Can it be coincidence that, some 24 hours after being left in an egg-on faces situation over the local elections and King Kenny's coronation in London, the Government somehow came up with the the odd few million quid to ensure that New Wembley goes ahead as planned, instead of being booted into touch, as threatened by Brent Council. After the loss of so many seats and the loss of face over Livingstone, the possible loss of Wembley, and consequently any chance of hosting the 2006 World Cup, would have been an untenable embarrassment for Tony Blair. Hitherto there had been much humming and hawing (and initially a blank refusal) over coughing up the money Brent wanted to provide a safe and effective transport system in the locality, but on Friday it was announced that a deal had been struck. The cash sweetener of around £17m from government sources (a compromise on the £30m originally demanded by Brent) conveniently ensures there is now no financial obstacle to the necessary planning permission being approved at the end of this month. That's the good news. The bad is that it is looking increasingly likely that, as far as 2006 is concerned, it is all going to be disappointingly academic. The much-praised, no-expense-spared England campaign, which not only the Football Association but the Government have heavily resourced, has not made the inroads required on the favoured South African bid. There has even been pessimistic talk of England being eliminated in the first ballot when the venue is decided in July and yesterday the influential Swiss president of Fifa, Sepp Blatter, reinforced his personal view that the 2006 tournament should reside on the African continent. Blatter, who may be dependent on the African vote for his re-election in a couple of years, also seemed to dash the hopes of Germany when he said in an interview with a Frankfurt newspaper: "I will clearly tell the executive committee that if we want to work for the solidarity of football worldwide, we should consider whether we should not give an advantage to Morocco or South Africa if one of those two bids meet all the requirements." Blatter's comments followed his visit here last weekend as guest of honour at the annual dinner in London of the Professional Footballers' Association. Although he professed to enjoy himself he was, I suspect, a bit put out by the heckling he received from some of the football chaps who were off their managers' leashes for the night. During his speech, in which he made no more than an oblique and downbeat reference to England's World Cup hopes, he had to call for order and seemed as unamused as the sports minister Kate Hoey clearly was by the cabaret turn, an off-colour joker whose non-pc patter made no concession to the first-timepresence of women.
Tom pulls out a plum
Understandably miffed he may have been at being passed over as sports minister three years ago, and again when Kate Hoey succeeded Tony Banks, but Tom Pendry has got his just reward for not rocking the boat. Later this month he will be installed as chairman of the newly formed Football Foundation, a body with real financial muscle as it will be empowered to distribute five per cent of the Premiership's TV takings to the grass roots of the game. There had been suggestions that Downing Street would have preferred the higher-profiled Trevor Brooking to do this prestigious job, but Brooking will now sit as a member of the panel in his capacity simply as chairman of Sport England. The Foundation, which takes over from the old Football Trust, will also have representatives of the Government, FA and Premier League. For the Derby fan Pendry, a former Army boxing champion and long-serving shadow sports minister, it represents something of a comeback. Because of the Lottery-sized millions involved, and the importance of football in the nation's pysche, he will be the most significant figure in domestic sports government, save for the minister herself.
Put a smile on face of Spinks
There is an escalating campaign, which this column heartily endorses, to secure an overdue MBE for the former British featherweight champion Terry Spinks, one of the very few Olympic gold medal winners never to have been honoured by Queen or country. Spinks, now 62, was 18 when he won his Olympic title at Melbourne in 1956, one of only three British boxers to have stood on the podium in three-quarters of a century. Yet unlike Dick McTaggart (1952) and Chris Finnegan (1968) he remains gong-less. Why? It's a mystery to the East End bookie's son, who is now in poor health and is cared for by his cousin Rosemary Ellmore. She has written to the Princess Royal, president the British Olympic Association, and the Prime Minister and the sports minister to try and get belated recognition for one of the most stylish of champions and pleasant of personalities. "Terry has never been in trouble in his life and we can't think why he has never been honoured," she says. Some believe the fact that Spinks was once snapped with the Krays, who were great fight fans, may have gone against him, but the twins had half of the East End of London, not to mention a few faces in both Houses of Parliament, in their photo albums. Time to give Terry his due.
No stumping Sky
Never short of a gimmick, Sky Sports have come up with a new piece of cricket technology, with cameras in all six stumps being used for the first time in Tuesday's B & H quarter-final between Yorkshire and Surrey. One camera will be able to tilt, pan and zoom at the whim of the director and all will have transmitters to track them should they be stolen. Or offered bribes.