League warns Wembley over ticket prices

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The Independent Online

The Football League has warned it may be forced to take its five major finals away from the rebuilt Wembley stadium.

The Football League has warned it may be forced to take its five major finals away from the rebuilt Wembley stadium.

The league fears football fans will be priced out of the market for tickets by Wembley as the new national stadium bids to finance its massive rebuilding costs.

Peter Middleton, the chairman of the Football League, insisted today that the league would not be held to ransom by Wembley National Stadium Limited.

Talks between the two bodies are at an advanced stage, and Middleton hopes a deal will not be wrecked by the demands of Wembley, whose rebuilding costs have been estimated at anything between £350 to £475million.

"My biggest fear is that Wembley may price fans out of the market over the next 10 years," said Middleton.

"Our fans are not overflowing with money, and we have to make sure they can afford to get into matches at the new stadium.

"We have every right to make a proper business decision for the Football League as to where it holds its events. We are aware of the emotional attachment for the fans and we are in good-faith negotiations with Wembley - but we shall not be held to ransom.

"If a deal is not in the best interests of Football League clubs we shall not do it.

"Our concern is over admission prices when Wembley is servicing a debt of at least £350million and we want guarantees about the level of entry prices.

"If you have one of the lower division clubs in a play-off final and you are asking £50 a ticket then not many of their fans may be able to afford to turn up - especially as there will be nowhere to park their cars either."

The League hold five major football finals at Wembley each year - the Worthington Cup, the three divisional play-offs and the Auto Windscreen Shield.

"I hope we can conclude a deal - otherwise Wembley National Stadium Limited will be losing some sell-out occasions. They are asking us for a 20-year commitment, which is impossible. We would rather start with five years."

When Wembley is closed for rebuilding the league - which pays £3million to stage its five major matches there - is switching its showpiece events to the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, and Middleton hinted that would become the league's permanent choice if nothing is agreed with Wembley.

Middleton also warned that if Wembley was redesigned to also house facilities for major athletics events it would cast doubt on the major football events, including the FA Cup Final.

He explained: "If Wembley is to become an athletics stadium too and bids to host the 2005 World Championships, they say it will take six months to convert the stadium.

"If that is the case how can it hold the cup finals in April and May and be converted in time for athletics in August or September."