London (AFP) – The collapse of the proposed deal to sell Wembley stadium has been described as a “huge disappointment” and a missed opportunity by two of the biggest sponsors of grassroots facilities.
Fulham owner Shahid Khan had offered the English Football Association £600 million ($787 million) for the national stadium, as well as letting it keep the Club Wembley hospitality business, worth around £300 million.
But the American businessman withdrew his controversial offer on Wednesday.
FA chairman Greg Clarke and chief executive Martin Glenn were both strongly in favour of the deal and wanted to use the money to fix England’s dilapidated changing rooms, waterlogged pitches and stretched 3G facilities.
They hoped Khan’s £600 million could be the catalyst for a total investment in community facilities over the next 20 years of £3.3 billion.
But in separate statements, Glenn admitted the proposed sale had been “more divisive than anticipated”, while Khan said it had become clear “there is no definitive mandate to sell Wembley”.
The UK’s largest sports charity, the Football Foundation, would have been the vehicle the FA used to pick, manage and fund the projects, as it currently does with the funding it receives from the FA, Premier League and government.
“News that Mr Khan has decided to withdraw his offer to buy Wembley should come as a huge disappointment to community footballers everywhere,” it said in a statement.
“Football participation in this country is huge. Unfortunately, those who play the game, simply for the love of doing so and for the health benefits, are having to put up with a stock of community football facilities that is in a shameful state.
“This would have been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make considerable inroads into probably the most pressing issue facing football in this country.”
Nick Bitel, the chairman of Sport England, the government agency that funds grassroots sport, also expressed his disappointment.
“We agree with the view that the Wembley Stadium offer was a huge opportunity to boost funding into the development and maintenance of artificial and grass pitches up and down the country,” he said.
“Now that this deal is off the table, we hope the football family will now consider other ways the much-needed additional funds for grassroots facilities can be generated.”
Former FA chief executive Mark Palios described the collapse of the sale as a “massive concern” for the grassroots game.