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Troubled Wembley project finally given go-ahead
Costs estimated at around 750 million pounds

By Niall Edworthy
© Reuters Limited

A model of the design for the new Wembley Stadium is seen at its unveiling in London, September 26, 2002.
Photo Peter Macdiarmid, Reuters
Much-delayed plans for the redevelopment of Wembley Stadium were finally given the go-ahead on Thursday after six years of disputes and soaring cost estimates.

The English Football Association (FA) said all the contracts associated with the stadium in north-west London had been signed and the finance was in place and guaranteed.

"We must remember Wembley is an icon and every player there has ever been has wanted to play at Wembley. We believe we will have the finest stadium in the world," FA chief executive Adam Crozier told a news conference.

The 757 million pounds ($1.18 billion) project, one of the most expensive and biggest in world sport, centres on a new 90,000-seat arena and will feature a removable running track.

Wembley Stadium Factbox
1918 British Government commissions a stadium to host the British Empire Exhibition. The stadium is built in 300 days, at a cost of 750,000 pounds ($1.09 million).
1923 Bolton Wanderers beat West Ham United in the FA Cup final, the first event at the new Empire Stadium. Official attendance is 126,947, but the real figure is estimated to be closer to 200,000 spectators. White police horse helps clear pitch before kickoff.
1929 Wembley hosts its first rugby league Challenge Cup final.
1953 Ferenc Puskas's Hungary give England a lesson in modern football, winning 6-3.
1966 England win the World Cup, beating West Germany 4-2.
1985 Stadium hosts Live Aid concert.
1996 Germany beat the Czech Republic with a Golden Goal winner in the European Championship final.
1999 March FA buy Wembley, with the aim of demolition and rebuilding as 80,000-seater stadium costing some 250 million pounds. Purchase to spearhead England's bid to host 2006 World Cup.
July Architects unveil 475 million pound plans for a new 90,000-capacity stadium for 2003, with four giant masts soaring 130 metres into the sky to replace the famous twin towers. Aside from football, stadium to be used for rugby and athletics.
Oct Sports Minister Kate Hoey, after discussions with the British Olympic Association, commissions an independent report on the new stadium's viability as both a football and athletics venue.
November Following complaints from the media and public, the plans for four masts are scrapped, and replaced with a spectacular 133-metre arch.
Dec After reviewing the report, the government says the new Wembley would be unfit for any British bids for the Olympics or athletics world championships. Stadium bosses are given two weeks to come up with new plans. Government scraps plans for athletics, stadium will focus on football and rugby league.
2000 February U.S. bank Chase Manhattan is appointed to arrange financing for the new Wembley stadium.
Sept Main building contractor Bovis Multiplex withdraws from the project following a disagreement over costs.

Wembley Stadium as seen today from Harrow on the Hill in London. Photo Peter Macdiarmid, Reuters
Oct Last football match played at Wembley, a 1-0 defeat for England by Germany in a World Cup qualifier. Wembley project staff warn the cost could soar to 660 million pounds.
Dec After reports that banks are sceptical over finances, the FA says all plans are going back to the drawing board and indicates that planned banqueting, hotel and office facilities will be axed. Chelsea chairman Ken Bates is replaced by Rodney Walker as chairman of Wembley National Stadium Ltd, the company in charge of building new stadium.
2001 Feb Bates resigns from the board of WNSL. Walker says Wembley will not now be ready until 2004.
May The FA drops bombshell, saying it cannot afford to build a replacement stadium at Wembley due to a funding gap in the region of 100-150 million pounds.
June Government establishes a review of the Wembley project to be headed by businessman Patrick Carter.
Sept London mayor Ken Livingstone says the new stadium should be built at Wembley because it has the best transport links. Wembley faces competition from Birmingham and Coventry.
Oct Sport England threatens legal action against the FA to recover its 120-million-pound grant of National Lottery money to secure the site if Wembley is not chosen. Government scraps plans for new athletics stadium at Pickets Lock, opening the way again for athletics to be included at a redeveloped Wembley.
Nov FA chief executive Adam Crozier warns that all plans for a new stadium could be scrapped if it proved too expensive.
Dec FA announces that Wembley is the choice for the new national stadium but government warns there is much work to be done before there is a final decision. The plan is to make the stadium "athletics-compliant".
2002 May The FA are granted more time by the British government to try and finalise Wembley project. German bank Westdeutsche Landesbank agrees to finance it to the tune of 420 million pounds.
August 28 FA chief Crozier says plans will finally get the go-ahead within two weeks.
Sept 26 FA and government finally announce that Wembley redevelopment will go ahead.
The stadium, which will host football, rugby league and athletics, is expected to take around four years to build. Work will start on Monday.

The financial risks caused by possible delays and overspending will be carried by the main contractors Multiplex under fixed price construction contracts, Crozier said.

Tessa Jowell, the minister in charge of sport, warned that the project still had to be completed in terms of the business plan before it could be called a success.

"It's been a long saga. I am very happy to say the saga is now over, or chapter one is," said Jowell. "We now have to build the stadium on time and within budget.

Not The End
"Today is a very important milestone but it is not the end of the story."

The new design means the twin towers of the old Wembley, traditional venue of the FA Cup final, will be knocked down. The focal point of the new stadium will be a huge "triumphal" arch.

The redevelopment project has been dogged by political in-fighting, spiralling costs and regional rivalry.

The estimated cost has more than trebled since the government announced plans to build a new stadium in 1996.

German bank Westdeutsche Landesbank will fund the bulk of the project costs with a loan of 426 million pounds ($666 million).

Sport England, which oversees the nationwide development of sports, will contribute 120 million pounds of money from the National Lottery while the FA will inject 100 million.

The government and the London Development Agency (LDA) will provide a total of 50 million pounds while global investment bank Credit Suisse First Boston have added 33 million pounds of 'specialised financing.'

Opened in 1923, the stadium provided the backdrop for English football's finest moment when Alf Ramsey's side beat West Germany 4-2 to win the 1966 World Cup.

More than 95,000 fans watched that match but increased seating had cut the crowd capacity to about 78,000 by the time the stadium closed in 2000.

Widespread Calls
There were widespread calls for a national stadium to be built outside the capital, in the Midlands or in the North.

Critics of the project say there is no need for a new stadium, fearing it may become an expensive 'white elephant', similar to the Millennium Dome in south east London which cost 800 million pounds.

Since the last match at the old Wembley, when England were beaten by Germany in a World Cup qualifier in October 2000, the national team has rotated its games among the country's leading club stadiums with a great deal of success.

Domestic cup finals have been played in superb atmospheres at Cardiff's new Millennium Stadium.

The FA had been expected to sign the 42 documents backing the project on Wednesday but the announcement was held over for 24 hours as the final details were ironed out.

The FA say the new Wembley will have 2,000 toilets, more than any other international ground. ($1=.6406 Pound).


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