Inaugurated by King George V in 1923, Wembley Stadium — or the Empire Stadium as it was initially known — was built in less than a year at a cost of £750,000 (around £46 million today). Located in the northwest London suburb of Wembley, it was destined to be the centrepiece of the bombastic British Empire Exhibition. However, a more popular event launched the venue: the FA Cup, a football tour- nament first held in 1871, pitted English teams from all divisions against each other. It was decided that the 1923 final, between West Ham United and Bolton Wanderers, should be held at Wembley.
On Saturday 28 April 1923, enormous crowds showed up at the stadium for the match. Originally designed to hold 125,000 people, it is thought that more than double tried to get through the turnstiles. After an hour’s delay, the game began; but spectators were so close to the pitch that the ball was constantly kicked back into play when it looked like it was going out. A mounted police officer had to keep the crowd from spilling onto the pitch. This iconic game (which Bolton won 2-0) would become known as the White Horse Final.
GREYHOUNDS AND LIONS
Unfortunately, the British Empire Exhibition of 1924 was a financial flop. With the stadium’s future in doubt, a self-made businessman called Arthur Elvin raised the funds to save it. He relied on the growing popularity of greyhound dog racing but retained the connection with the English Football Association. Some of the most emotional moments of English footballing history have centred on Wembley. On 30 April 1938, the first live TV broadcast of the FA Cup Final was held. International games began at Wembley in 1945, with England (or the ‘Three Lions’ as they are known, because of the crest on the shirt) remaining undefeated at home for thirty years. England’s proudest moment, though, was in 1966 when they became world champions.
As the 20th century came to an end, it was clear that the original Wembley was no longer fit for use. In 2003, it was demolished to make way for a modern stadium, accessible to all. Today’s Wembley is a ninety thousand all-seater stadium with a gigantic arch, 133 metres tall at its highest point. With its lifts, escalators and huge hospitality areas, it is in the top rank of stadiums anywhere in the world. The stadium is home to the England senior men’s team and the senior women’s team, the Lionesses — European champions in 2022.
Wembley has, of course, also hosted other events than football: it has been a venue for two Olympic Games, in 1948 and in 2012. It has also hosted rugby matches, world title boxing fights, NFL clashes, speedway, show-jumping, Gaelic football, hurling, motorsports and greyhound racing. Most famously, however, it is a world-renowned music venue. The stadium hosted the multi-act Live Aid concert in 1985, broadcast live to more than one billion people across 110 countries. It has also hosted huge individual acts, including Madonna, Queen, Beyoncé, Pink Floyd, U2 and coming up this year Coldplay, Mötley Crüe and Harry Styles.
Questo articolo appartiene al numero April 2023 della rivista Speak Up.