The Wembley pitch will continue to resemble a paddock until the FA has paid off the stadium. A commitment to host all England home games at Wembley for the next decade might not be enough to clear the FA’s debt, so it has to continue to pimp out the venue to other sports.
The English FA has a contract to stage NFL games at Wembley. A week before Saturday’s Euro qualifier between England and Slovenia, the Dallas Cowboys played the Jacksonville Jaguars and made a right mess of the pitch.
Wembley hosting NFL games isn’t a problem in itself, but the timing certainly is. The pitch has been torn to shreds only a few days before an important football match – and it will happen again next year before what could be a crucial qualifier against Estonia.
It has been reported that the FA pulls in £3m per NFL game held at Wembley. This was the third NFL match there this season.
Slovenian officials complained about the state of the pitch prior to the game, saying that while the wings were largely ok there was a “10-metre square patch right in the middle where the pitch is completely ruined. There is no grass there at all.”
But the Slovenians don’t have to pay the FA’s debt. The FA reportedly still owes over £200m on the construction of Wembley Stadium.
Small crowds for recent England games haven’t helped. Just over 40,000 attended a friendly against Norway in early September.
Perhaps the FA should auction off the naming rights for the stadium. As Matt Dickinson writes in Bobby Moore: The Man In Full, businesses can pay to have their names carved on the paving stones outside Wembley, with prices ranging from £50 to £999 for the “first grade granite” slabs around the statue of Bobby Moore.
As Dickinson notes, it’s tacky to sell off the ground underneath England’s only World Cup-winning captain, but that hasn’t stopped the FA.
The pitch itself isn’t fabulous, even without the trampling it receives from NFL scrimmages. The new stadium’s pitch has been replaced many times.
Wembley is not the only stadium in the world that hosts various sports. But the stadium is owned by the FA, which sets it apart from many other stadiums.
Hosting events that damage the pitch so close to competitive England matches shows that the FA is more interested in paying off its debt than looking after its senior men’s team.
There’s nothing wrong with a stadium being used for other purposes such as concerts, NFL games and revival crusades, but when the stadium is owned by the national football association surely its priority must be to make sure that the playing surface is in perfect condition for the national team.
Failure to prepare a top-class pitch verges on negligence.
Had England lost to Slovenia, the outcry would have been louder. But outcry or not, the FA has shown that it will do (almost) whatever is needs to do to clear its mountainous debt from the construction of Wembley Stadium.
Enough seriousness – here are some other ways that the FA can raise money to pay off Wembley:
- Install a greyhound track around the perimeter of the pitch.
- Charge high prices for in-stadium food and drink.
- Make the players pay an entrance fee.
- Coin-operated toilets.
- Selling “pies” like the nerds did in Revenge of the Nerds.
Share your suggestions below.