FOOTBALL AUTHORITIES are bracing themselves for the wrath of sporting and architectural traditionalists following reports that Wembley's twin towers, the most enduring symbol of the country's sporting jewel, are to be demolished to make way for a new national stadium.
The two 16ft concrete towers, which presided over England's 1966 World Cup victory and major events including giant rock concerts, are likely to be demolished to make way for the new arena, after architects decided it would be difficult to incorporate the structures in the new plan.
But Tony Banks, the Minister for Sport, yesterday said that if public reaction towards the proposed demolition was overwhelming, the towers could be saved. He added that the country would have to be willing to pay more for the stadium, the cost of which has reportedly risen to more than pounds 300m. The price of the original stadium was pounds 300,000. "No irrevocable decision has been made and if there was a huge national outcry then of course it would influence the final decision," Mr Banks said. "But there would also have to be huge public support for the increased costs that might follow."
An FA source said an alternative scenario could see the towers, which now stand at the side of the pitch, remaining in place, which would be at the top end of the new playing field. "But that option, even if it is practical, would be much more expensive."
Mr Banks said he welcomed the debate likely to ensue about the towers' future. "There is no greater believer in tradition than me, but people should know it's going to be difficult and costly to keep them."
Traditionalists, though, are furious the plan had not been disclosed earlier. David Mellor, chairman of the Football Task Force, said it would be "regrettable" if the twin towers were knocked down.
"The twin towers are part of the tradition of football, not just in England but all around the world. To destroy the most recognised part of Wembley is unfortunate. The twin towers have glamour, please let the glamour not be lost."
Nobby Stiles, who was in England's 1966 World Cup-winning team, said: "I think it will be very sad for many people if they decide to get rid of the twin towers."
His teammate, Sir Bobby Charlton, said: "They are a landmark in the game of football and wherever you go around the world people are always keen to talk about them." But he said if it is not possible to keep the towers then "we will have to accept it. We need to have a new stadium. Wembley is a little tired and we are lagging a bit behind other countries."
Wembley also is a shrine for Rugby League and Alex Murphy, who captained Wigan, St Helens and Leigh to victory on the turf nine times in the 1970s, said he favoured the towers being kept, whatever the cost. "So what if it costs more? Wembley without the towers is like Yorkshire pudding without the beef."
The final decision on the towers' future will be made early next year. Wembley Stadium is scheduled to be knocked down to make way for a national football, rugby and athletics stadium. When finished it could become a national showpiece during international sporting events such as the the 2006 football World Cup, if Britain were to win its bid to host the event.
FA spokesman Steve Double yesterday confirmed that the architects in charge of designing the new stadium felt that the towers would have to be demolished as the projected new stadium would see the towers standing in the middle of the pitch.
"Nothing has been finalised but it's down to building the best possible stadium within the budget," he said. "Of course the twin towers are close to everybody's hearts but the stadium is in need of replacing. The prevailing feeling within the FA from the start of the new project is that we have to have a new stadium, if we could keep the towers that would be the icing on the cake, but we can't jeopardise the whole project."
The monuments - made of reinforced concrete which makes them impossible to take apart and move - are Grade II-listed buildings.
English Heritage and Brent, the local council, would have to give their approval before the twin towers could be demolished.
A spokeswoman for Brent Council said: "As a listed building they would find it difficult to knock it down. They would have to have a strong reason and the council would be involved in it."
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