Sunday, March 25, 2007

Wembley Impressions

Football stadiums have always been of particular interest to me. I love the game itself, but there is something about the homes of football that have always just got the adrenaline pumping for me. The first glimpse of the floodlights as you approach the ground for example, or that first look at the playing surface when you leave the concourse. I will never tire of that feeling...

I was lucky enough to be at the final game under the twin towers, and yesterday was again lucky enough to have a ticket for the first competitive match at the new Wembley. Here are my impressions of the overpriced superstadium set to become the new home of English football.

We arrived at the ground about 90 minutes before kick off and Wembley Way was rammed with supporters. The tube journey to Wembley Park was been a squeeze as always, and although the new stadium has an increased capacity, it didn't look to me like any work had been done at the station itself in order to deal with the increased number of fans who will be passing through it on future matchdays.

That aside though, when you get to the top of the station steps and see the arch for the first time you can't help but feel just a little bit awestruck. I have taken a few pictures/videos of the day which I will include at the end of this article, but I have to apologise in advance for the poor quality of the images, they were taken on a mobile phone.

Everybody was searched upon entering the ground. Bags were turned inside out, screw tops were removed from drinks bottles, and the guy in front of me had to throw his can of deodourant into the bin (which he was most upset about). After finally clearing the security we were on the concourse, and this was where you really started to get a true feeling for the size of the ground. Yes it was only two thirds full yesterday but there was no pushing and shoving going on as people made their way towards various toilets, gift shops, and refreshment kiosks. I would estimate that the concourse was 4 times as wide as the Valley's North Upper equivalent.

Beer was £3.50 a pint, which is actually cheaper that I expected it to be. Hot dogs and burgers were also between £3-£4, and looked pretty much like they do in any other football ground nationwide. I wasn't about to risk them.

Then came the highlight of the day for me, that jaw-dropping moment when you actually enter the stands themselves. I didn't really care about the game to come, this was why I had come to Wembley today, and I have to say that at first glance it entirely lived up to my expectations. The ground is just huge; there is no other word for it. Although there are only 12,000 odd seats more than the old Wembley you could be forgiven for thinking that the stadium had doubled in capacity.

The pictures I have taken inside the ground really do not convey the size well I'm afraid. Suffice to say that it is the nicest looking football stadium I have ever seen, and the leg room afforded to each seat is more than generous. However, the space in between your seat and the seat next to you wasn't so great. The 3 lads I went with were all big fellers, and none of us were able to keep our arms by our sides without annoying the neighbour.

The game came and went, I'm sure you're not really that fussed about my match report.

One thing I will say though is that the atmosphere wasn't what I was expecting. There were the obligatory Mexican waves and In-Ger-Lund's rolling around the gargantuan stands, but the acoustics didn't appear to be fantastic.
I'm sure that this will change when you get the whole ground filled with fans for an England game, or when you get the 50/50 split for an FA Cup final or other such fixture.

Have you ever been to a game where there were no away fans? It was that kind of atmosphere. More of a novelty to be there than to actually sing in support of the under-21's. No one was really that fussed as to whether we won or lost, and perhaps that's why the game went the way it did...

I'm not sure how easy the ground would be to get out of at the end of a match because we left 10 minutes before the end. About 20,000 others had the same idea though, and mounted Police periodically stopped the tide of fans heading back towards Wembley Park station in order to let the crowds clear. When I got to the top of the stairs at the tube station and looked back along Wembley Way all I could see were fans with at least an hours wait to get on a train. We definitely made the right decision in leaving early.

I am one of those who have followed the building of the new Wembley pretty much from the start. At least once a month for the last couple of years I have logged on to just to see the latest pictures, or to stare at the web cams bleary eyed for 5 minutes, so for me to be there yesterday was just wonderful.
Why then, can I not shake a feeling of disappointment?

All Charlton fans have wonderful memories of Wembley, and I have watched England play there so many times aswell. The new stadium has to be seen to be believed, and it is definitely ready for the future, but is it still Wembley?

Did you go to the Emirates this season? Beautiful ground isn't it? But it's just not Highbury.

Maybe in 5 years time when England have built some memories under the Arch, and there have been some memorable FA Cup matches at Wembley I will feel differently about this, but right now I feel like the country has lost something.
The stadium I was sitting in yesterday could have been a stadium anywhere in the World. Move it to Sydney, or Madrid, or Los Angeles, and it would still be a gorgeous futuristic stadium, but there was nothing that I saw yesterday that made me say "Yeah, this is Wembley, and this is the home of English football".

Hopefully this feeling will dissipate given time, but at the moment, all I have is a sense of overwhelming anticlimax.


Here are the Videos:

--> External Panorama
--> Internal Panorama
--> National Anthems - God Save the Queen starts at 1 min 25 seconds

Here are the pictures (click for slightly bigger images):