Wembley – a new era
The stadium – Wembley
Name: Wembley Stadium
Address: Wembley, London, HA9 0WS, England
Opened: 23 April 1923 (old), 24 March 2007 (new)
Last renovation: 2002 – 2007
No. of seats: 71,200
Total capacity: 90,000
Home teams: English national teams
Wembley – a new era
Wembley has a special place in everyone’s hearts – there is no doubt this is going to be the most spectacular stadium in the world. Whatever people’s political persuasion in England, there were few disagreeing with the words of the UK’s Prime Minister Tony Blair when Wembley Stadium played host to its first competitive match in over six years following its multi-million pound redevelopment.
And while the Wembley name alone is enough to send supporters into a state of awe, the spiritual home of English football has certainly been reinvented in an impressive manner, successfully retaining its rich appeal and individuality.
Standing at pitchside level, you realize how vast the 90,000-seat arena is, yet it still manages to seem curiously compact. Every seat is sheltered from the elements and although the famous Twin Towers may have been consigned to rubble, the new Wembley has a new landmark, which will not only make it stand out on the London skyline, but will also serve as an instant, iconic reference point for football fans all over the world.
The stadium’s arch, which sits 133 metres above the level of the external concourse, is the longest single-span roof structure in the world. For supporters worried whether one of Paul Robinson’s clearances could hit the construction in any way, they need not worry, as the London Eye could fit between the apex of the arch and the pitch. That is not the last of the big numbers. The roof weights 7,000 tonnes and covers an area of 11 acres, four of which are moveable, and 23,000 tonnes of steel were used on the construction of the new stadium, which has a circumference of 1 km. There are also 2,618 toilets – a fact that the stadium’s management consider to be more than in any other building on the planet, while there is more leg room for every seat in the new Wembley Stadium than there was in the Royal Box of the old stadium.
“It’s been worth the wait,” said the FA’s director of football development Sir Trevor Brooking after witnessing the England and Italy U-21 sides contest a highly entertaining 3-3 draw in the arena’s curtain-raiser on Saturday, 24 March. “After all the hassle, everyone thinks that it is better than they thought it would be. Wembley wore this game well.” One man who experienced the ultimate high on the old Wembley’s hallowed turf is Sir Bobby Charlton, who played in England’s 1966 FIFA World Cup TM final win over West Germany. And although the ?Three Lions’ record all-time scorer was sad to see the scene of his country’s biggest triumph retired from duty, he was delighted to pay a visit to its successor. “It was sad to see the old place go because of the history of the ground,” said Charlton after a reunion between the English and West Germany sides who went head-to-head for the global crown in 1966. “But it’s great to see the new place, which has been really well designed. There was something special about it … it was big but it was also personal. It was lovely being out there – I had the feeling that I’d love to play here, this really would have been something else.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, interest in the new Wembley has been at fever pitch among the public ever since it opened. With huge demand for tickets, fans have been at the ready to snap up a seat (with extra leg room!) and experience the carnival atmosphere for which the stadium has quickly become renowned.
The FA Cupfinal between Chelsea and Manchester United on 19 May and England’s first game at their ?new’ home, a friendly with Brazil on 1 June, were played in front of capacity crowds – all eager for their first experiences of what former England captain Bobby Moore described as “the Mecca of stadiums.”
But it is not just the supporters who have been eager to enjoy a day out of Wembley. The players, too, have been champing at the bit to parade their talents at the arena, which according to David Beckham is the dream of every English kid. “Every young child wants to play at Wembley, and for me it’s the ultimate stadium,” he said. Not that Wembley’s charm is exclusive to Englishmen. “To play a big match at Wembley … this is the absolute highlight in a player’s career,” enthused German legend Jurgen Klinsmann, summing up the worldwide appeal of the iconic venue, which Pele also describes as the “church of football”. It remains to be seen how the new Wembley will come to be described by the footballing icons of today, but all signs point to the fact that it will provide as much magic as its predecessor once did.