THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

The revamped stadium has been open since March 2007. Despite trying his best Cris Freddi just can't get used to it

I went to the opening game at the new Wembley. That sounds like a minor boast, I suppose. If there were anything to boast about. You can only judge a stadium in daylight. Lights at night gloss over things. On an overcast afternoon, the Wembley arch looks like a giant concrete rope. And you stand under it and think: what’s that all about? What’s an arch got to do with it?

Structural reasons, apparently. So they can slide the roof across without the need for pillars inside the ground. Helps with the sightlines. But hang on. Doesn’t every modern stadium in the world have an open vista? And most of them don’t have an arch. So it’s there for show, admit it. And it’s a safe bet, an arch. The public saw them at the Sydney and Athens Olympics, so they accept it at Wembley. So it’s about as original as the Millennium Dome. Whatever you thought of the old towers, at least they were one-offs.

Under the arch, your first thought, with no apologies for complete lack of unoriginality, is what’s the money been spent on? For £750 million, you’d hope for more than another identikit ground. Meccano on top of Lego. Like the Madej-ski, only bigger. They built Stadium Australia for half the cost. What’s really depressing is that you’re not surprised.

Inside? Well... Wembley’s proud of its toilets – 2,618 of them allegedly, more than any other building in the world. There’s even two dog bogs somewhere. But we’re not talking 2,618 separate cubicles here. You’d need an extra stadium. Someone’s claiming you can fit 2,000 men shoulder-to-shoulder along the troughs. Because piss-troughs are still the thing. Many more than in the old Wembley, but the same smell, the same queues, familiar liquids on the floor. One more reason for not buying the rip-off beer.

You expect the overpriced fried shite that comes with it (no change, in every sense). You just hoped you’d be watching people eat it in better surroundings. This is Wembley, for christsake. A bit of pomp wouldn’t go amiss. Some marble or something. A touch of glamour. Instead there’s no sense of a mother church.

Still, there’s the roof. It’s an improvement on the old one, yes? It slides over and keeps the rain out. Um, no, it doesn’t quite. They made it so it slides back to let in the sun, but not all the way forward to keep out the rain. That’s the trouble with stadiums made for Australia. So when it rains, the roof comes out as far as the front row and no further. Fine if raindrops fall in straight lines. If there’s a puff of wind, the first 15 rows get soaked. Still, it’s all right: they leave a plastic cover on the seat for you. Shambles.

It didn’t rain for the first match there. Cloudy but dry. England v Italy at Under-21 level. I doubt anybody cared about the result, but I thought it would be nice if the first goal here was scored by a brother Italian – and Gianpaolo Pazzini scored after 29 seconds. He hit a hat-trick and I even saw David Bentley get a goal (no, really), so it was a rare day. Reasonable gig, shame about the venue.

Let’s be clear: I’m not nostalgic for the old Wembley. Years ago, I sat with a mate watching a friendly from behind a pillar, with the smell of piss, having paid top dollar or thereabouts, and we turned to each other and shook our heads and I didn’t go back till it reopened. But at least tickets were way cheaper. And you could bowl up on the night, even for World Cup qualifiers. Plus getting back to the station didn’t take any longer than it does now. It was crumbling and the facilities were zilch – but it simply hasn’t changed enough. Not for that money.

What’s definitely different, a sign of the times, is the militarism you wouldn’t have dreamed of before. I watched games there during the Falklands crisis, and I don’t remember soldiers unrolling giant flags or doing laps of honour. They play the Great Escape over the Tannoy now. And while the troops walk round the pitch to their standing ovation, I’m sitting there making comparisons with Nuremburg Rallies. Parades while your troops occupy other countries. They tell us how many British soldiers die in the Middle East. They don’t tell us the numbers of civilians killed by Allied bombs and tank shells and illegal phosphorus. And they’re supposed to tell us. It’s in the Geneva Convention. I wondered what Baha Musa’s relatives would make of it. The 93 injuries they counted on his body. Pleading for mercy, soaked in his own urine.

I was there for England’s second game Under the arch, your first thought, with no apologies for complete lack of unoriginality, is what’s the money been spent on? For £750 million, you’d hope for more than another identikit ground. Meccano on top of Lego. Like the Madej-ski, only bigger. They built Stadium Australia for half the cost. What’s really depressing is that you’re not surprised.

Inside? Well... Wembley’s proud of its toilets – 2,618 of them allegedly, more than any other building in the world. There’s even two dog bogs somewhere. But we’re not talking 2,618 separate cubicles here. You’d need an extra stadium. Someone’s claiming you can fit 2,000 men shoulder-to-shoulder along the troughs. Because piss-troughs are still the thing. Many more than in the old Wembley, but the same smell, the same queues, familiar liquids on the floor. One more reason for not buying the rip-off beer.

You expect the overpriced fried shite that comes with it (no change, in every sense). You just hoped you’d be watching people eat it in better surroundings. This is Wembley, for christsake. A bit of pomp wouldn’t go amiss. Some marble or something. A touch of glamour. Instead there’s no sense of a mother church.

Still, there’s the roof. It’s an improvement on the old one, yes? It slides over and keeps the rain out. Um, no, it doesn’t quite. They made it so it slides back to let in the sun, but not all the way forward to keep out the rain. That’s the trouble with stadiums made for Australia. So when it rains, the roof comes out as far as the front row and no further. Fine if raindrops fall in straight lines. If there’s a puff of wind, the first 15 rows get soaked. Still, it’s all right: they leave a plastic cover on the seat for you. Shambles.

