Wembley - a Football Farce

In the week before the Cup Final, world-famous Wembley stadium is locked and deserted. For the first time since the War, the final will not be played under the Twin Towers. The project to replace Wembley with a brand new National Stadium is in serious trouble and no one can be sure just when football - or any other sports - will be coming home. Dispatches reporter Joe Layburn investigates where it all went wrong and asks why another prestigious British project, like the Dome, has been dogged by rows, wrangles and red cards.

The new National Stadium was intended to house football, rugby and athletics. When Chris Smith, Minister for Culture, Media and Sport launched the plans in July 1999, he confidently announced that "It will be a magnificent venue for athletics as well as football". The National Lottery had allocated £120 million pounds to buy the site, the stadium had been designed by the architect of Sydney's stunning Olympic centrepiece and the project had the full support of the then Sports Minister Tony Banks. So what happened to Wembley?

When Banks left to lead the British bid for the 2006 World Cup, he was replaced as Minister by Kate Hoey. The plans began to unravel when Hoey - a former athlete - questioned whether the design of the stadium could ever provide adequate facilities for an Olympic bid and commissioned a brand new report on the Wembley project. Although most of its criticisms were ultimately answered, Chris Smith said the report raised serious doubts about the stadium's ability to host athletics as well rugby and football.

When Chris Smith announced to Parliament in 1999 that he was taking athletics away from Wembley and backed away from his original endorsement, the Chairman of the Wembley project, Ken Bates, was livid. "Wembley has become a pawn," he said. Chris Smith now intends to build a stadium costing close to £85 million on a site in North East London for the 2005 World Athletics Championship - while the future of Wembley remains unclear.

By now, hundreds of millions of pounds should have been raised in the City to pay for Wembley's grand plans. But banks were critical of the size of the project and of the amount the F.A. themselves were ready to contribute. Finally, following the government's announcement, the City turned Wembley down. The Football Association responded by demoting Bates to Vice-Chairman. He resigned in protest saying: "Even Jesus Christ suffered only one Pontius Pilate. I had a whole team of them."

The F.A. have now put Sir Rodney Walker, former head of the Sports Council and present Chairman of the Rugby League, in charge of Wembley. He has the unenviable task of finding funding to take the project forward. Two years ago, Tony Banks told the House of Commons: "This is a project we simply cannot allow to go wrong". But just like the Dome, it has. Wembley was first to re-open in 2003. Now, thanks to political wrangles and personality clashes, nobody knows when the stadium might open its doors again.

Genre: Documentary

Running Time: 60 minutes (approx)