Football: Trust places its bid for Wembley

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THE English National Stadium Trust yesterday finalised its bid to buy Wembley Stadium and begin a pounds 200m redevelopment.

Arsenal last week announced that they had made a formal offer to purchase the stadium as their new home because of fierce local opposition to their plans to increase their 38,000-capacity at Highbury.

Wembley plc now has until the end of the month to decide between the two offers, which could be as high as pounds 120m. The ENST's bid is backed by the UK Sports Council and the Football Association.

The Sports Minister, Tony Banks, welcomed the ENST's bid and urged Wembley plc to press ahead with contractual negotiations for the new English national stadium to ensure the project can proceed on schedule."I am delighted that following discussions between the English Sports Council and the FA an agreed Trust bid has been made," Banks said.

"Lottery funds have been earmarked for a new national stadium which will serve English national teams - including football, rugby league and athletic events - and provide a neutral venue for the climax of major club competitions. This is what sports fans want. Importantly, this bid will be a key component of bids to attract the World Cup in 2006, future Olympics and other international events to this country."

Meanwhile the World Cup campaign director, Alec McGivan, has warned that if Arsenal succeed in buying Wembley it would be a major blow to the bid to bring the tournament home for the first time in 40 years.

Michael Owen could become the youngest ever winner of the Professional Footballers' Association's Player of the Year award. The Liverpool 18 year old has been shortlisted in his first full season in senior football. Other names on the shortlist include Arsenal's Dennis Bergkamp and Manchester United's Andy Cole.

Leeds have snapped up Jamie McMaster, a 15-year-old Australian who went to the same Sydney school as their striker Harry Kewell. McMaster has just won a scholarship with the New South Wales Soccer Academy and will join Leeds in the summer of 1999.

Leicester have turned down an undisclosed bid from hard-up Portsmouth for Steve Claridge. The Leicester manager Martin O'Neill is adamant he will not let Claridge leave on the cheap after recalling the 31-year-old striker from his loan spell at Fratton Park. O'Neill said: "Portsmouth have made a tentative bid but it falls well short of our valuation. There are many ifs, buts and maybes."

Blackburn Rovers are looking to increase their capacity at Ewood Park to 40,000. Further redevelopment of the stadium is planned with a new 15,000-seat stand in the pipeline.

It would mean Rovers demolishing the existing Walkersteel Stand which was not part of the massive redevelopment of Ewood earlier this decade.

Blackburn are anxious to increase their spectator capacity and their chief executive John Williams said: "It is part of an overall club plan to keep us ahead of the game. We need to have a bigger capacity as we look to continue to move forward. We are making moves to increase our supporter base outside the direct geographic boundaries and the new stand is all part and parcel of it."

Wolverhampton Wanderers yeseterday signed the Rangers right-back Stephen Wright on loan until the end of the season. The 26-year-old, who has two full Scottish caps from the early 1990s, goes straight into the Wolves side for today's First Division game at Ipswich.

Since moving to Ibrox for pounds 1.5m from Aberdeen in 1995, Wright has been beset by knee injury problems and has had two cruciate operations.

"I have had a season in Rangers' reserves and I am now fit," he said. "I was sitting at home preparing for a reserve game at Dunfermline when the call came through that Wolves wanted to sign me. I'm delighted to be joining another big club."

The Aston Villa manager John Gregory is to offer new contracts to his goalkeeper Mark Bosnich and the midfielder Lee Hendrie.

The Villa striker Savo Milosevic has been named in Yugoslavia's squad for their friendly with Colombia next Wednesday in Bogota. The Tottenham striker Jurgen Klinsmann has been named in Germany's squad for the friendly with Brazil on the same day.