Football

Is Wembley Stadium a big problem for the FA?

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WHEN The Killers performed at Wembley Stadium in June last year, the band performed an unexpected tribute song in honour of the venue itself.

It was a strange tune and concept, but one that felt fairly celebratory on a night when Las Vegas’ biggest musical export made their claim for their musical big league. During the tune, Brandon Flowers checklisted off the many musical names who performed here – almost a roll call of the great and good in the last 50 years of pop and rock music – and heralded the “two headed monster made of 23,000 tons of steel” they were entertaining that evening.

But while Las Vegas indie-rockers were keen to celebrate it, the FA commercial department is most likely cursing their luck at the £790million+ building they have the fortune or otherwise to inhabit.

Earlier today (25/02) saw the FA commercial department announce they wanted glamour friendlies at Wembley against major teams that will try to help try and pay the way for the venue, which was redeveloped way over-budget in the mid-2000’s.

This call came less than 24 hours after the qualifying draw was made for the 2016 European Championships, with what should be a nice and straight-forward run-through for England to the championships in France in two years time.

The group would most likely suit manager Roy Hodgson just fine, as aside from Switzerland, the group shouldn’t contain too many arduous tests, unlike the World Cup group, where England stuttered against Poland, Ukraine and Montenegro – all teams with very handy players, while third will be a play-off spot.

But while an easy group suits Hodgson, it doesn’t sit as well with the FA, who almost seemed dejected they didn’t land a big fish like Turkey, the Czech Republic or Croatia, or another home-nations clash like the ones they had last summer against the Republic of Ireland and Scotland.

It all begs the question about just how fleeced the FA were when they first moved into Wembley in 2007.

Wembley Stadium was a hugely expensive rebuild exacerbated by lengthy delays – they hadn’t even demolished the stadium by their initial completion date of 2003 – while the FA still reportedly owe debts in the region of £215million accumulated in paying for the venue. The building’s constructors and sub-contractors sued each other over the outlandish costs involved, with one figure quoted including the £1million cost of photocopying the steel-masons managed.

The lack of interest in qualifiers could have been solved by a return to the roadshow approach England took during Wembley’s reconstruction, which saw the national team play matches in Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham and Newcastle. Even cities like Ipswich, Derby and Southampton were given a once-in-a-generation opportunity to see the national team in the early 2000’s.

Some people argue England might maintain interest in less appealing games if they were prepared to venture outside the M25 and play far from London for an audience not able to get to the nation’s capital for those glamour games against the likes of Lithuania and San Marino.

Instead of this, the FA signed a deal that meant all England games were contractually obligated to be played at the 90,000 national stadium, as they attempt to pay back the debts accumulated during the venue’s construction. This has led to a series of games with poor atmosphere and little interest, as England sleepwalk their way through games to an apathetic crowd both in the stadium and on TV.

This attempt to make back the financial shortfall in building the stadium comes in various ways alongside the hosting of frequently dull England games. While the venue is hosting five less concerts and no Champions League final in comparison to 2013, it is hosting more NFL matches amid speculation it will also bid for a permanent Wembley-based franchise, and a Superbowl.

The stadium is also reportedly at the front of the queue to host the hotly-anticipated Carl Froch and George Groves boxing contest, as well hosting major rugby fixtures.

As well as this, the FA reportedly blocked attempts by Manchester venues to host matches in the pan-European roadshow Euro 2020 to make Wembley the sole nominee for hosting games on these shores.

The new Wembley Stadium certainly has pedigree as a major football venue. Its hosted two Champions League finals as well as the main commitments of the English football calendar – for example, this weekend sees Sunderland and Manchester City play the Capital One Cup final.

But it makes the head spin that the FA chose to pay out so much cash on this project, thus leaving attempts to atone for it by letting in so many events, including the faintly ridiculous decision to have the FA Cup semi-finals there. It was stated during the 2013 Champions League final that while the English built a world-class stadium, the German investment in youth and grassroots football meant that world-class German teams could be built up to fill the venue itself.

Had the FA spent half or even a quarter of the rebuilding cash on simply redeveloping the old Wembley, the nation could have had a team as magnificent as the venue itself. Instead, we have a venue fit for a world-class team but a team that doesn’t create enough excitement with which to fill it.

 

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