The Peter Corrigan Column: Cardiff amounts to a weekend well-spent

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The Independent Online

Thanks to a Government department that is unable to distinguish between a deadline and a dead-end, the Wembley saga rumbles tediously on while, 150 miles away, the Millennium Stadium continues to throb with the triumphs and dramas attending the various climaxes of the English football season.

It is a bizarre comparison. Cardiff's magnificent arena has sound claims to be regarded as the most successful sporting venture in Britain in recent years while Wembley is fast approaching the time when it can be labelled our most embarrassing failure.

The Millennium Stadium was built in two years, cost £140 million and in 30 months has entertained over three million customers. In the same period, Wembley has so far cost more than £120m, made laughing stocks of a succession of Government ministers, left an army of architects dazed and confused and has yet to trouble a cement mixer. Stranger still is the fact than the man almost single-handedly responsible for creating the Millennium Stadium hasn't even been asked for a few tips on how it's done.

They don't really need to ask. Glanmor Griffiths achieved what he did because he was one man with the vision and the stubbornness not to let anyone divert him from his goal. Ken Bates could have been that man in England had he not been over-ambitious in his infrastructure plans and concentrated on building a football ground.

One thing Griffiths would be sure to tell them is that the troubles don't end with the go-ahead; they only start. Neither do they finish when the stadium is up and running. He is currently fighting a grim battle to get some economical recognition for what the stadium has brought to Wales.

It doesn't help his cause that he also heads another structure in Wales that is much less successful. The Welsh Rugby Union are under fire from many directions and as chairman and treasurer he is the main target. But that's another story. Griffiths' main complaint is that even delivering a stadium for a fraction of the cost mooted for Wembley – and not many in Cardiff think it can be rebuilt for less than £1 billion – he has been shortchanged by the Government.

The £50m given towards the Welsh project by the Millennium Commission was, in reality, £46m because £4m went towards a riverside walkway for use by the people of Cardiff. Furthermore, they lost £10m from a Welsh company who wanted to name the stadium because the Commission insisted it was called Millennium.

They even pay £1.1m per year in business rates, which hurts all the more because the Millennium Arts Centre now being built in Cardiff Bay is receiving £80m from public funds and will pay no rates at all.

If and when the Wembley project gets the go-ahead there is much more to be learned from the Welsh experience than what a good stadium looks like. Nailing the politicians down to some lasting practical help is one lesson.

The Government must realise that a stadium is for the nation and the nation should be ready to play its part in financing it. And that applies to Wembley as well as Cardiff. The size of players' salaries has nothing to do with providing facilities of which the country can be proud. Part of the muddled thinking over Wembley seemed to contribute to a concerted attempt last weekend to drag Cardiff into the ongoing bitterness.

It appeared that not having a national stadium in England was less of a disgrace and a major inconvenience than having to drag 80,000 Londoners down to South Wales. Traffic and rail chaos was confidently predicted. The M4 was going be as motionless as a car park and the whole day would descend into farce.

Every newspaper in Fleet Street was ready to pounce on the slightest evidence that their misgivings were justified but even the strongest magnifying glass would have been unable to detect the word delay, never mind disaster, in the Press on Monday – and this on a Bank Holiday weekend. After only a year's experience of dealing with this unprecedented invasion, South Wales police were able to report a smooth flow in and out, a carnival atmosphere and five arrests, two which could be traced to drunken happiness.

Apart from insulting Cardiff's ability to be good hosts, the critics failed to appreciate the resourcefulness of the British sports fan to get to events anywhere and at any time. It is an ability bred into them after decades of being disregarded.

It wasn't the journey that was the story, it was the journey's end. Undoubtedly, one of the finest football stadiums in the world and perfect for such an occasion. Nowhere else could you have accommodated so many genuine supporters of either team and nowhere could Arsenal and their fans have bonded so closely in an after-match celebration that no one wanted to leave.

The new Wembley needs no better model.

Balls to the lost world

Delighted as I am at the release from prison of "golf-ball" diver Mark Collinson, I do not endorse the overwhelming media view that he was engaged in a totally valid and legitimate occupation.

Collinson has been freed on bail pending a High Court appeal against the six- month sentence imposed at Leicester Crown Court after he was convicted of the theft of over 1,000 golf balls from a golf course lake in the dead of night.

It didn't seem to be an offence worthy of imprisonment but let not the controversial sentence blind us to the fact that he was taking objects that didn't belong to him.

I'm astounded at reports suggesting that the case provoked "outrage" among the golfing fraternity who welcome the chance of buying cheap second-hand balls. That's an even bigger load of balls than our friend was caught with. Of course, golfers don't mind buying cheap balls but they prefer them to come from proper sources.

A new golf ball can cost up to £3.66 and hanging on to it is not an easy matter under any circumstances. Anyone who has flown off on a golfing holiday knows that some airport folk can find balls when they're still in your bag.

And a hacker like me can lose quite a few on the course if the rough is high. The only consolation for us is that we spend so long threshing around in the grass we find the balls that other players have lost.

It is a recycling process by which, over a period of time, we can roughly equate the number of balls we lose with those we find. However, if an interloper sneaks on to the course and "finds" a load of balls he is breaking the cycle – and that is stealing, pure and simple.

It might be difficult to prove ownership of a particular ball but, en masse, they belong to the players who frequent that course. I once pressed this point upon a fellow club member who used to lead his three sons on a ball-hunting expedition once a week and they would find hundreds. I suggested they should be left to be found by members in the normal course of events. I won't bore you with the ensuing argument or its consequences but I believe it is a point that all clubs should consider.

It is a different matter when water is involved because it is not easy to recover them but the same principle applies. It's fine if a club gives permission for an outsider to retrieve balls from any part of the course but otherwise it is theft and a burgeoning black economy has developed. Professional retrievers can earn between £15,000 and £30,000 a year.

I trust the publicity from this case will alert golf clubs to the revenue available if they fished for balls in their own lakes. As for the others scattered around the course, leave them to be found by those who pay for them.

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