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SFX withdraws Wembley bid

THE CONTROVERSIAL deal to sell Wembley Stadium to a trust backed by the Football Association for pounds 106m looks set to go ahead today after SFX Entertainment, the American leisure giant, yesterday abandoned its plans to mount a bid for the stadium's parent company, Wembley.

SFX was thought to have pulled out last night after Wembley's board, led by its three executive directors, refused to postpone today's extraordinary general meeting in order to allow the US company more time to prepare a bid.

SFX had indicated that it would be prepared to bid up to 450p a share in cash for Wembley, valuing the company at pounds 250m. However, the group had asked for several weeks to allow it to complete its due diligence, a request which was refused.

SFX is thought to have proposed a deal whereby the stadium would still be sold to the trust in order for it to be redeveloped in time for the 2006 World Cup, which England hopes to stage. However, the US company had planned to negotiate a deal which would allow it to manage the stadium and the grounds around it. Apart from the stadium, Wembley controls the Wembley Arena and the conference facilities, as well as a large plot of land.

Wembley's three non-executive directors - Roger Brooke, Peter Mead and Jarvis Astaire - have openly lobbied against the deal agreed between Wembley and the FA and have actively encouraged bidders to enter the fray. SFX made its interest known after ENIC, the investment company which owns a stake in Glasgow Rangers, submitted a conditional cash and shares bid.

However Wembley's executive directors, led by the chairman Claes Hultman, have rejected offers from both SFX and ENIC as undervaluing the company.

They have also refused to delay the vote, arguing that it would jeopardise the proposed deal with the FA. The executive directors have promised to return a proportion of the pounds 106m to shareholders.

Despite the setback, it is thought that SFX will continue to look for other investment opportunities in continental Europe. Wembley shares closed down 2.5p at 364p.