Banks returns to the basics

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The Independent Online
Tony Banks was quick to demonstrate yesterday that his appointment to high office had done nothing to dull the instincts of a true football fan. Asked what he thought of the facilities at Wembley Stadium, the new Minister for Sport replied: "Crap".

At an impromptu press conference in his new office, Banks gave every indication that he would be a Sports Minister like none of his predecessors, refusing to allow his elevation to curb his capacity for plain speaking.

"We've got wonderful facilities being developed at club level, but crap facilities at national level," he said. "The facilities at Wembley are appalling. I feel ashamed to think Wembley is our national stadium and I think something has to be done about it."

Presumably by himself, though Wembley, which was confirmed as football's national stadium last December, may ask the minister to reconsider his verdict after its pounds 210m overhaul. Work is due to begin next year, with a completion date tentatively set for 2000.

Banks succeeds John Major as the nation's most powerful Chelsea fan, and was already intending to sample Wembley's delights on Saturday week at the Cup final. As Minister of Sport he can now go every year.

Yesterday's press conference was dominated by questions about football. On the issue of a possible return to terraces, Banks said: "I don't think we can go back. I wonder what demand there is for standing areas now. I think we've moved on."

However, Banks was worried about the effects that the high cost of tickets would have on the game in the long term, expressing particular concern that the unemployed could no longer afford to attend matches in the Premiership.

Banks also spoke yesterday about the danger of Sky becoming too dominant in the televising of football. "Sky has been great in terms of the presentation of football, for instance, but of course they can do that with a dedicated sports channel.

"The money they put into football is also great, but I'm still worried looking down the road about what might happen if more and more sport is cornered by one of the suppliers and they end up charging more and more."

Banks is committed to helping the Football Association try to secure the rights to host the 2006 World Cup in England. He cheerfully admitted to not being very clear how he would go about this, but acknowledged the strength of the German opposition. "We're going to have a bit of argy there," he said.

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