In a shock announcement on Thursday, the Football Association have revealed that they are considering selling Wembley Stadium. The news comes after the American billionaire who owns Fulham, car parts tycoon Shahid Khan, tabled a bid believed to be between £500million-£800million for the national stadium.
The Evening Standard reported on the story, just as the board of English football’s governing body is due to consider the offer and make a decision.
An FA spokeswoman kept their statement on the matter short and to the point, saying: “We can confirm that The FA has received an offer to buy Wembley Stadium.”
But while the news has come as a shock to many within the game, if the sale goes through it could well turn out to be excellent news for a huge portion of England fans.
Khan doesn’t just own The Cottagers. The Florida-based businessman also counts NFL outfit Jacksonville Jaguars as part of his portfolio of sporting franchises. He has long wanted to transport the Jags’ home games to London, but needs a stadium to back up the move. If the proposed Wembley purchase goes through, the relocation looks extremely probable.
Should the NFL reject the move though, it’s thought that Khan could even attempt to move another NFL club to London. So any sale to Khan would likely see American Football being played at Wembley. The NFL season lasts from September to February and would see an interruption to some England’s home games.
That’s where the good news comes in. While plans are yet to be announced, there’s a very good chance that the games that would have been played at Wembley will be moved to other stadiums across the country instead. Just as they were when the stadium was being rebuilt.
The ‘England on Tour’ idea allowed fans from all across the country to watch their national teams in friendlies and qualifiers without having to make long and often expensive trips to London and back. Manchester, Birmingham, Newcastle, Liverpool, Leeds, Derby, Sunderland and even Ipswich saw Three Lions action between 2001 and 2007.
On a club level, it’s highly likely that FA Cup semi-finals will go back to neutral grounds, saving Wembley Stadium for the final in a move that would no doubt please most football fans, who think that Wembley-based semis take the shine of the final appearance.
Not everyone will be a fan of the move, of course. Many will argue that the national football stadium should not be in private hands and should remain publicly owned. Those backing the potential deal though will argue that the hundreds of millions of pounds earmarked for grassroots football more than makes up for any ownership issues.
Investments of this scale in grassroots are almost unprecedented. The money is ring-fenced too, meaning every penny that’s supposed to make its way to pitches, coaches and young players will have to do just that by law.
Selling Wembley Stadium to a private investor might not sound like a great move for English football, but if the sale to Khan goes through, fans of the national side might well get to see their heroes a lot closer to home. They should also see an eventual improvement in the side’s performance once the benefits from the revolutionary investment in grassroots football begins to be felt.