On the day most NFL fans were focussed on the annual college draft another story slipped out of the US that caused shock and suspicion on both sides of the Atlantic: Shahid Khan the colourful owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Fulham FC launched an audacious £900million bid to buy Wembley Stadium from the FA.
The shock came with the idea England could be selling their historic national stadium whilst in Florida Jaguars fans suspect this is the beginning of Khan realising his long-held ambition to move the team permanently to London.
However the details of the proposed move reveal a deal so good the FA will surely rifle quickly through their due diligence and hand over the keys within weeks. Firstly Khan has no intention of moving Fulham a move that would amount to suicide for the West London club. The FA & EFL Cup finals are guaranteed to continue taking place at Wembley as are spring and summer internationals. The FA will stay rent free in their Wembley offices and keep their lucrative Club Wembley business whilst releasing themselves of a large debt that continues to be a millstone around the neck of England’s governing body.
More significantly the FA have committed to spending £500million of the sale proceeds on grassroots football- a sum that could see up to 2000 new pitches being erected, better indoor facilities, more coaches- the list of sensible ways to invest the windfall is enormous.
England will be forced to play their home matches each autumn away from Wembley- hardly a downside considering the excitement sending the team around the country caused whilst the new Wembley was under construction- how many times have we said in recent years England need to re-engage with their fans by having games nationwide? For those who doubt that argument consider this- which pre World Cup friendly will produce the bigger atmosphere this May- the game at Wembley or the one at Elland Road? Exactly! Oh and it should mean the FA take the FA Cup semi-finals back to the club grounds- keeping Wembley special for the final, a move almost everyone agrees should happen.
So what if any are the pitfalls? The FA needs to ensure Khan doesn’t reserve the option to sell the naming rights to the stadium. Almost all expensive stadium projects on both sides of the Atlantic have seen the cost off-set by selling the naming rights to a Sponsor hence the Emirates Stadium, Etihad Stadium and Allianz Arena. In the US this years Super Bowl was played at the US Bank Stadium and next years is at the Mercedes-Benz Dome, even the stoical New England Patriots play at the Gillette Stadium. Next year’s FA Cup Final being held at the Wembley Ford Arena or McDonalds London Stadium would be too bitter pill to swallow.
Some have pointed to the problems of having to paint out American Football markings for big football matches but this hasn’t been an issue in recent years and the NFL season ends in January so why would that be an issue in May? And for those who cling to the idea of Wembley being the permanent home of English football that should be maintained at all costs- that was the old stadium knocked down in 2001, the new one is just a huge beautiful identikit stadium that happens to occupy the same car parking space as the old one and whilst we spent £700 million building it Germany and Spain decided not to bother and spend their budget on grassroots football- what mugs they were!