Not even football can save the Dome

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The Independent Online

At last it all fits into place. That's what the Dome looks like - the Ayer's Rock of soccer. The bit you can see is monumental, but what really brings awe is the knowledge that five-sixths of it is buried underground. The Dome is just a great big football - with its potential for disaster, just like an iceberg, lurking below.

That'll explain why the Labour Party didn't understand what a burden it was going to be. They only ever see what's put in front of them, which is usually quite different from what is really going on.

This is not, it would appear, a problem for the people who really do rule the world, Coca-Cola. They have seen where the Dome's real potential lies. Or as the American multinational's communications director, Andrew "Deed Poll" Coker put it: "This is a great opportunity for Coca-Cola to demonstrate the closeness we have with football and to put it together with our involvement in the Millennium Festival. The idea behind it was 'What British people really love is football, so why don't we provide them with a new football stadium?'"

This may sound simple, facile even. But it is more complicated than it looks. For as Mr Coker adds, "This has come out rather sooner than we expected, so we have not finalised whether we will be calling it the Soccer Zone or the Football Zone."

Decisions, decisions. Tell you what, Mr Coker. Stick with Football. Then when the zone is up and running, you won't have to change that slogan from "Live football, sleep football, drink Coca-Cola". Leave living and sleeping soccer to Pepsi.

I suppose Coca-Cola's closeness to football is similar to the closeness those fat men who waddle sweatily over to the pub in trainers and jogging trousers feel to taking part in sporting pursuits generally. They're close, of course, but not what one would call intimate. Or am I missing the point here? Is Coca-Cola actually similar to football but only in the form of a brown fizzy liquid instead of in the form of a sport? If football was a liquid what would it be? If you were an animal what would you be? If the Dome was successful, what would it be?

Well, apparently it would be like Wembley, but smaller. The Americans are galloping to the rescue at the eleventh hour (again), and building a "5,000-seat wood and glass-fibre stadium" just in time for Euro 2000.

Amateur teams will be invited to play there, professional coaches will run training sessions, and we, the public, will magically turn up in our millions because there's a chance that David Beckham might turn up there one day. Let's set aside the fact that he's barely got time to turn up for Manchester United training sessions. These appearances are at the bidding of his sponsor.

Still, the fact that sport will save the Dome is terribly good news for at least two of the five rival consortia bidding to take over the site in 2001. Greenwich Media World wishes to build a new sports city near the Dome, including a ski slope, snowboarding, skateboarding, rock-climbing, ice-skating, curling, tennis and white-water rafting. Sports Dome 2001 aims to create "the world's greatest sporting experience" for 50 sports, with a sports business park for research and development, sports science and health groups, a 10,000-seat sports theatre, a broadcasting facility for Sky Sports, and a world football hall of fame.

Ah! A football hall of fame. How, pray tell, is that £8m tourist attraction the Premier League Hall of Fame doing, sitting as it does in County Hall at the bottom of the Millennium Wheel? Nicely I'll wager. Whoops, no. Its owner, United News & Media, is in negotiations with a mysterious third party. Marcus "Brother of Will" Carling, chief executive of United Attractions, the subsidiary which owns the "Hall of Non-Fame", promises that "there will be an announcement in the next couple of weeks that will secure the future of the project".

Just last week I peered through an open door at the great non-attraction, to see row upon row of replica shirts on sale at top whack. It's quite a concept, this one that decrees that you pay to get into a shop where you can pay for the privilege of dressing your children in clothes which turn them into advertising hoardings for things that, were you to want to possess them, you'd still have to pay for, even though you gave birth to the bloody advertising site. And what are you paying for? Their "closeness to football".

You're paying extra so that they can sponsor football, so that they can advertise on your children, so that they can reach their target audience. Doesn't this all seem at little circular? A little... vicious?

Never mind. What the British love is football. That's why Coca-Cola is building us a replica of Wembley's twin towers, while Wembley's actual twin towers are being dismantled and possibly rebuilt in Widnes. If Halton Borough Council can raise £5m, then the towers will form the centrepiece of their planned National Rugby League Museum. No, no, Halton Council. What the British love is FOOTBALL. And Coca-Cola.

Not other sports. That's why there will not be facilities for international athletics in the new £475m national stadium at Wembley. Those facilities, provided that a substantial chunk of £120m can be raised from the Millennium Commission and other regeneration-grant giving bodies, will be going up at Picketts Lock in north London. Then it's full steam ahead, because we've got to have somewhere suitable for hosting the 2005 World Athletics Championships - the third-biggest global sporting event after the Olympics and the World Cup (that's a football thing by the way, for those among you who are non-British readers). Except that even if the initial finance is raised - and it's a big if - absolutely no one appears to know where the £4m a year in running costs will come from. All this repetition of effort and money. All this squandering of precious land. Which brings us right back to wondering what exactly it is that we've got to show for the approaching £800m that was spent on the stupid, useless Dome.

And what really rankles now is that while beautiful Bankside has been turned into an art gallery at something like a quarter of the cost of the Dome, Battersea Power Station continues to moulder. The latest is that it will be transformed into flats, an entertainment complex and a "media village". Just what London needs, a media village. Or maybe two. For back with those five consortia, Legacy plc wishes to transform the Dome into "an entirely new living and working place, and Meridian City punts "a giant work, live and play complex".

Will either these two companies, or the one which keeps hanging back on its plans for Battersea Power Station, be building what London really needs on its brownfield sites - affordable homes? I'd reckon not.

There's no chance that Coca-Cola will ever be demonstrating its closeness to them, except of course by insinuating its way into their fridges via advertising and sponsorship, and in return for the hard cash that pays for their own folly.

For the possibility that Coca-Cola's new "nearly the size of a football pitch football pitch" will transform the fortunes of the Dome looks slim to me. Their theory is that football-mad children will beg their parents to take them there after they've been driven into a frenzy by the publicity surrounding Euro 2000.

My theory is that the children will want the same things they always do at times like these - wall charts, stickers, replica shirts, staying up late to watch the matches, and for their parents to take them to the park so that they can kick a ball about with their pals. With the "cost of living, sponsoring and advertising" so high, who can afford anything more?