It didn’t rain for the first match there. Cloudy but dry. England v Italy at Under-21 level. I doubt anybody cared about the result, but I thought it would be nice if the first goal here was scored by a brother Italian – and Gianpaolo Pazzini scored after 29 seconds. He hit a hat-trick and I even saw David Bentley get a goal (no, really), so it was a rare day. Reasonable gig, shame about the venue.

Let’s be clear: I’m not nostalgic for the old Wembley. Years ago, I sat with a mate watching a friendly from behind a pillar, with the smell of piss, having paid top dollar or thereabouts, and we turned to each other and shook our heads and I didn’t go back till it reopened. But at least tickets were way cheaper. And you could bowl up on the night, even for World Cup qualifiers. Plus getting back to the station didn’t take any longer than it does now. It was crumbling and the facilities were zilch – but it simply hasn’t changed enough. Not for that money.

What’s definitely different, a sign of the times, is the militarism you wouldn’t have dreamed of before. I watched games there during the Falklands crisis, and I don’t remember soldiers unrolling giant flags or doing laps of honour. They play the Great Escape over the Tannoy now. And while the troops walk round the pitch to their standing ovation, I’m sitting there making comparisons with Nuremburg Rallies. Parades while your troops occupy other countries. They tell us how many British soldiers die in the Middle East. They don’t tell us the numbers of civilians killed by Allied bombs and tank shells and illegal phosphorus. And they’re supposed to tell us. It’s in the Geneva Convention. I wondered what Baha Musa’s relatives would make of it. The 93 injuries they counted on his body. Pleading for mercy, soaked in his own urine.

I was there for England’s second game Under the arch, your first thought, with no apologies for complete lack of unoriginality, is what’s the money been spent on? For £750 million, you’d hope for more than another identikit ground. Meccano on top of Lego. Like the Madej-ski, only bigger. They built Stadium Australia for half the cost. What’s really depressing is that you’re not surprised.

Inside? Well... Wembley’s proud of its toilets – 2,618 of them allegedly, more than any other building in the world. There’s even two dog bogs somewhere. But we’re not talking 2,618 separate cubicles here. You’d need an extra stadium. Someone’s claiming you can fit 2,000 men shoulder-to-shoulder along the troughs. Because piss-troughs are still the thing. Many more than in the old Wembley, but the same smell, the same queues, familiar liquids on the floor. One more reason for not buying the rip-off beer.

You expect the overpriced fried shite that comes with it (no change, in every sense). You just hoped you’d be watching people eat it in better surroundings. This is Wembley, for christsake. A bit of pomp wouldn’t go amiss. Some marble or something. A touch of glamour. Instead there’s no sense of a mother church.

Still, there’s the roof. It’s an improvement on the old one, yes? It slides over and keeps the rain out. Um, no, it doesn’t quite. They made it so it slides back to let in the sun, but not all the way forward to keep out the rain. That’s the trouble with stadiums made for Australia. So when it rains, the roof comes out as far as the front row and no further. Fine if raindrops fall in straight lines. If there’s a puff of wind, the first 15 rows get soaked. Still, it’s all right: they leave a plastic cover on the seat for you. Shambles.

It didn’t rain for the first match there. Cloudy but dry. England v Italy at Under-21 level. I doubt anybody cared about the result, but I thought it would be nice if the first goal here was scored by a brother Italian – and Gianpaolo Pazzini scored after 29 seconds. He hit a hat-trick and I even saw David Bentley get a goal (no, really), so it was a rare day. Reasonable gig, shame about the venue.

Let’s be clear: I’m not nostalgic for the old Wembley. Years ago, I sat with a mate watching a friendly from behind a pillar, with the smell of piss, having paid top dollar or thereabouts, and we turned to each other and shook our heads and I didn’t go back till it reopened. But at least tickets were way cheaper. And you could bowl up on the night, even for World Cup qualifiers. Plus getting back to the station didn’t take any longer than it does now. It was crumbling and the facilities were zilch – but it simply hasn’t changed enough. Not for that money.

What’s definitely different, a sign of the times, is the militarism you wouldn’t have dreamed of before. I watched games there during the Falklands crisis, and I don’t remember soldiers unrolling giant flags or doing laps of honour. They play the Great Escape over the Tannoy now. And while the troops walk round the pitch to their standing ovation, I’m sitting there making comparisons with Nuremburg Rallies. Parades while your troops occupy other countries. They tell us how many British soldiers die in the Middle East. They don’t tell us the numbers of civilians killed by Allied bombs and tank shells and illegal phosphorus. And they’re supposed to tell us. It’s in the Geneva Convention. I wondered what Baha Musa’s relatives would make of it. The 93 injuries they counted on his body. Pleading for mercy, soaked in his own urine.
 
I was there for England’s second game at new Wembley, against Germany. The traditional booing of their anthem. On the programme cover, a quote from Michael Owen: “Let’s see if anyone can beat us here.” When Germany equalised, their fans chanted “Only one team at Wembley”. When they scored again, it was “Sing when you’re winning”. The best thing that’s happened there.

From WSC 272 October 2009

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