, Alan Bennett, Lynda LaPlante, Alan Ayckbourne - are northerners.

"We've got great stadiums up here, new dog tracks, we've got our own share of prosperity," Mr Manning said stoutly. Certainly London can produce as many miserable and crime-ridden areas as Manchester or Liverpool. Perhaps that is why Virginia Bottomley felt compelled to defend the granting to London of great chunks of lottery money, for its principal arts companies and for the millennium project.

"It is only natural, after all, that London, our capital city and this country's biggest tourist attraction, should be the site of nationally important projects," Mrs Bottomley said last year. "I love London ... I care about the environment and surroundings in which I spend most of my life."

Well there you go, supporters of the North might say. She lives in London - and so do most of those who run the country, the media, the rest of our lives. No wonder they think the capital is first among wannabe equals.

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