FOOTBALL TO SUPERCROSS IN RECORD TIME
WHEN the British Supercross Championship first approached the Millennium Stadium with plans to stage their event, bosses of Welsh rugby's and English football's showpiece venue had to think long and hard before saying yes. It's not that the ground's versatility, with it's retractable roof, un-paralleled sight lines and removable pitch, wasn't up to the job - or that it would take over 350 trucks and 8,000 tonnes of earth to convert the venue. But, in what stadium manager Paul Sergeant described as 'the biggest challenge yet', the transformation had to take place within a 48 hour time limit!
On Wednesday (18 November) the Millennium Stadium was the salubrious setting for Welsh football's Euro 2004 qualifying match against Russia and by 2.00pm Friday (21 November) the first motorbike riders tested the largest winding and undulating race track european Supercross has ever seen.
The final whistle blew on the 74,000 capacity qualifier for Portugal 2004, with Russia winning through to the finals, at 10.30pm. The first pallet of grass was removed almost immediately and ground staff worked through the night to ensure they would be ready for the first truckload of earth to arrive the following morning. It was a challenge the stadium had not attempted before - the annual FIM British Speedway Grand Prix affords a much longer lead in time and uses just a third of the amount of earth - but the experience and resounding success of the day has left its manager in buoyant mood and ready to take on any challenge the event calendar can throw at him.
'We have a genuinely open mind about precisely what the Millennium Stadium can be used for, and I will go so far as to say we will be seriously examining every possible use no matter how far-fetched it may at first appear,' said Sergeant.
'The Stadium will become a party venue for the first time on New Year's Eve, with over 1,000 tickets already sold for the first event we will have managed and promoted in-house from start to finish. 'And the world really is our oyster, with the only obstacle to a good event idea being our ever growing event calendar.
'We have had genuine discussions about indoor Windsurfing, re-inventing the drive-in movie with cars parked on the stadium floor, motorcross, rallying, more supercross, more parties, concerts, boxing, business conferences and many, many other events.
'Our experiences, with Supercross as the ultimate example, show that our building is the chameleon of the world's event venues and, with the right preparation and organisation, we really can stage absolutely anything.
'If you can put it on in a field, a building or a room anywhere in the world you can put it on at the Millennium Stadium in style.'
Preparations for Supercross ran ahead of schedule in the end and all expectations where surpassed with a 20,000 strong crowd drawn to the first event of this size and magnitude anywhere in the UK, double the average attendance. Welsh rider Neil Prince rewarded local interest with a 3rd position on the podium for the final race of the day, giving him a shot at the championship title, and travelling fans from all over the UK were treated to an unforgettable Millennium Stadium experience.
Promoters Future West intend to make an annual pilgrimage to Cardiff and are also in talks to bring in a different motorbike event in the New Year. In the meantime the Stadium boasts a thriving diary and quotes a staggering 241 different sporting and non-sporting events, in the pipeline for the coming season, making full use of the ground's unrivalled versatility.
ADDITIONAL SUPERCROSS INFORMATION:
Supercross fans also saw Wrexham stuntman Jason Rennie set a World indoor distance record for a motorbike jump. The attendance was on a par with the biggest Supercross events throughout the rest of Europe, with events at the Bercy indoor arena in Paris and Palexpo Stadium in Geneva attracting similar crowds.
The sport regularly out sells Grid-iron in America with 70,000 crowds entertained at the LA Coliseum, but the Millennium Stadium still matched other indoor venues in the USA like the MGM Grand Casino in Las Vegas which has a 20,000 capacity. Other venues in the UK - the Sheffield Arena, the NEC in Birmingham and Earl's Court - attract 8,000 strong crowds, but promoters hope that un-precedented enthusiasm for the event in Wales will help to grow the sport in the UK to the grandiose proportions it enjoys across the Atlantic.
'We are already negotiating with the Millennium Stadium to bring further Supercross events to Cardiff as a direct consequence of the overwhelming response we have had so far,' said owner of Future West International, John Hellam, who is running the event.
'There has been a strong take up throughout Wales and it must be the Millennium Stadium factor that has got people excited.
'It's great news for the future of Supercross in Wales because I can guarantee that everyone who turned up this time will be back for more when we return, and they will be wanting to bring their friends to share in the spectacular experience.
'The capacity at the Millennium Stadium for our event is 50,000 after safety barriers are put in place and there is no reason why we can't be reaching that kind of target in years to come - the event really is that good.'