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Thursday, September 2, 1999 Published at 12:02 GMT 13:02 UK

UK: Wales

Two years - and one awesome stadium

BBC Wales's Bob Humphrys takes a personal look at the creation of Wales's newest landmark, the Millennium Stadium, as it prepares to stage the Rugby World Cup.

When, on a gloomy March Sunday morning two years ago, they started tearing the seats out of the old Cardiff Arms Park, it took a leap of faith akin to believing Neil Armstrong really was stepping out on the moon and not some film lot at Universal to accept that its replacement would be ready on time.

The builders, Laing, said it would be - though if they had read the leaves of their morning tea a little more carefully they would have choked on their digestives at the overspend that would be needed.

[ image: Glanmor Griffiths: He was right: the stadium was ready on time.]
Glanmor Griffiths: He was right: the stadium was ready on time.
The chairman of the Welsh Rugby Union, Glanmor Griffiths, said it would be - well, he would wouldn't he?

But the more cynical gazed at what had to come down, envisioned what had to go up, and started wondering whether Wembley, Murrayfield or the Stade de France would be available to stage a World Cup final on November 6, 1999.

The old theatre of dreams where Edwards, John and the like had weaved their magic, began to crumble. Want to buy a dozen plastic seats, a well-used tea urn or a sign saying 'Gents'? No problem. Just turn up at the auction of the Arms Park memorabilia.

Want to watch the sky-line of Cardiff change? Simply park yourselves around Westgate Street and watch the TA headquarters, the old social security offices or, most poignantly, the Empire Pool fall to the demolition teams' tools.

[ image: The stadium has changed Cardiff's skyline]
The stadium has changed Cardiff's skyline
And for a while a chunk of Cardiff's City centre could have passed muster for the Dowlais open cast site, an open wound of mud and stone where cranes loomed, men scurried and over-size Tonka toys careered hither and thither.

But then, amid the organised chaos, a new building could be discerned taking shape, taking shape slowly, admittedly, but taking shape none the less.

Not that that in itself was sufficient to silence the doubters, happy that the long list of latest Millennium Stadium controversies could enliven the quietest of news days.

Hysteria over delays

"Rugby World Cup Chief Slams Shambles." "Laing's Big Guns Quit in Stadium Shock" "WRU Face High Court Showdown on Overspend" "Murrayfield Stands By to Stage World Cup Final." The stadium's gestation was a headline writers delight.

And, to be fair, there was much to justify the hysteria. The stadium WAS behind schedule, dates for the when the first match would be held came and went. The stadium WAS costing much more than was thought. A £96m design and build contract looks like costing Laings - or whoever eventually foots the bill - £30m on top of that.

There WERE embarrassing rows. The WRU and Cardiff RFC spat and snarled over what would happen to the old North Stand.

The chairman of RWC was concerned enough to travel over from Australia to check progress. There were contingency plans for the Final to be held elsewhere. Twenty four hour working did little to allay fears.

Mood changes

But as the stadium skeleton grew flesh, the mood began to change. People began to talk not about if, but when it would be ready.

June 26, 1999 was not so much pencilled in as writ large in felt tip for the visit of the world champion Springboks. "It will be ready, the game will take place, " said Glanmor Griffiths. He was right.

Twenty seven and a half thousand turned up for that match and even the most doubting of Thomases would have experienced a slight dropping of the jaw.

[ image: Neil Jenkins: One of Wales's World Cup squad]
Neil Jenkins: One of Wales's World Cup squad
Wren's new St Paul's was misleadingly described as 'awful' on it's completion, that is, it filled you with awe. Standing looking around at the new stadium - retractable roof or no retractable roof - has a similar effect.

But best stadium in Europe, the world even? Who is to say? It's enough that Cardiff has a remarkable new rugby stage and, that despite the controversy, it will be completed time for the World Cup Final.

The Millennium Stadium? You could say, it was simply awful!

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