FOOTBALL: Wembley facing stiff competition

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The Independent Online
Mr X of Blackburn is not the only mysterious beneficiary of the National Lottery. One of three cities - London, Manchester or Birmingham - also soon hope to be among its recipients by way of a contribution towards the building, or rebuilding, of a new national stadium by the year 2000.

The idea of a state of the art national stadium, of course, has been one of the English game's pipe dreams ever since Italy and the like began putting dear old Wembley Stadium to shame with its architectural masterpieces. But yesterday a significant stepwas taken towards realising that dream when the FA Premier League chairmen, meeting in London, agreed to make a formal application to the Millennium Commission, one of the five distributing agents of lottery money, for a grant and backed it with £50-60mof their own money.

"There was a clear commitment to progressing with the project," Michael Lee, a League spokesman, said. "The League themselves have considered putting in a considerable sum of money."

The Football Association's contract with Wembley expires in 2002 and this, coupled with the purpose of the Millennium Commission (i.e. to provide funds for projects involving large capital expenditure relating to the year 2000) has helped focus the attention of the domestic game's major clubs.

"We are coming towards the end of the FA's deal with Wembley and that does open up the game a bit," said Lee, who hastened to add: "That's not to say Wembley isn't one of the possible venues because it is, but clearly it gives some focus."

A major overhaul of Wembley - as opposed to new stadiums in Manchester or Birmingham - could not begin until after 1996 when the present national stadium will be among the hosts to the finals of the European Championship.

Plans for its revamp have already been drawn up, as they have for the other sites, with careful attention to its historic nature, like the twin towers, which would be retained; Wembley, erected in 1923, is a listed building. Capacity for whichever site is chosen would be a minimum 70-80,000.

The chances of any site being nominated by the League would obviously be greatly enhanced should it coincide with the staging of major games by any one of those cities, who would be invited to make a contribution to the cost. Manchester, for example, arebidding to stage the 2002 Commonwealth Games.

Meanwhile, hopes of a move to new stadiums for Portsmouth and Southampton were dashed yesterday. The Ministry of the Environment rejected Pompey's plans and then Hampshire County Council voted not to release land at Stoneham for the Saints after protestsfrom residents.

The League chairmen also agreed that changes relating to the managers' code of conduct, the establishment of a managers' register and arbitration tribunal as well as other firm guidelines, such as on the poaching of young players, will operate from the start of next season.

Further indication of the growing wealth of the country's elite was the 18 per cent increase in the League's distribution of monies from television and other commercial contracts to its 22 members who, for 1993-94, received £45m. The allocation to each club was based on facility fees for television coverage and merit awards plus a basic lump sum.

George Graham, the Arsenal manager, promised his full cooperation with League inquiries into transfer irregularities after a three-hour meeting with a commission of inquiry at a secret London rendezvous. Graham is alleged to have received a £285,000 payment in the transfer of John Jensen from Brondby to Arsenal in 1992., though this is only one of several overseas transfers involving clubs other than Arsenal that the commission will be investigating over the next few weeks.

Changing face of football, page 38