Football chiefs to decide on Wembley's future

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The Independent Online
The future of Wembley, operator of the world-famous but shabby sports stadium, hangs in the balance this weekend with a decision on the location of a new national stadium expected to be effectively decided early next week. Shares in the company closed 8.5p lower last night at 395p, ahead of the decision, but they have risen sharply in recent days as the market became more convinced that the stadium will stay in the capital.

A decision by the footballing authorities, the Premier League and Football Association, is expected to be delivered to the Sports Council on Monday or Tuesday detailing their preferred location. Wembley faces a challenge from Manchester City Council, which wants to move the stadium to the North, but it is thought increasingly unlikely to pose a serious threat.

The Sports Council has until the end of the year to make up its mind, although it is understood that it will probably ratify whatever decision "football" recommends. Once it has decided on the site, detailed costings will be drawn up during the first half of next year before a formal application is made to the Sports Lottery Board for a grant. About two thirds of the cost of building the new stadium, estimated at between pounds 130m and pounds 170m, is expected to come from Lottery funds.

One of the factors acting in Wembley's favour is likely to be its dramatic recent return to financial health. After a successful Euro 96 football tournament, the company, which also owns greyhound tracks in America, reversed a pounds 5.5m pre-tax loss into a pounds 7.7m profit in the six months to June. The Wembley complex itself reported more than doubled operating profits of pounds 7.9m during the period.

Wembley said yesterday that, with a decision from the Sports Council not expected before the end of the year, it was too early to assess the financial implications of winning the stadium bid. Analysts have become increasingly enthusiastic about the company's prospects, however, with one broker putting a value of 520p on the shares.

If Wembley gets the nod, it will have the opportunity to put in place an ambitious scheme to transform the stadium, including rotating the ground through 90 degrees to solve problems for television coverage in bright, early evening sun, and the use of the stadium's twin towers to create a grandiose entrance.

Designed by Sir Norman Foster, the radical plans also include a retractable roof and giant video screens to relayevents inside to crowds outside.