Football: Cardiff could host FA Cup finals

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The Independent Online
THE ENGLISH FA Cup final in 2001 will be played in the Millennium Stadium in Wales if plans being considered by the Football Association come to fruition. The FA needs to find a temporary home for its flagship event while Wembley Stadium is being redeveloped, and David Davies, the FA's acting executive director, said: "If the Millennium Stadium was offered to us to use, we'd have to consider it."

The final of the world's oldest football competition has never been played outside England in the tournament's 127-year history, but a move to Cardiff is now understood to be the favourite of several options open to the FA. "We're clearly not going to play England international matches in Cardiff," an FA spokesman added, "but we have a number of options for the FA Cup." In an era when the tournament's defending champions can opt out of defending their title, anything is possible, it seems.

One option that has been considered is to play the FA Cup final at Twickenham, the 75,000-capacity home of English rugby union. That remains an outside possibility but the local council and residents are likely to oppose such a move. In May 1998, the Rugby Football Union board turned down an approach from the FA to stage football matches at Twickenham. "The position effectively remains the same," an RFU spokesman said yesterday

The FA's second option is to stage the Cup final at one of the larger club grounds in the country, which is where England matches will probably be staged. Such venues include Manchester United's home, Old Trafford (which is having its capacity increased to 67,000) and Sunderland's home, the Stadium of Light (which is also being enlarged to hold 60,000-plus). The problem with these is that the showpiece could end up being a "home" fixture if the hosts reach the final. The game would then have to be moved at short notice to avoid such a scenario.

Another problem would be capacity. The FA Cup final is always sold out, and the larger a potential venue, the more attractive it would be. The Millennium Stadium, a neutral ground with a capacity of 75,000, is therefore the prime candidate.

The Football League has already approached the Millennium Stadium's managers to explore the possibility of playing the end of season play-off finals in Cardiff while Wembley is being redeveloped. "These are early-day discussions," a League spokesman said yesterday. "But when you look at the Millennium Stadium, it is going to be one of the finest stadiums in the country." Tom Shorey, a Millennium Stadium spokesman, confirmed last night that "there is a very real possibility" that the venue will host a number of Wembley's fixtures in the coming years and added that FA officials were likely to inspect the facilities soon.

The last Wembley FA Cup final before the present building is demolished will be played on 20 May next year. The last matches to be played there will be the Nationwide play-off finals, ending with the First Division final, scheduled for 29 May. The new Wembley, being built at a cost of pounds 475m, is due to open in 2003, but even if the building goes to plan, it is thought unlikely that the FA Cup final would be able to return there before 2004.

The Millennium Stadium opened for business on 26 June, when the Welsh rugby team won a historic victory over South Africa. This weekend, when Wales play a friendly against Canada, the capacity will be 50,000, and by the time that the rugby World Cup starts in October, the venue will hold 72,000.

Turkey called off today's friendly match against Norway in Oslo after the earthquake in western Turkey that left hundreds dead and thousands injured. The Turkish team planned to travel home as soon as possible rather than play the match, a spokesman for the Norwegian Football Association said.

It was unclear if the game would be rescheduled. Norway hoped to persuade another team t0 play them today at short notice, but the spokesman declined to say who the opponents might be.