They think it's all over. It is now. The interminable speculation over the venue for this year's FA Cup final ended yesterday when the Football Association confirmed the new £757m Wembley will not be ready in time.
The showpiece, on 13 May, will instead be played at the Millennium Stadium, as will the play-off finals for the Championship (on 21 May), League One (27 May) and League Two (28 May). England's pre-World Cup warm-up games against Hungary, on 30 May, and Jamaica, on 3 June, will be moved to Old Trafford.
"The FA took the prudent step of booking the Millennium Stadium as a back-up option to Wembley last August, therefore allowing us to extend this decision as long as possible and giving [the builders] Multiplex every chance of making the 13 May date," Brian Barwick, the FA's chief executive, said. "It is clear that, while they have over 2,500 people working hard on site, Multiplex and WNSL [which runs the stadium] are unable to give us 100 per cent certainty the stadium will be completed in time for the FA Cup final."
The announcement came as no surprise. Multiplex has been warning for months that the stadium was in danger of not being ready, and The Independent reported a fortnight ago that the Millennium Stadium had been told to get ready for the FA Cup final.
One enduring cause for concern is that the relocated Championship play-off could be marred by a poor playing surface. Rugby union's Heineken Cup final will be staged at the Millennium Stadium on 20 May, and has the potential to spoil the pitch ahead of the richest single game in English football the next day.
But a Football League spokesman said the League was "fairly relaxed" about the situation, adding that a new pitch will be laid for the FA Cup final, and that the Championship play-off will be only the third event to use it, after the FA Cup final and Heineken Cup.
"It's not uncommon for rugby and football to be played on the same pitch," the spokesman said. He added that a post-rugby mess of a surface, such as that created by Wales' hosting of Scotland in the Six Nations 10 days ago, was much less likely in May than in February.
It is now expected that Wembley will open either for the Community Shield on 13 August, or for an England friendly match, against opponents yet to be decided, three days later.
Wembley has been dogged by problems and cost overruns, although Barwick stressed that the latter - which could take the total outlay above £1bn - are being borne by Multiplex. "WNSL [an FA subsidiary] have a fixed price contract with Multiplex," he said. "The total project cost [to WNSL] remains £757m."
A Multiplex spokesman said the company would give a further update on the building programme tomorrow, when it releases its first-half results.
The decision to keep the FA Cup final in Wales this year was apparently taken by Barwick following a site visit to the new Wembley project on Monday and after discussions with WNSL's chief executive, Michael Cunnah, and Multiplex's managing director, Martin Tidd.
Cunnah said it was "still too early" to say when the venue would open. "Obviously, I am as disappointed by this news as the fans who have been looking forward to coming to the first events at Wembley Stadium and now have to wait a little longer," he said.
Bookmakers were last night offering odds of 16-1 that Wembley will not be ready to stage the 2007 FA Cup final.
Multiplex said that they were "disappointed" with the Football Association's decision.
In a statement to the Australian stock exchange, the Multiplex company secretary, Mark Wilson, said: "Multiplex understands that the English Football Association is to transfer the 2006 FA Cup final to its reserve venue [ the Millennium Stadium].
"Whilst disappointed with the decision, Multiplex continues to work towards targeting completion of Wembley National Stadium at the earliest possible date.
"We understand that the FA has made this decision on the basis that it requires 100 per cent certainty that the venue will be fully functional by 13 May 2006, the scheduled date for the the 2006 FA Cup final," Wilson said.
Multiplex, an Australian company, is expected to lose more than £100m on building the new stadium and will be penalised £1m a week for overshooting the deadline.
Counting the cost of building the perfect beast
The announcement that Wembley will not stage this year's FA Cup final comes despite the £757m venue being one of the most expensive arenas ever built.
Basic building costs are £352m, the land cost £120m and the rest of the money was spent on demolition of the old building and the design and fittings for the new stadium. Most of the money was loaned by banks, with £170m coming from public money.
The £352m building costs compare unfavourably with the estimated £267m it cost to construct the Stade de France in Paris.
Wembley is also more expensive per seat, costing £3,918 for each of its 90,000 places as opposed to £3,332 per seat at the 80,000-capacity Stade de France. The 83,500-capacity Telstra Stadium in Sydney, used for the 2000 Olympic Games, cost £279m to build, or £3,468 per seat.
The Football Association also hopes that Wembley will make an operating profit of between £10m and £20m per year within five years of opening.
Wembley: The road to Cardiff
September 2000 Multiplex signs contract to build stadium for £326.5m.
May 2001 FA admits project is doomed unless Government bails it out.
30 September 2002 Work starts.
December 2005 Multiplex reveals that it faces losses of up to £70m.
January 2006 Multiplex admits only a 70 per cent chance of being ready for the FA Cup final.
21 February 2006 FA confirms that the FA Cup final will be staged at the Millennium Stadium.Reuse content