This weekend, Wembley Stadium hosts its most important football match since its renovation, in 2007, the UEFA Champions League final. This feature looks at the history of football’s most famous stadium, the spiritual home of the world’s favourite sport, and how it was transformed from a pile of rubble to the host of football’s most prestigious club match.
The original Wembley Stadium was opened in 1923, in time for the British Empire Exhibition of 1924. Built by Sir Robert McAlpine, the stadium became the symbol of English football, and the famous ‘Twin Towers’, which stood at the entrance, became an iconic image throughout the world. The stadium took exactly 300 days to built, in stark contrast to the seven years it took to build the current Wembley Stadium.
The original stadium boasted an official capacity of 127,000, making it the largest all-seater sporting stadium in England, and Wembley Stadium maintains this proud title now, with a capacity of 90,000.
Throughout its time as the national stadium, Wembley witnessed many great sporting moments, and saw dozens of footballing legends enter onto its ‘Hallowed Turf’. One of the most famous matches the stadium hosted was the FA Cup Final of 1953, often referred to as the ‘Matthews Final.’ This match would represent a final chance at FA Cup glory for Blackpool winger Stanley Matthews. At the age of 38, this would be Matthew’s third and final shot at success, with his retirement imminent. Trailing 3-1 with 30 minutes to go, Matthews produced one of the most memorable perfomances of his long and illustrious career. He was instrumental in his teams’ victory, eventually inspiring Blackpool to a 4-3 win over Bolton Wanderers.
Some of the most famous, most exciting, and most closely-contested matches of all time took place at the famous Wembley Stadium. Of course, the 1966 World Cup Final was played at Wembley, and we all know the outcome of that breathtaking match. That tournament, which took place between the 11th and 30th July, is without doubt the most famous sporting event to ever take place at the famous stadium, and, arguably, in the country. The highlight of Wembley’s glorious history, England emerged triumphant in front of over 120,000 jubilant fans.
Arguably Wembley’s most exciting and dramatic match was the Division 1 Play-Off Final of 1998, between Charlton and Sunderland. Locked at an incredible score of 4-4 at the end of extra time, the two teams contested an excruciatingly tense penalty shootout. With 13 penalties scored, and the score at 7-6, Sunderland full-back Michael Gray stepped up and missed the, ultimately, deciding penalty. This miss, which cost his team, Sunderland, an estimated £10 million, sparked incredible scenes, with the delirious Charlton fans contrasting dramatically with the inconsolable Sunderland faithful. This moment perfectly encapsulates all that is right with the beautiful game: the tumultuous emotional roller-coaster that football sends every fan through, only for it to start again the following season.
However, domestically, the most significant match it played host to was the 1968 European Cup Final, in which Sir Matt Busby’s Manchester United beat Benfica 4-1, after ET, to become the first English team to win Europe’s most prestigious club competition, 10 years after the Munich tragedy.
Sir Matt Busby Leads Us to Glory…
Interestingly, Barcelona also won their first European Cup at Wembley, in 1992, when they beat Sampdoria 1 0, after ET, courtesy of a Ronald Koeman free-kick. The Barcelona team 0f 1992 included current Barcelona manager, Pep Guardiola, who will be thrilled to be return to the stadium for the first time since that memorable night. With history on both team’s side, it is anyone’s guess at to which club will lift their 4th European Cup, on Saturday night.
On top of all these famous sporting matches, the original Wembley Stadium also played host to a variety of other events- including the 1948 Summer Olympics, which was a resounding success. The football pitch was covered and an athletics track laid around the circumference of the playing surface. The Games were the first scheduled to take place in 1940 but were delayed because of WWII.
The most well-known non-sporting event to have taken place at Wembley Stadium was the Live Aid concert in the summer of 1985. The biggest musical event the world had ever seen; Live Aid was the brainchild of Sir Bob Geldoff, and was a charity concert held to raise awareness of famine victims in Africa.
In 2000, England’s most famous sporting stadium, the home of English football, Wembley Stadium, was pulled down to undergo a dramatic transformation, and be brought firmly into the modern era. Taking a much-criticised seven years to construct, and costing an estimated £798 million, the new and improved Wembley Stadium was officially opened in March 2007.
The iconic Twin Towers were gone, and were replaced by the ‘Wembley Arch’. This new structure, which is immediately recognisable, creates a semi-circular arc running across the top of the stadium, and can be seen from long ways away. In addition to this structure, a statue of England World Cup-winning captain Bobby Moore is present at the rear entrance to the great stadium.
Since it’s grand opening, Wembley has hosted many important sporting events but none as big as the CL Final, this Saturday. However, the new Wembley Stadium, in an attempt to claw back some of the massive amounts of money it took to build this great stadium, has hosted many concerts and other musical events. Some more memorable musical performances at the home of football have been that of U2, Coldplay, and Muse.
Should Concerts Be Allowed?
Now, although the current Wembley Stadium has had mostly rave reviews, with a view to its hospitality, grandeur and sheer sporting prowess, one issue that has been of much debate is the pitch. The numerous non-sporting events caused havoc with the playing surface in its infancy but the introduction of a new semi-artificial pitch this season, as used at The Emirates & The Nou Camp, has seen the quality of the pitch improve dramatically!
All things considered, the spiritual home of football continues to set the national standards for stadiums across the country and is sure to prove a more than adequate host for the world’s most celebrated club match, leaving us all to concentrate on what is sure to be an enthralling match!
Overall, the 28th May 2011 is sure to be a memorable date for all those attached to Barcelona and Manchester United- with the latter maybe, just maybe, emerging victorious in Europe’s premier club competition, at England’s premier football stadium.
About Daniel Walters
A self proclaimed ‘Man Utd addict’, Daniel has his sights set firmly on a career in the world of sports journalism, having already had various articles published in the official ‘Champions League Preview’ magazine. An avid fan, Daniel watches every United match, without fail, and makes it his prerogative to stay in-the-know and up to date with the very latest Man Utd news. If you, like Daniel, are currently nurturing a massive man crush on Chicharito; Follow him on Twitter.