Commonwealth games: Go-ahead for futuristic pounds 99m stadium

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The Independent Online
MANCHESTER CITY, whose Moss Side address does not fit easily with their aspirations to restore their status as a "big" club, will move to the new pounds 99m Commonwealth Games stadium in the east of the city for the 2003- 2004 season if approval is gained by supporters and shareholders.

The scheme was given the thumbs up in principle yesterday after it was announced extra funding will be provided by the Sports Council and Manchester City Council, which removes doubts about the viability of the stadium. Construction work will begin next year with a completion date set for late 2001.

There had been fears that the 48,000-seater construction, which will be the centrepiece of the 2002 Games, would have to be of a temporary nature because the pounds 60m granted as part of pounds 80m in Sports Council lottery funding in 1996 was inadequate. Now an extra pounds 30.5m has been provided.

City have been mulling over a move to the new stadium, which is a mile from the city centre, since 1996 but could not commit themselves until yesterday's announcement. Now they will consult their audience via supporters' clubs and leaflets at the home match against Bournemouth before deciding whether to leave Maine Road, their home of 75 years.

"Two matters should be emphasised," David Bernstein, the chairman of the Second Division club, said. "First is that we could only move to this stadium if it is an exciting and proper long-term home for our club with facilities that can take Manchester City into the new century. Secondly, legally binding agreements have to be finalised and clearly before a final decision is made, we are committed to consulting our supporters.

"If our fans don't want to move into the new stadium then we won't go, it's as simple as that. But for my part as chairman and long-standing supporter I believe this is a unique opportunity for the club."

In addition to the extra funding, it was announced the local authority intends to develop a sports complex on the 146-acre Eastlands site, which will include an indoor tennis centre and a sports academy, with a gymnasium and injury clinic.

Added to the nearby velodrome, which has become the home of British cycling, Eastlands will become, in the words of Manchester City Council leader, Richard Leese, "The biggest sporting development Europe has ever seen."

He continued: "The key objective is to transform this neglected area into an attractive place in which to live and a magnetic place in which to invest."

City, the football club, have been a neglected area in terms of honours for more than 20 years and are currently in the lowest position they have held in the Football League. They would move into the stadium nine months after the Games and take over management of the ground immediately. Maine Road, meanwhile, would be handed over to the council in exchange, with neither party receiving any money.

There has been a Football League club in that part of Manchester before. Newton Heath Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway FC played in the 1890s before financial problems and threatened bankruptcy caused it to rename and ultimately relocate. It is now called Manchester United.