Football: Mellor extends lifeline

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The Independent Online
CLUBS that form the Second and Third Divisions of the revamped Football League were given financial breathing space yesterday when David Mellor, the Secretary of State for National Heritage whose brief includes sport, relaxed the recommendation of Lord Justice Taylor's post-Hillsborough report that all league clubs must turn their grounds into all-seat stadiums by August 1999.

The move will help clubs who feared they could go out of business if they were required to comply with the Taylor report. Premier League clubs and the First Division of the Football League, however, must adhere to their directive to go all-seater by August 1994.

Mellor, replying yesterday to a written Parliamentary question from Tom Pendry, the chairman of the All-Party Football Committee, said: 'I can confirm that I am prepared to allow some standing accommodation to be retained at grounds in the Second and Third Divisions, providing terracing is safe. Clubs moving from the Second to the First Division will continue to have three seasons to convert to all-seater.'

Originally Mellor had said that he was considering extending a relaxation of the rules to First Division clubs, but changed his mind after consultation. 'Many of these clubs have recently played in the higher division. All of them should aspire to do so,' he said.

Work on the upgrading of grounds has been subsidised by the cut in pools betting duty which enabled the Government to release pounds 100m to the game over five years. They are still considering whether to extend that by another pounds 100m from 1995.

Welcoming Mellor's move, a League official said: 'The way forward is for clubs to work towards the provision of a greater amount of seating and at the same time continuing to upgrade their terrace accommodation. This will help not only to improve ground safety, but also to make our football grounds welcoming.

'This is not an inexpensive option and it would be extremely beneficial if the reduction in pools betting duty could be extended for a further five-year period to enable clubs to plan properly to the end of the century.'

West Ham United have delayed building work on their new South Stand at Upton Park until November, believing a fresh design will now help them save up to pounds 1.5m on the original cost. Despite relegation to the Football League's First Division, the club insist they can still finance the pounds 15.5m facelift through the controversial Hammers Bond scheme.

West Ham were facing a bill of more than pounds 7m for the project, part of the overall redevelopment of the ground, and work should have been underway by now.

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