Bottom Line: Wembley's own goals

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The Independent Online
IS WEMBLEY, owner of English football's Mecca, about to meet its match? Almost certainly if the 2002 Commonwealth Games are awarded to the country's sole candidate, Manchester.

While the games are still eight years away, the building of a super stadium in Manchester would probably shift the balance of power for hosting important sporting events irretrievably to the North.

Manchester, smarting from the loss of its Olympic Games bid, will move hell and high water to secure one of the world's biggest amateur sporting events.

Having built an extensive athletic infrastructure, it is likely that the city would pitch for the FA Cup, Rugby League's Challenge Cup, and the big pop concerts that have been Wembley's bread and butter for decades.

Raising funds for Manchester's hoped-for new role does not look like posing many problems. The Government has already given its backing, by providing pounds 72m to buy land east of the city. The remaining pounds 130m or so would come from a combination of the National Lottery and private sector financing.

Even without the threatened Manchester rain cloud, Wembley has enough problems to contend with. It is finding it difficult to make disposals - a strategy largely forced upon it by the banks - and it is barely making its prime assets run up a sweat.

Wembley, according to analysts, lost about pounds 1.5m in 1993. Projections of a pounds 500,000 surplus for this year are not enough to raise a cheer because pounds 1m of preference share payments will again leave ordinary shareholders without any income.

Investors in Wembley have had to stare at a share price, 18p last night, as flat as the hallowed turf for the past 18 months. It would, perhaps, be fitting if Wembley followed in the footsteps of the Football Association and announced a change of team management.

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