Wembley stakes pounds 100m on bid for a world role

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The Independent Online
Wembley Stadium will lose all but its twin towers in a planned redevelopment costing more than pounds 100m. The major building exercise is tied in with Wembley's bid to become the official national stadium, which would give it a central role in a series of British bids being prepared for forthcoming world sports events.

The British Olympic Association will today consider bidding for the 2004 Olympics, which could act as a sighting shot in a strategy to secure the 2008 Games.

The Football Association is considering at attempt to bring the 2006 World Cup to Britain, depending on how the European Championships turn out when they take place in Britain next year. And the British Athletic Federation is planning a serious bid for the World Championships of 2001.

Wembley is one of five applicants seeking the status of national stadium. The others are Manchester, which hopes to host the 2002 Commonwealth Games in a purpose-built stadium, Birmingham, Bradford and Sheffield.

As the Sports Council prepares to announce its recommended choice on 31 October, the omens for Britain's most famous sporting venue are good.

Wembley has history on its side and a name that is known all over the world. But there are other aspects of its bid where more effort will be required before it can secure the pounds 70m of National Lottery money it requires to finance the project.

A key move came six months ago when the directors of the holding company Wembley plc were persuaded that it was worth letting the stadium itself go to a proposed National Stadium Trust, thus legitimising any provision of Lottery funding. Experienced observers believe that it will be the operating of Wembley which will prove profitable. And Wembley has diplomatically pledged an allocation of any profits made to deserving sporting projects of the kind espoused by John Major recently. The proposed re-design of the stadium itself is innovative. There is a clear perception that to be a true national stadium, athletics as well as football has to be catered for. Wembley plans to rebuild its stadium completely - save for the listed towers, which will rise as far above the rim of the stands as they do today.

The stadium as a whole would become shorter and fatter, with overlapping levels of seating, each holding 40,000 spectators. For football matches the seating would reach right down to the pitch, creating a more intimate atmosphere for the game.

For athletics events the 20,000 seats nearest could be retracted, concertina fashion, revealing an athletics track underneath. That in itself, Wembley believes, would not be sufficient - the sightlines for spectators would not be correct; the track would be too low for many to see. Accordingly, the entire track and pitch will be built on a 10ft thick island of concrete which can be raised four feet to bring the track into the full gaze of all present.

This operation, adapted from technology used in North Sea drilling rigs, will require nearly 200 hydraulic jacks arranged around the stadium. They will take eight hours to raise what will be a 35,000-ton weight.

This in turn will create a deep cavity which, it is intended, could be used as a temporary facility for officials and competitors. The jacks will be supplemented by more permanent props when athletics events are underway. London Transport has pledged pounds 32m to improve and extend Wembley Park Tube station if the stadium gets the go-ahead. The London Borough of Brent has also earmarked pounds 4m to enlarge the road linking the stadium with the north orbital road.

Bob Heaver, development director of Wembley Stadium Ltd (which has held the freehold of the 68-acre site since 1923, the year the stadium opened) accepts that there are improvements to be made in this area. But he highlights Wembley's advantage in having a basic infrastructure of roads, sewers, and electricity in place.

A survey commissioned by Wembley indicated that it would cost pounds 1.5bn to create from scratch. Such an expense, Mr Heaver believes, would prove impossibly high for the four other bidding cities.

Glory days beneath the twin towers

1923: An estimated 200,000 fans witness the first FA Cup final at Wembley. George V also looks on, as Bolton Wanderers beat West Ham 2-0.

1948: Wembley hosts the Olympic Games. The Czech Emil Zatopek wins the 10,000 metres and Britain's Tebbs Lloyd-Johnson, 48, becomes the oldest person to win an Olympic track and field medal, finishing third in the 50,000-metre walk.

1963: Cassius Clay knocked down by Britain's Henry Cooper, but is saved by the bell and retains his world heavyweight boxing title.

1966: Bobby Moore (above) captains England's football side to victory in the World Cup final, beating West Germany 4-2.

1985: Bob Geldof and friends stage Live Aid, raising millions for famine relief in Ethiopia.

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