Wembley is football’s equivalent of a timeshare in Tenerife
Wembley is football’s equivalent of a timeshare in Tenerife – and now we’re stuck with it
- Proposed sale of Wembley to Fulham owner Shahid Khan fell through last week
- The national football stadium is presentable enough but it hasn’t got a lot of soul
- Khan offered £600million for a timeshare and, like lunatics, we turned him down
- While we dither, our pitches will sink deeper into the mire of our philosophising
The English obsession with home ownership cost us dearly again last week. We saved Wembley for the nation — whatever the hell that means — and ran Shahid Khan back to Jacksonville, or Fulham, with his tail between his legs. Well done us.
Let’s face it, for the amount we use it, Wembley is football’s version of a timeshare property in Tenerife. Nothing more. It’s presentable enough but it hasn’t got a lot of soul. We get to stay there briefly now and again and, every few months, Liverpool and Manchester United fans, down for a cup final in the capital, miss the last train home from Euston.
But now, we’re stuck with it. Khan offered us £600million for our timeshare and, like lunatics, we turned him down. We told ourselves that our timeshare was actually a magnificent Grade I listed mansion in Mayfair and that we needed to keep hold of it for future generations when we should have taken the money and run.
The proposed sale of Wembley Stadium to Fulham owner Shahid Khan fell through last week
We got lost in worthy discussions about society and the sustainability of quick fixes and whether we really ought to be taking cash from an American billionaire. As if his money were somehow dirtier than British money. And while we were wringing our hands, the deal died.
And now we get to pay for Wembley. And now we get to have more worthy arguments about who should provide the funding to resuscitate grassroots football. And while we dither, our pitches will sink deeper into the mire of our philosophising.
Austerity is forcing councils into the neglect of community assets but we had a chance to dig football out of the swamp. We didn’t take it. So it is today’s generation of young players who will turn up to play a match on a Sunday morning to be told their game is off.
It happens for months on end now and unless you know the excitement of turning up to play for your team, you cannot know the disappointment of discovering there will be no game. For some teams on some pitches, that means weeks, even months, without a game. It means a fallow winter.
Khan offered us £600million for our timeshare and, like lunatics, we turned him down
The windfall from Khan’s proposed purchase of Wembley might not have fixed that completely. But it would have helped.
The FA board, so often and so lazily maligned, actually wanted to transfer money from the top of the game to the bottom but it was prevented from doing so by the very people whose constituencies would have benefited most. It is, indeed, a funny old game. The preoccupation with the national game owning Wembley is absurd. You can have a great time at a holiday home without having the property deeds fading to sepia in a drawer upstairs.
Enjoy it for a few days here and there but let somebody else take the strain. That was what we were being offered by Khan. That was the deal we blew.
I’ve had a lot of great days and nights at Wembley. None of them have been dependent on who owned the stadium. I couldn’t tell you who owned it the first time I went there to see England beat Hungary in a World Cup qualifier in November 1981.
I can tell you the England line-up that evening even now: Shilton, Neal, Mills, Thompson, Martin, Robson, Keegan, Coppell, Mariner, Brooking, McDermott.
Norman Whiteside scored the winner as Manchester United won 1985 FA Cup final at Wembley
And I can remember the thrill of being there at last. But the owner? I haven’t got a clue.
The same goes for seeing Norman Whiteside score the winner for Manchester United in the 1985 FA Cup final. No idea who the owner was. No idea who it was in 1966 when England won the World Cup.
I know that the first owner committed suicide. I know that it was bought then by Arthur Elvin, who had made much of his money from selling the rubble of buildings around what was then known at the Empire Stadium. Seems apt, that.
And yet now we tell ourselves it is important that it is owned by the FA. Why? It’s the National Treasure Syndrome. Like a lot national treasures, Wembley’s worthless. The idea it can become a cash cow for the game is flawed. It is more likely to become a drain.
And so now, the deal with our timeshare is we have to live in it permanently. And the National Treasure brigade celebrate and say let’s raise the money by imposing a levy on agents’ fees. It’s a beautiful idea, I agree, but it’s pie in the sky.
Now it’s time to repent at leisure as we stare at the decaying grassroots facilities all around us
So is the idea that the Premier League will be forced to contribute a far greater sum to grassroots football. Really? Good luck with getting that past the owners. These turkeys are way, way too fat to vote for Christmas.
We’ve made our decision. Now it’s time to repent at leisure as we stare at the decaying grassroots facilities all around us. We were presented with an opportunity to do something about it, an opportunity that would have cost us nothing at all. And we blew it.
It has not been an auspicious year for Australian cricket.
After the low of Sandpapergate in South Africa in March and the shaming of Steve Smith and David Warner, the Aussies fell to one of the heaviest defeats in their Test history last week when they lost by 373 runs to Pakistan in Dubai.
It can only be a matter of time now until Australia say that at least they play the game the right way. Only then will we know that the world order is truly in chaos.
This time around, Jose does not deserve charge
Jose Mourinho deserves much of the censure that comes his way but I find it hard to see why he should be charged by the FA with improper conduct for swearing as he walked down the Old Trafford touchline after Manchester United’s stirring comeback victory against Newcastle.
His team had made a fantastic recovery, emotions were high, Mourinho felt he had proved a point to some critics and so he muttered a few words as he left the pitch.
Jose Mourinho was charged by the FA with improper conduct after United beat Newcastle
He muttered them in Portuguese for a start, so anyone who was offended was either fluent in that language or was so keen to be offended they enlisted a lip reader and a translator.
And secondly, so what if he swore? We see players swearing, in English, during every match and nothing is done to punish them.
Mourinho is fighting battles on enough fronts without having to deal with the spurious concerns of the prim.
The abuse directed at women in sport — and in public life in general — is now as widespread as it is viscerally unpleasant.
The comments aimed at England footballer Karen Carney last week, the fervently expressed hopes that she might die of cancer or be raped, are typical of the kind of written attacks sportswomen — or indeed any woman involved in sport — face as a matter of routine.
There are a lot of angry people out there but the angriest of all appear to be the misogynists.
Why I’ll mourn for the epics at Wimbledon
I can’t help feeling a tinge of regret that Wimbledon will no longer allow the fifth set of matches at its Championships to continue uncurtailed by artificial restrictions.
in 1969 Pancho Gonzales beat Charlie Pasarell 22–24, 1–6, 16–14, 6–3, 11–9 at Wimbledon
There always seemed to me something impossibly and beautifully outlandish about the first-round match at the All England Club in 1969 between Pancho Gonzales and Charlie Pasarell that ended 22–24, 1–6, 16–14, 6–3, 11–9 to Gonzalez.
The introduction of tie-breaks made those scorelines a thing of the past but the survival of longer final sets still allowed for marathons like the 70-68 fifth set between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut at Wimbledon 2010.
Wimbledon have dealt sensibly with the issue by setting a limit of 12-12 in the fifth for the start of a tie-break but the romantics among us will still mourn the end of the epics.
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