In a move which underlines the financial need behind England's summer quest for World Cup success the Football Association will today announce that it will not be able to host a match at the new Wembley until 2007 at the earliest.
The FA which, it may be remembered, had built its 2006 World Cup bid around the prospect of holding the final at the rebuilt arena, has already been forced to relocate this season's FA Cup final and May internationals against Hungary and Jamaica. They will now have to find venues for the Community Shield in August (probably Cardiff), and two autumn European Championship qualifiers against Andorra and Macedonia (probably Manchester).
The decision follows a meeting between the FA, Multiplex, the Australian builders, and Wembley National Stadium Limited, the FA's wholly owned subsidiary which will operate the site. At the meeting Multiplex, which was due to make a statement to its Australian shareholders overnight, confirmed recent reports that it was months behind schedule. It had been due to hand over the £757m stadium today.
Multiplex has been beset with problems, with contractors currently holding talks with unions to try to avoid hundreds of workers being laid off in a pay dispute. Last week, workers were sent home for a day after a roof beam collapsed and there have been problems with the sewers under the 90,000-seat stadium.
The delay has hit the construction company hard after Mark Palios, the former FA chief executive, negotiated a deal which included heavy penalty clauses. However, these are capped and delay stretching into 2007 is going to hurt the FA, which is due to make its first £40m loan repayment in September.
A poor World Cup could place the organisation to difficulties. For example, shifting 70,000 tickets for England v Andorra at Old Trafford will be easy if it represents the first chance to acclaim the World Cup winners, but it is a tough sell if England have gone out in the group stages.
The FA is to hold meetings with the bankers at which it is likely to ask for payments to be rescheduled, a move which will incur higher charges. The FA insists it has a "robust financial business plan" but in reality much depends on Wayne Rooney, David Beckham, et al.
Another sport affected is rugby league, with the Challenge Cup final, scheduled for 26 August, now likely to be held at Twickenham. A London venue is required as 35,000 tickets have been sold with accompanying hotels booked.
In addition four concerts due to be held at Wembley in June are thought to have been cancelled. Bon Jovi, Take That, Robbie Williams and the Rolling Stones were the acts.
At least the Wembley groundsman, Steve Welch, has not been completely unemployed. On his assessment, England's World Cup training pitch in Germany is to be relaid with new turf. The pitch at Buhle failed to pass an inspection by a team including Welch.Reuse content