Football / FA Cup: FA gives Sheffield its day at Wembley

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The Independent Online
SHEFFIELD'S centenary was marked on a national scale yesterday when the Football Association agreed to end the dispute over the FA Cup semi-final between United and Wednesday by allowing it to be staged at Wembley at 1pm on 3 April, 23 hours before Arsenal meet Tottenham Hotspur there in the other semi-final.

The Sheffield clubs become the first outside London to play a semi- final at Wembley. When Arsenal and Spurs first met at this stage at Wembley two years ago the FA declared it to be a 'one-off'in the interests of crowd safety. It has become a 'three- off' and the pressure will be on the Association to play all future semi- finals at Wembley now that all the provincial grounds will have capacities of less than 50,000.

Manchester was originally put forward as an alternative for the Sheffield game when both clubs objected vehemently to playing at Elland Road. Dave Bassett, the Blades' manager, after praising the FA's change of mind, which he called courageous, added: 'I didn't think they would back down. I was all prepared for Old Trafford.'

However, Manchester United's ground capacity is only 34,000 and, given the traffic problems caused by two narrow trans-Pennine roads that become hopelessly clogged when only one of the Sheffield clubs is playing in Manchester, there were good reasons to think again.

The FA's chief executive Graham Kelly explained: 'We listened to strong feelings expressed by the supporters of both clubs (MP's David Blunkett, Roy Hattersley and Joe Ashton among them) and of the clubs themselves and felt that their wish to play at Wembley should be granted.'

Television plans will not be changed, the BBC explaining yesterday that their decision to screen Arsenal-Spurs live and give the other semi-final to BSkyB, with BBC highlights, was conditioned solely by the fact that the London semi-final was first in place.

For Wembley the weekend will be a bonanza with two sell-outs bringing in an income of pounds 3m. They heard earlier that the stadium has been chosen to host the European Cup-Winners' Cup final on 12 May.

Arsenal's Republic of Ireland veteran David O'Leary will receive a free transfer at the end of the season, ending 20 years at Highbury. The 34- year-old wanted to stay on for two more years but was told yesterday that he will not be offered a new contract.

The former Scottish international striker David Speedie has joined West Ham on loan for the rest of the season.