What is there to say about Wembley Stadium? If you’re an avid football fan probably quite a lot. Built by Sir Robert McAlpine in 1924 it has held FA Cup Finals, the 1966 World Cup Final as well as European Finals and rugby World Cup Finals. It’s the mecca for sporting achievement.
The famous Twin Towers, which rose up and sat proudly across the outer London skyline, became an icon for world football. Players from all four corners of the globe longed to play on the ‘hallowed turf’. It was a sanctuary, and many fans will certainly remember the first time they visited the stadium.
What was the first match at Wembley stadium?
The first match to be played there was in April 1923, which was the FA Cup final between Bolton Wanderers and West Ham United.
also known as the ‘White Horse Final’. The FA had decided not to allocate tickets for the match and hadn’t anticipated such a large crowd. The attendance was a little over 126,000 and with spectators looking for places to go, the vast majority of them spilled onto the pitch, leaving mounted police to push them back. The game finally started after a delay, and Bolton went on to win 2-0 with David Jack scoring Wembley’s first ever goal.
That wasn’t the only famous FA Cup final (there have been many, too many to recant here) but the 1953 FA Cup, dubbed the ‘Matthews final’ was one for Blackpool fans to savour. Yet again it was Bolton Wanderers as opposition in the showpiece event. Matthews, referring to Sir Stanley, had been in the final twice before with Stoke City and lost on both occasions. This time round he was to be triumphant, as Blackpool ran out 4-3 winners, with Matthews playing an integral part in his side’s comeback from 3-1 down.
England at Wembley
For the most part Wembley has always been the home of the England national team. It has also staged a number of Euro and World Cup matches, most significantly the 1966 finals. Here, Wembley hosted nine matches including the dramatic final, which England won 4-2 after extra time. Here’s the highlights of that incredible game.
Three decades later and England were back hosting a major tournament, Euro 1996. England narrowly missed out on another final, losing to arch rivals Germany on penalties. But the tournament brought a country together and Wembley became the background for some amazing footballing memories. As well as football Wembley featured rugby league and even the 1948 summer Olympics, and of course it’s been a major music venue for years.
Last games at the stadium
The last FA Cup Final to be played at Wembley was on May 20th 2000 between Chelsea and Aston Villa with Roberto Di Matteo scoring the only goal. England’s final competitive match was on October 7th of the same year, a 1-0 loss to Germany saw Dietmar Hamann score the last ever goal at the stadium. It also marked the end of Kevin Keegan’s reign as England manager, as he resigned soon after.
Here’s the stadium being taken down –
The new Wembley stadium
For many sporting fans the Twin Towers represented a unique experience. In 2002 demolition work commenced on the ground to make way for a new £757m 90,000 capacity, state of the art stadium. Footballing icons, including World Cup winner Sir Geoff Hurst, had hoped the Twin Towers could be incorporated into the new plans.
Unfortunately that wasn’t possible due to the layout of the new site, and it would have meant the towers being situated right in the middle of the pitch. It was also too expensive to move them, and so with regret they had to be torn down. The tops of the towers were removed and have been preserved. The new Wembley opted for an iconic arch that could be seen right across London.
The new venue opened in 2007 with the 133 metre high arch being the most prominent fixture. It’s the single largest roof structure in the world and is not there just to look pretty. The arch has a job to do, as it supports the north roof and around 60% of the weight of the south roof.
The first official match at the stadium was a gripping 3-3 draw between England and Italy U21s on March 24th. Chelsea were the first team to win the FA Cup back at the new Wembley as a Didier Drogba goal was enough to beat Manchester United. England played their first international a couple of weeks later against Brazil, with captain John Terry scoring England’s first goal in a 1-1 draw. The record attendance so far was 89,107 who watched England against Kazakhstan.
There are countless memories of Wembley stadium that both young and old fans will remember. The stadium will always sit proudly in sporting history as one of the greatest venues in the world, from the past, present and the future.