Football: How Wales may figure in World Cup bid

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EARLIER THIS month the shareholders of Wembley agreed to sell the famous old stadium to English National Stadium Development Company, a trust set up and led by the Football Association to re-build the ground. Subject to planning permission, the bulldozers will roll in some time after the Cup final of 2000.

Two, possibly three, FA Cup finals will be played elsewhere while the new stadium is under construction. Old Trafford and the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff are possible venues.

If the Cup final did go to Cardiff it would be the first time the showpiece finale of the English season has been staged outside this country. It would certainly increase pressure to include Welsh and Scottish venues in the plans for World Cup 2006, if England's bid succeeds at Fifa's meeting in March 2000.

The proposals for a new national stadium were first mooted five years ago, before the Football Association decided to bid for World Cup 2006. Wembley had to withstand competition from Birmingham, Bradford, Sheffield and Manchester before the application for National Lottery money succeeded.

However, the new Wembley is now the centrepiece of the 2006 campaign. Fans who have grumbled at the uncomfortable facilities or the expensive refreshments may find this surprising, but the very name "Wembley" still conjures up passion and excitement throughout the world.FINAL players want to play there, overseas supporters want to visit and international footballing dignitaries are happy to bring their big matches there.

It is the brand name, the heritage of Wembley that will remain the big drawing point, for I cannot see the twin towers surviving the demolition men. It would cost precious millions of pounds to remove them or to re- create the legendary symbol and nobody will find the extra money. pounds 103m of the national Lottery grant of pounds 120m has already been used to buy out the Wembley company (who incidentally will retain the Conference Centre and arena). The FA plans to raise pounds 200m from the City for the reconstruction of the stadium. All this - and possibly more - will be needed if the new Wembley is to be a state-of-the-art modern facility for the next 50 years. Money for the salvation of the twin towers can be put to better use. Even sentiment can be over-priced.

Not only will the new Wembley Stadium be the main attraction in the World Cup bid but it will also be the focal point of the FA's commercial plans.

Previously, Wembley had been somewhat of an obstacle to the FA's efforts to raise funds for the development of the game, because the stadium company was competing with them in the market place.

When Bert Millichip and Ted Croker agreed to pay 32 per cent of the net gate take of Cup finals and 25 per cent from international matches at Wembley Stadium for 20 years in 1983, they not surprisingly failed to forsee the vast explosion in commercial revenue which would follow. Wembley had a significant stake in television and sponsorship contracts relating to the FA's matches and also controlled the lucrative ancillary rights such as perimeter advertising. For many years, in theory, Wembley was free to indulge in ambush marketing: the AXA- sponsored FA Cup final for example, could have been staged in a stadium dominated by advertising for a rival firm like Prudential.

It has taken successive commercial directors of the FA many years to prise these rights away from Wembley and into the proper control of the FA, to whom the events belong.

Now football will be in control of its own destiny for the first time. It can design a modern, comfortable ground with the aspirations of both fans and sponsors in mind.

Hopefully, the Football League Cup final and end-of-season play-offs will be committed long term to the national stadium.

The capacity will be in excess of 80,000 which means the venue will be ideal for not only the World Cup final but also the Olympic Games, the World Athletics Championships and top Rugby League matches. It is a Government and Sport England (formerly the English Sports Council) requirement that the stadium be designed to accommodate football, rugby league and athletics.

But the new Wembley will predominantly be known as a football stadium. It is a major and massively important venture for the national game.

During a period when virtually everything in football seems to be geared towards the European ambitions of the top four or five clubs, it will be vital for everyone to pull together to make a success of the national stadium. FA Cup semi-finals, League Cup finals and, above all, capacity England crowds on a consistent basis will be needed to balance the books. Now that football has got what it wanted for so long, a white elephant would be disastrous.