Wembley sale off: reactions as Shahid Khan withdraws bid
Fulham owner pulls out of ‘divisive’ £600m deal with FA but concerns remain over funding of grass-roots football
Plans to sell Wembley Stadium to Shahid Khan have been axed after the Fulham owner withdrew his offer because the proposal has proved so “divisive”.
The news will be greeted with relief by the majority of English fans, who were aghast when they learned that the Football Association planned to flog the world’s most famous football stadium to the Pakistani-American businessman for £600m.
In a year when the England national team is enjoying its best run of form for three decades, the move was viewed by many as a grubby act of business that put profit before history.
Announcing Khan’s withdrawal yesterday, FA chief Martin Glenn said his offer had proved “more divisive than expected”.
Critics of the now-ditched deal have included former England and Manchester United defender Gary Neville, who said: “The FA feels to fund the grass-roots programme, they have to sell a national asset - it’s quite simply ridiculous.” Neville reacted to the news that the deal is off with a thumbs up on his Twitter account.
Growing the grass roots
Glenn had said the sale would benefit the grass-roots game, but Neville and other opponents of the deal argued that there are other ways to do that without selling off the crown jewel.
“I despair at the thought that the FA board and management are sitting there and thinking that they have to sell Wembley to fund grass-roots football,” Neville told the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee in July.
“Place a levy on agents’ fees - that money is disappearing out of the game, there’s your extra £70m. Don’t sell Wembley.”
Southgate roped in
Last week The Daily Telegraph reported that the FA had “drafted in Gareth Southgate for a last-ditch attempt to push through the troubled £600m sale”.
According to the newspaper, the FA enlisted the England manager to argue their case after a poll found that only 38% of people involved in grass-roots English football were in favour of the sale.
Southgate was asked to “deliver an endorsement at a hastily-arranged presentation to a select group of FA Council members and county game chiefs”, in the hope they would come round to agreeing the sale in a vote on 24 October.
Khan calls it a day
But Khan sensed the mood among the 127 members of the council and pulled out of the deal. A senior FA source told the BBC that the board “believed the odds were slightly against the purchase being backed, given the strong objections of some councillors to the home of English football being sold off”.
Glenn is putting on a brave face following the collapse of the deal, saying: “At a recent meeting with Mr Khan he expressed to us that, without stronger support from within the game, his offer is being seen as more divisive than it was anticipated to be and he has decided to withdraw his proposal.
“Wembley Stadium is an iconic venue that is revered around the world and it will continue to thrive under the ownership and direction of the FA.”
What was said about Khan’s Wembley withdrawal
Henry Winter, The Times: “The FA messed up… [they] handled its wooing of the council poorly. It needed to emphasise better that the windfall would be dispensed sensibly, investing say £50m a year and ensuring a long-term fund for maintenance.”
Tracey Crouch: the sports minister told BBC Sport she was “very disappointed” at the news, as the sale would have meant “a huge opportunity” to build new artificial pitches and improve existing grass ones.
Football Supporters’ Federation chairman Malcolm Clarke: “Only one in three fans thought the FA should sell to Khan, while two-thirds of supporters were against selling the stadium under any circumstances. While the majority of fans will be pleased that the stadium will remain in the control of the FA, they recognise the need for much greater investment in grass-roots pitches.”
The Daily Telegraph: “The grass-roots crisis… is not a problem that could only be reversed by the FA selling Wembley. The grass-roots crisis is a problem for all English football.”
The Guardian: “With a £600m windfall now denied to the grass roots, attention will turn again to the top [Premier League] clubs’ burgeoning riches. With the collapse of Khan’s proposal, the top clubs should come under intense pressure to cough up more themselves.”