New Wembley races ahead of schedule

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The Independent Football

The first concrete signs of the new Wembley are emerging. In fact, 8,000 cubic metres of the stuff will be poured, starting tonight and continuing for 36 hours without a break, to lay the foundations for the eastern end of the arch which will define the shape of the £757m stadium.

There is so much concrete that it will take six weeks to cool. By the end of the year the 80-tonne sections of steel which will make up the arch will be ready and it will be slowly jacked up, just as the Millennium Eye was raised - except that the arch is twice the size.

Everything about the project is big - not least, of course, the price tag - but it is ahead of schedule. However, rotating the helical arch into place to create the largest single-span roof structure in the world will be its biggest test. The arch will replace the iconic Twin Towers which have been simply flattened, with the tips going into a museum on site. The progress is partly due to the good weather but also the extra half-day-a-week the 800 construction workers are clocking up.

"A side-effect of the delay in waiting for the go-ahead was that the engineers and architects were still doing the preparation," said a spokesman for the Football Association, referring to the financial uncertainty and political wrangling which has dogged the 90,000-seat project. "So when the funding was raised in September 2002 we could hit the ground running."

The site was cleared by March, the pitch dug down four metres and the first half-dozen concrete cores for the staircases built. There are 1,000 of the 3,700 auger-bored concrete piles to go, as deep as the Twin Towers were tall.

Further good news comes with the imminent announcement that all the 160 hospitality boxes - costing between £60,000 and £210,000 - have been sold. Such revenue is vital if the cash-strapped FA are to balance the books. Yesterday Burscough, the FA Trophy holders, Brigg Town, the FA Vase winners and the Duke of York, who won the FA Sunday Cup, were shown around. The finals of all three competitions will be held at the new three-tiered Wembley when it opens in 2006.