Former ManU player Gary Neville said to a panel of MPs that selling Wembley is a "short-term plan we’ll regret forever," according to the LONDON TIMES. Neville described the proposed dividend for grassroots football as "nonsense and absolutely ridiculous." Neville: "They are talking about an extra £70 million ($91.4M) a year for 20 years -- that's a pittance in football, it’s a pittance in government, it’s the price of a fullback." The FA claimed that the deal would enable it to invest an extra £70M a year -- and a total of more than £2B ($2.6B) over the next 20 years -- in artificial pitches, grass pitches, coaching and other initiatives. Neville told the panel that he agreed with the FA "that something must be done to improve facilities at the bottom of the pyramid" but said that selling the national stadium "was not the way to do it." He called on the government to "intervene and reset" the '92 deal in which the top clubs broke away from the English Football League to set up the Premier League. Sitting alongside Neville during the first half of the committee’s hearing on the proposed Wembley sale was Tottenham Hotspur Supporters’ Trust co-Chair Katrina Law, "one of two fans’ representatives on the FA council." Law explained that polling conducted by the Football Supporters’ Federation revealed that fans "were divided on the sale," with one third "strongly opposed," one third in favor and one third "wanting to know more details about the grassroots investment and what guarantees the FA will gain" from EPL side Fulham Owner Shahid Khan. Law added that she was "not personally against the idea of selling Wembley but was concerned Khan was getting the stadium on the cheap" (LONDON TIMES, 7/18). In London, Joseph Curtis reported Neville said that the FA "could put a levy on agents' fees that could generate similar amounts of cash" or the Premier League could "reduce its prize money" to fund grassroots projects. He added, "The current prize money for the Premier League is £2.5 billion ($3.27B). Let's make it £2.25 billion ($2.94B) and give that £250 million ($327M) to grassroots football. That's an extra £250 million a year" (DAILY MAIL, 7/18).
ON ONE CONDITION: In London, David Conn reported the FA's proposed sale of Wembley Stadium "has become more likely to gain the necessary approvals of public bodies" after Sport England "expressed conditional support." In written evidence submitted to the U.K. Digital, Culture, Media & Sport Committee before Wednesday's hearing, Sport England said that it "sees benefits in the FA’s plan" to invest the projected £600M ($784M) in proceeds in grassroots facilities "as long as Wembley’s sporting status is protected." The FA confirmed in April that it was in discussions to sell Wembley for £600M to Khan, who could use the stadium as a European base for his Jacksonville Jaguars during the NFL season. Sport England’s consent "is legally required" because the organization contributed £120M of national lottery funds toward the £757M total cost of rebuilding Wembley 20 years ago. Sport England suggested that if "the necessary safeguards are in place it will give consent and provide grants to boost the FA’s investment." It said, "Provided appropriate protections can be agreed it appears that there is an opportunity to co-invest new funds strategically, for the benefit of football, and the wider community, at the grassroots or community level" (GUARDIAN, 7/18). In London, Sam Wallace reported the FA told MPs on Wednesday that Khan "is better equipped to make a commercial success of Wembley than the governing body." In its written evidence, the FA said that by selling the stadium and retaining Club Wembley, "the corporate hospitality element that is crucial to its current Wembley business plan," it would be able to "divest itself of the loss-making part of the business and future maintenance costs." It admitted that "others with greater expertise at running the stadium could potentially turn a profit." The FA said, "While the part of the stadium business the FA might sell would operate at a cash loss for the FA, a potential purchaser with access to content which the FA does not have (eg, NFL and other fixtures or events) could have the ability to make a new cash positive business plan for the stadium that is potentially not feasible for the FA" (TELEGRAPH, 7/18).
ON SHAKY GROUND: The BBC's Mandeep Sanghera reported the FA said that only "one in three pitches at grassroots level is of adequate quality." The figure was part of the FA's written evidence on Wednesday about the possible sale of Wembley Stadium. There are 21,000 grassroots clubs, 50 county FAs, 25,000 schools and 330 local authorities which are "catered for by the FA." The organization pointed out that 150,000 matches were called off last season due to poor facilities, one in six matches "are called off due to poor pitch quality" and 33 of 50 county FAs "are without their own 3G pitch" (BBC, 7/18).