The first time I heard about Wembley was in 1990 during the Italy World Cup (incidentally one of the most boring World Cups I have ever seen). There was an article about England’s 1966 win over West Germany in a newspaper or sports magazine. The name of the stadium kind of reverberated in my mind because it was such a unique name for a football stadium. There was something aristocratic about that name; one would think only royalty played there! I later learned that it was named after the place in which it was located in London.
As I read about 1966 and Geoff Hurst’s hattrick, England’s strange but successful wingless attack, the controversial goal, I was instantly attracted to Wembley. I was getting attracted to a certain Manchester United club also during the same period. The first match at Wembley I saw on TV was the highlights of the 1994 FA Cup final where Manchester United beat Chelsea 4-0 to win the trophy. It was not a great match but I was really happy to see United playing a lot better in the second half and scoring 4 goals. The crowd was another thing I noticed – I think the stands were packed nearly full and about 80,000 odd people turned up to watch the game. I also recall the 1999 FA Cup Final just a few days before they won the Champions League. True to United’s superb form that year, they beat Newcastle United 2-0 to clinch the title.
Among non-Manchester United games, I think Wembley brings to mind the 1996 Euro Cup final between dark horses Czech Republic and Germany. For a moment, it looked like Germany would eat humble pie but their experience saved them the blushes as Oliver Bierhoff scored late in the second half and the winner during extra time to help Germany win the coveted trophy.
I was very disappointed when authorities decided to dismantle the stadium in favor of the New Wembley Stadium in 2003. The new stadium was opened in 2007 but for some reason it lacked the old world charm even as it looked magnificent. The seating capacity of the new stadium is 90,000 and it has all the modern technologies. But the towers of the old stadium were iconic and that is terribly missed in the new stadium.
Strangely, there haven’t been much memorable moments at the new stadium save for Lionel Messi’s brilliance in their 2011 Champions League final win over Manchester United. I guess with the old stadium they buried the X factor of the stadium as well!
Football legend Pele said this once about Wembley: “Wembley is the cathedral of football. It is the capital of football and it is the heart of football”. Of course, he was talking about the old stadium which saw many memorable games and featured some of the world’s greatest players. The same cannot be said about the new stadium yet. I do hope the new stadium also lives up to the old in due course. It is only 9 years old, so as it steps out of childhood and into teenage and youth, we can expect some memorable matches like the ones witnessed in a previous era. Footballers need to once again earn the right to play in Wembley and redeem its aristocracy once again.