by Noel Draper
When I was a small boy Wembley came across as a mythical place, a place where dreams were made and only the best performed. Finals of cups were fought out in front of two giant like towers who watched over the proceedings before giving a thumbs down to the winner (history knowledge is a wonderful thing). Once the silverware had been dispensed of it was the turn of the men in white to strut their stuff beneath the famous twins. The Lions were roaring and the old stadium seemed to join in cheering every pass, every shot and every goal.
Fast forward a couple of years and a stadium tour took nothing away from the magic, in fact it only enhanced it. The tunnel, the dressing rooms (home AND away), the steps and the royal box. It all seemed so magical and she, for the old stadium was definitely female, seemed to be talking to me in her groans and wind assisted creaks.
I was quite upset when they decided to demolish her, so much so that I actually went and had a last look at the old girl before they killed her, sorry, knocked her down. I might have even waved. I didn’t cry though, it was just something in my eye.
Obviously I don’t look at the new stadium in the same light and it appears that I am not alone in this, as it seems that the Football Association doesn’t give two hoots about the magic that a national stadium can bring either, judging by their insistence on hosting the play off finals at Wembley.
Crewe Alexandra fans pay a maximum of £20 pounds to see their heroes and around 6000 do so every other weekend. Cheltenham Town supporters pay around the same price even if there are a thousand or so less of them. Both teams offer good value for money, especially as this season they got into the play off final. Which the FA decided to host at Wembley. A ground that seats 90,000 in near comfort. A ground that charged the visiting supporters between £30 and £64 pounds just for the privilege.
So Mr FA, did they fill it? Did these small League Two teams conjure up 40,000 fans each? Did both sets of supporters, real or plastic, fork out double their usual price just to sit in the National Stadium? Erm…no, no they didn’t. They did manage a very commendable 24,000 between them but that was it. This meant that the atmosphere for the casual television viewer was very poor as was the view with rows and rows of empty seats blankly staring back.
What was wrong with hosting the event at, say, Birmingham City’s ground, which holds just over 30,000. It would have been nearly packed, the travelling distance would have been halved for both fans and it would have been cheaper. Everyone is a winner.
The same argument can be said for the Huddersfield Town versus Sheffield United game a day earlier. Both teams charge around £30 pounds for entry into their lovely stadiums and although Sheffield United can boast more fans it seems that the average Wembley ticket price of £50 odd pounds (with a maximum of £84!) put quite a few off judging by the 52,000 gate.
Maybe the FA should have hosted this event at Old Trafford, a lovely stadium just outside Manchester which holds 76,000. Due to a much shorter travelling time and cheaper tickets, this old ground would have been nearly full, thus meaning a fantastic atmosphere and an improved viewing experience for the armchair football fan.
Even the West Ham versus Blackpool game a week earlier could have been held at Old Trafford judging by the 78,000 crowd that turned up, some of whom paid nearly £100 pounds for the joy of seeing their team lose.
In all of my three alternative scenarios the fan, and his armchair equivalent, would have been the winner. They would have been rewarded with cheaper tickets, less travelling cost and above all a better atmosphere. This would then leave the National Stadium to host England Internationals and the finals of the F.A Cup and the League Cup, or whatever it calls itself these days, meaning the new stadium would start to gain some of the mysticism and respect that its predecessor had.
The trouble is, the FA spent double what they wanted, or indeed needed, to spend on a massive white elephant. They have turned the “home of football” into nothing more than a giant money making machine. With a lot of thought the new ground could have been fantastic, it could have incorporated the twin towers for instance, and it could have been done cheaper. Much cheaper. This would have meant that it would still have retained some of it’s atmosphere, the FA could have still sold the middle tier to the non football fan and everyone would have loved it.
Best of all though, children growing up, would see it on television, and dream. Dream of leading out England. Dream of walking up the steps. Dream of lifting the cup. Dream.
Thank you Mr FA for shattering dreams. Thank you.