They think it's all over. No, really. The new Wembley stadium is almost certain to host the FA Cup final on 19 May next year after the Football Association announced yesterday that there has been a "comprehensive settlement of all outstanding disputes" over the 90,000-seat arena.
The six-year saga surrounding one of the most embarrassing episodes in British sport has dragged on because of arguments over the final cost of the project, originally projected to be £757m. The Australian construction firm Multiplex, which signed a fixed-price agreement in September 2000 to build the venue, had claimed that the FA and Wembley National Stadium Limited - the FA subsidiary that owns and will operate Wembley - had changed the original design specification so much that they should bear extra costs. The FA and WNSL consistently disputed this but mediation by Lord Patrick Carter, the Government troubleshooter who excels in sporting matters, has now resulted in a deal.
The FA has now agreed to pay an extra £36m to Multiplex on top of the original contract to take account of the design changes, bringing the total cost of the stadium, including land and all costs, to £792m.
The FA has stopped short of guaranteeing the FA Cup final will be played at Wembley in May, but has done so only to avoid further embarrassment in the case of "highly unlikely further delays". A source close to the negotiations added: "We came a cropper before in predicting an opening, but we're hopeful."
Privately, the FA believes the final will take place at the new stadium. Multiplex does, too, because the extra cash is dependent on the stadium being ready. The details of the agreement remain confidential. Two warm-up events, possibly an England Under-21 match and a pop concert, will be staged on dates still be arranged before the FA Cup final.
The stadium is all but complete, structurally. The seats are all in place, the pitch is laid, stripes have been painted on the turf and even the goals have been put in place. Extensive cleaning, testing of various systems (including the electronics), and test events lie ahead. When all that has been done, Brent Council, the local authority for the Wembley area, can issue a safety certificate so the stadium can commence full-scale business.
The intervention of Lord Carter, whose previous successes include restructuring the finance for the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester, was pivotal. Sources described him as "an important influence" and "a catalyst to get this done".
He persuaded all parties concerned that it was in none of their interests to pursue legal action. "Court action would have cost a fortune for everyone and further delays would also have cost Wembley substantial lost income," a source said.
When asked whether he had been "banging heads together", Lord Carter told The Independent on Sunday last weekend: "Let's say I've been persuading people to take a different perspective rather than staying on the back foot. When things don't go according to plan, nobody is absolutely right and it is a question of helping them to see a way through."
The FA hinted strongly at Lord Carter's role yesterday by saying that the agreement to get Wembley open for business followed "successful talks chaired by Lord Carter... This agreement will avoid a lengthy and expensive legal dispute and all parties are committed to working together to ensure that the stadium opens for business as early as possible in 2007."
Work was due be completed by 31 January this year but repeated delays, including a roof girder slipping out of place, forced the FA to play this year's FA Cup final in Cardiff, again. London is now calling.
The best-laid plans... From triumph to disaster and back again
11 September 2000
Multiplex signs a contract to build new stadium, with penalties for late completion, for maximum price of £326.5m (total cost of whole project was more than twice that amount). Plans to open new ground for 2003 FA Cup final are scrapped.
7 October 2000
Final international at old stadium, against Germany.
1 May 2001
FA wants Government to bail out doomed project.
30 September 2002
Work starts on new stadium.
21 February 2006
FA says Millennium Stadium will stage Cup final.
31 March 2006
FA confirms that all matches scheduled to be played at Wembley this year will have to be moved to alternative venues.
1 August 2006
Multiplex say stadium may not be ready to open before June 2007
19 October 2006
All outstanding disputes are settled. Stadium should be ready for next year's FA Cup final.Reuse content