Commentary

Aura already diluted, but don't squander this windfall

What's the fuss? The FA sold out Wembley long ago. The multi-event venue sponsored by a mobile network operator has long lost its mystique. Seventy-five of the 92 league clubs have played there since it reopened in 2007.

The FA ruined all the tradition that Wembley had, demolishing the Twin Towers, removing that long, noise-generating walk from the tunnel in the corner and, most sacrilegious of all, getting rid of the iconic 39 steps so now, painfully, the winning team disappear out of sight at one point, breaking that visual connection with the fans.

The FA stages FA Cup semi-finals there to help pay off the gargantuan debt, further reducing Wembley's aura and reducing the special feel of the Cup final. The FA damaged the title decider further by moving the kick-off time and increasing ticket prices for the Chelsea v Manchester United final.

Wembley generally has a poor atmosphere as it is too corporate, too expensive and the shallow rake washes away the noise. It doesn't feel like a football stadium, and seems as much designed for the Rolling Stones and the Jacksonville Jaguars as the Three Lions. And talking of Jaguars, has anybody thought about their fans, facing more frequent trips to London to see their team? English football feels the NFL draught. Wembley will sell out, of course, because of the number of gridiron fans in this country, but imagine the outrage if Fulham had to play some of their games in Florida? The NFL's increasing presence in Britain could encourage the Premier League to have another shot at a version of the 39th game, perhaps by working with the FA to take the Community Shield overseas. And will there be naming rights, introducing Walmart Wembley? Will Shahid Khan hike ticket prices?

The devil of the deal with Khan will be in the fine detail, and how much money will be released to grassroots. It shows the madness of modern football that the money that the FA will make from selling Wembley equates to 24 months of agents' fees in the Premier League. Maybe the FA should address those and stop money sluicing out of the game.

The government certainly has to act on recouping costs. Sport England gave £78 million (S$142 million), the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport £18.5 million and the Greater London Authority £16.2 million in contributions for the new Wembley.

There were enough questions at the time over such an outlay from the public purse and rightly will be again. It also has £140 million of debt still to be repaid. This all eats into the upfront £600 million that the FA expects to receive from Khan.

It shows the madness of modern football that the money that the FA will make from selling Wembley equates to 24 months of agents' fees in the Premier League. Maybe the FA should address those and stop money sluicing out of the game.

With England going on a short road trip, Keith Wyness, the chief executive of Aston Villa, wants the FA to follow suit.

"It's the perfect opportunity for the FA administration to relocate to the Midlands, the heart of the country," he said. "The reasons are compelling from the cost and with HS2, (the government's planned high-speed rail line) coming on board. It's right on the M6, there are major office developments around Villa Park and St George's Park is just down the road."

The likelihood of the FA hierarchy and staff swopping Brent for Brum is remote, but Wyness has a better chance with his desire for Villa Park to host internationals and semi-finals again.

"Villa Park semi-finals were always very special games and we'd like to see them back here," he said. So take the semis back to Villa Park and Old Trafford, and take England around the country. Invest the money wisely. Don't waste this.

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 28, 2018, with the headline 'Aura already diluted, but don't squander this windfall'. Print Edition | Subscribe