Welcome to Wembley Stadium: the Heart of Football!
“Wembley is the cathedral of football. It is the capital of football and it is the heart of football”, said a former samba king.
Oficially known as the Empire Stadium,Wembley was first opened to the public in 1923, on the site now occupied by the new Wembley stadium.
“The Twin Towers” stadium as locals used to call it, was built by Sir Robert McAlpine (nicknamed “Concrete Bob”), aided by architects Sir John Simpson and Maxwell Ayrton and hear engineer Sir Owen Williams.
The stadium was built in 300 days at the cost of £750,000. the first event was scheduled only 4 days later, on 28 April 1923: the FA Cup final between Bolton Wanderers and West Ham United, also known as the “White Horse Final” (due to the image of Billie – probably the most famous horse in the history of Metropolitan Police, stat steered the crowd beyond the field of play). The crowd exceeded the stadium’s official 127,000 capacity, as reports indicate there were at least 240.000 football fans into the stadium (add to that another 60,000 outside the stadium). The game started 45 minutes later and eventually Bolton won 2-0, bringing joy to their estimated 5,000 fans present in the stands.
The stadium hosted the FA Cup annually, including the 1953 “Matthews Final”, between Blackpool and Bolton. Sir Stanley Matthews (one of the greatest British football players of all time) was 38 at the time and tried for a third and final time to win the trophy (failing to win it with United – 1948, and Newcastle – 1951). Matthews inspired a fantastic comeback for Blackpool as his team went down 3-1, providing two great assists for his team’ second and fourth goal. Blackpool won 4-3, Stan Mortensen scoring 3 goals for the winners, the only player to have scored a hat-trick at the original Wembley stadium.
Wembley was also the leading venue of the 1966 Fifa World Cup, hosting the final game between England and Germany. Geoff Hurst is the only player to have scored a hat-trick in the final of a World Cup tournament. Wembley hosted all of England’s games in the tournament, including the quarterfinal vs Argentina and the semifinal vs Eusebio’s Portugal.
In all, the original Wembley hosted five European Cup finals, including:
– the 1963 final between Ac Milan and Benfica (which Milan won 2-1 despite Eusebio’s fantastic display),
– the 1968 final between Manchester United and Benfica (which United won 4-1 in extra-time. Goalkeeper Alex Stepney saved the day in the final minutes of the first ’90 minutes when he made a crucial save in front of Eusebio. Three minutes into extra-time, George Best put United in front. Brian Kidd added another one minute later and Charlton scored the final goal – United became the first English club to have won the trophy.)
– the 1971 final between Cruyff’s Ajax and Panathinaikos (which Ajax won 2-0),
– the 1978 final between Liverpool and Club Brugge (which Liverpool won 1-0, thanks to a King Kenny goal – Liverpool were the first English team to have retained the trophy),
– the 1992 final between Barcelona and Sampdoria (which Barcelona won 1-0, thanks to a Koeman free-kick. Managed by the legendary Johan Cruyff, Barcelona lined up stars like Andoni Zubizarreta, Ronald Koeman, Hristo Stochkov, Michael Laudrup and no.10 Josep Guardiola. Sampdoria on the other hand, lined up players like Pagliuca, Katanec, Vierchowod, Cerezo, Vialli and Roberto Mancini).
The stadium also hosted two Uefa Cup Winners’ Cup finals and again, was the leading venue for the Euro ’96 tournament. At Wembley, England defeated Scotland 2-0, drew against Holland 1-1, beat Spain 4-2 on penalities (in the quarterfinal) and lost 6-5 on penalties against eventually winners Germany. Oliver Bierhoff scored the first international Golden Goal in football history in Germany’s 2-1 win over Czech Republic during the final of the competition.
In 1999, Scholes scored a hat-trick for England during their qualifying match against Poland.
On May 2000, Chelsea defeated Aston Villa in the last FA Cup final to be played at the original Wembley Stadium.
Liverpool midfielder, Dieter Hamman scored the last goal at Old Wembley, during Germany’s 1-0 win over England on 7 October 2000.
The stadium was demolished in 2003 for redevelopment and a new Wembley stadium was opened in 2007, on the site of its predecessor. The new Wembley stadium is the second largest stadium in Europe, given its 90,000-capacity.
On Satuday, the Wembley stadium will host the 2011 Uefa Champions League final between United and Barcelona.
Even the outstanding Messi, Xavi, Iniesta should be dazzled by the stadium’s greatness and its history. It’s just like Pele said: it’s the HEART OF FOOTBALL!
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