Football: League threat to move finals from Wembley

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The Independent Online
THE FOOTBALL LEAGUE has warned that it may be forced to take its five major finals away from the rebuilt Wembley Stadium.

The League fears supporters will not be able to afford tickets by Wembley as the new national stadium attempts to finance its huge rebuilding costs. Peter Middleton, the chairman of the Football League, insisted yesterday that it would not be held to ransom by Wembley National Stadium Limited.

Talks between the two bodies are at an advanced stage, and Middleton hopes a deal will not be ruined by the demands of Wembley, whose rebuilding costs have been estimated at anything between pounds 350m to pounds 475m. "My biggest fear is that Wembley may price fans out of the market over the next 10 years," said Middleton. "Our fans are not overflowing with money, and we have to make sure they can afford to get into matches at the new stadium.

"We have every right to make a proper business decision for the Football League as to where it holds its events. We are aware of the emotional attachment for the fans and we are in good-faith negotiations with Wembley - but we shall not be held to ransom.

"Our concern is over admission prices when Wembley is servicing a debt of at least pounds 350m and we want guarantees about the level of entry prices. If you have one of the lower division clubs in a play-off final and you are asking pounds 50 a ticket then not many fans may be able to afford to turn up."

The League holds five major football finals at Wembley each year - the Worthington Cup, the three divisional play-offs and the Auto Windscreens Shield. "I hope we can conclude a deal - otherwise Wembley National Stadium Limited will be losing some sell-out occasions," Middleton said.

While Wembley is closed for rebuilding, the League will move its main events to the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, and Middleton hinted that would become permanent if nothing is agreed with Wembley. Middleton also warned that if Wembley was redesigned to also house facilities for athletics events it would cast doubt on the major football events, including the FA Cup final.

He explained: "If Wembley is to become an athletics stadium too and bids to host the 2005 World Championships, it will take six months to convert the stadium. How then can it hold the cup finals in April and May and be converted in time for athletics in August or September?"

Newcastle have reacted warmly to a suggestion by Kevin Keegan that England could play their World Cup qualifier against Germany at St James' Park. The England coach believes the intimate atmosphere of the Tyneside stadium could help his side while Wembley is under reconstruction.

The club's chief executive, Freddie Fletcher, welcomed the idea and said: "When the stadium is completed by next August it will hold more than 52,000 and be one of the finest stadiums in Europe."

Liverpool and Sunderland are competing for the signature of Bolton's stylish midfielder Claus Jensen. Liverpool see Jensen as an ideal replacement for Jamie Redknapp, who has a long-term injury. Both teams have made an offer.

Nicolas Anelka is in trouble with the Real Madrid coach, Vicente del Bosque, after Tuesday's 3-1 victory over Rosenborg Trondheim in the Champions' League. Del Bosque is angry with the striker for the way he slowly peeled off his track suit when preparing to come on as a substitute

"I wasn't happy with the way he accepted the instruction to prepare to play," said Del Bosque, who is temporarily in charge. Asked if Anelka remained part of Real Madrid's plans, Del Bosque declined to answer. The controversial Frenchman has failed to score since leaving Arsenal in the close season.

Anelka's only contribution on Tuesday was to give away a free-kick just before the final whistle. On Monday he was pelted with stones when he left training, 48 hours after Madrid's 5-1 defeat at home to Real Zaragoza.

Marseilles' Italian striker, Fabrizio Ravanelli, confirmed yesterday that he has signed an 18-month contract with Lazio for an undisclosed transfer fee.

French prosecutors opened an official inquiry into Marseilles for possible fraud, illegal accounting and the use of false documentation, sources at the city's prosecutor's office said.