Saturday, May 19, 2007

A star studded but expensive spectacle

Footballing greats from the past 50 FA Cup finals at Wembley will be taking part in the opening ceremony before Chelsea meet Manchester United at the new stadium this afternoon.

Prince William will be the chief guest as the £757m stadium goes on show for a worldwide television audience. There will also be a celebratory Red Arrows fly-past for the 90,000 crowd.

These are among a series of events planned by the Football Association as the final returns to Wembley after a seven-year absence. Other highlights will include the marching band of the Corps of the Royal Engineers, who won the cup in 1875, plus big screen footage of both clubs' roads to Wembley.

However, many fans are unhappy about proposed prices within the stadium.Fans of both Chelsea and Manchester United are being advised by their peers to boycott food, merchandise and programmes inside Wembley on Saturday.

Steve Powell, head of development for the Football Supporters' Federation, said: "Football fans are fed up of being treated as turnstile fodder who will pay whatever they are asked, so we are asking fans to boycott the catering outlets inside the stadium." An official match programme will be priced at £10, a burger will cost £5 and a pint of beer £4.50. Wembley PLC insists it has taken fans' concerns on board and that a survey of 1,500 fans after the England Under-21 game against Italy found customers were concerned about queues and temperature of food more than prices.

There has also been criticism of ticket prices for the game. Of the 25,000 tickets allocated to each club, only 4,000 were £35, with the rest costing £60 and even £95. And about 400 individuals and companies who had spent up to £10,000 to join "Club Wembley" - which gave them a licence to purchase tickets at the stadium for the next 10 years - had not received their tickets for the final on Thursday because of a computer problem. Wembley PLC promised to contact all the individuals affected and to courier tickets to them if necessary. "We are sorry it happened and will conduct internal enquiries to make sure it doesn't happen again," a spokesman for the company told BBC Sport.

Football League chairman Lord Mawhinney admitted it would take time for things to run smoothly at the new Wembley. Saturday's final is the first showpiece event at the stadium, which was originally planned to cost £326.5m and be open in time for the 2003 FA Cup final. "It will take us all a little while to get used to get used to an efficient administration of occasions here at Wembley," Lord Mawhinney said. "We need to have arrangements where people can get smoothly in, smoothly out and fed smoothly. "There is just a learning curve to go through."

The Football Association will hope its pre-match events on Saturday can placate any unhappy fans. Des Lynam will interview Sir Bob Geldof, who organised the Live Aid concert that took place at Wembley in 1985, Sir Henry Cooper, who floored the then Cassius Clay at the stadium in 1963, and Sir Geoff Hurst, who scored a hat-trick for England in the 1966 World Cup final victory against West Germany.

Other guests will include Peter McParland, scorer of both Aston Villa's goals in 1957 through to Marcel Desailly, who won the Cup for Chelsea at the last Wembley final in 2000. Ricky Villa, scorer of one of the best-ever Wembley goals in Spurs' victory against Manchester City in 1981 will also be present as will Mark Hughes, the only man to have won four FA Cups at Wembley.

Players will go for the traditional walk around the pitch before local Brent schoolchildren parade the colours of the 72 teams who have won the cup between 1923 and 2000.

PS I was born in Manchester and we lived most of our lives in the North West so guess which team we will be supporting!

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