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Wembley Stadium
  England v San Marino
Friday, October 12th, 2012, 8pm
World Cup Qualifier
By Tim Sansom
(England fan)

1. Why were you looking forward to going to the stadium?

If you are a football fan, and have no excitement in your soul about visiting England’s national football stadium, then you really should give up on following the national game, and consider snooker, or rugby; maybe even horse racing. My club team last headed up Wembley Way in 2000 for the Nationwide Division One Play Off Final, and before that, Ipswich Town were FA Cup winners in 1978.

I may have been to the old Wembley in 2000 but I was not even born in 1978! I was probably not even being talked about in the family planning clinic. So if you support a club that has currently got more chance of getting to Wembley via your computer game, you really should take the chance to make a physical trip to Wembley if the opportunity presents itself to you.

I had been told that a trip to Wembley was an ‘awesome’ experience, and ‘unforgettable,’ and I was looking forward to that Friday evening from the moment that I had been told that I was going. Sick with excitement? This was a trip to national stadium to watch a full England International for the first time ever. Of course, I was going to feel more than just a bit queasy.

2.How easy was your journey/ finding the stadium/ car parking?

I know that it is part of the romance of football but I am sorry to say but there has been a lot of guff written about Wembley. If you did not know much about the game, you would have thought that the only match that was played under the twin towers were the 1966 World Cup Final. There may have been a white horse on the pitch sometime in black and white history, and a Scotsman might have jumped on a goal cross bar back in 1977. However, it would seem that everything that has happened within Wembley has been the football equivalent of eating a Flake within an overflowing hot bath. This is football’s equivalent of Buckingham Palace, the Taj Mahal, the White House, your favourite curry restaurant and Copacabana Beach rolled in to one. That is what you are told.

You still want to believe that thought as you try to work out what train will be the next to be heading out to Wembley Park from Baker Street. Baker Street should not be a complicated station. On the map, the station seems to make sense, but in reality, the station seems to be a fudge of random platforms; London Underground’s equivalent of Spaghetti Junction. Trains seem to be going to a range of random destinations such as Uxbridge, Chesham and Watford. Some trains are ‘fast’ to Watford. Some trains are ‘slow’ to Chesham and Amersham, or you can give up totally and go ultra ‘slow’ to Stanmore on the Jubilee line.

I went ‘ultra slow’ to Finchley Road and then caught the Metropolitan Line to Wembley Park. The Jubilee stops at a range of stations in North West London that are in no doubt interesting, but when you are on your way to the football, you want to be on your way to the football via the quickest route possible. You will see Wembley Stadium on the left hand side of the train and Wembley Park Underground Station takes you directly on to the iconic Wembley Way. Compared to other London grounds where the underground train can only get you so far, it is difficult to miss Wembley stadium from the Wembley Park tube station.
3. What did you think when seeing the stadium/ first impressions of away end then other sides of the ground?

Having been to Wembley before, I had already enjoyed the first impression moment of the Stadium from the start of Wembley Way. It is a champagne moment and if you arrive at the right time of day, your pictures can bathe Wembley in a late afternoon sunset. Apart from that it is difficult to get the idea out of your mind that England’s national football stadium is situated in a large industrial estate. It was difficult to gauge how big the stadium was from the outside.

There is no doubt that the Wembley Arch is impressive but as the sun set on this Friday afternoon, I was starting to compare the Stadium to trips to the Emirates and the Etihad Stadium. Ok, the stadium was greater in size, but my first impressions of Wembley seemed very familiar to some of the new Premiership football grounds. It felt a bit like the Emirates with growth hormone. There were big impersonal grey doors to get through, with as much atmosphere as a multi warehouse storage facility.

You then headed into a concrete tunnel akin to the concourse at the Emirates, or the Etihad, where England fans were standing around drinking larger, looking a bit awkward and self-conscious. Endless other fans were heading to the toilet in nervous anticipation. The old character of the stadium, which had remained in my memory since 2000, had apparently been replaced by a bog-standard stadium that you can see, and ‘enjoy,’ across the whole of the country. What was ‘awesome’ about this stadium?  

To be fair, there was a ‘Wow’ moment inside the stadium. I was sitting virtually opposite the dug outs and there was a certain atmosphere inside the stadium. The pitch looked like a green from the Augusta National. The big video screens at either end of the ground, looked like a homage to New York’s Times Square. The new Wembley had a special feeling about it but it was not football’s Tower of Babul. For me, the Nou Camp has a much more ‘special’ quality about it. 
4. Comment on the game itself:

After the inexplicable entry of a Royal Marine with the match ball to kick off the ninety minutes, and the customary period of England games, when the first ten or twenty minutes of 0-0 makes you start to question whether England are a respectable football nation, the game seemed to become a training exercise for the home side. San Marino were undertaking damage limitation after a few seconds on the clock, and I struggle to remember a shot from the away team throughout the whole of the ninety minutes.
I accept that the game was a difficult sell to the English public. To be honest, it has been difficult to sell England since the 2010 World Cup, and to maintain a crowd at Wembley during this period of economic recession and national team apathy is a credit to the FA. However, it was difficult to really accept that you had learnt anything about England during this ninety minutes, or be assured that the national team will be at World Cup 2014. The minutes ticked buy. I marvelled at the leg room that I was able to enjoy from my seat, and even read the programme during the action. The goals mounted up. People did not really stand up to cheer. It felt that I was at a very refined awards ceremony and exhibition game. In the end England won 5-0.

I felt honoured to see Wembley and I welcomed the chance to see a full England international. It was not quite the ‘awesome’ experience that I expected it to be.

5. Comment on getting away from the ground

Getting away from Wembley has become the stuff off urban legend. I had been fully briefed that Wembley Park Underground Station, after a match at the stadium, becomes a log jam of people wondering if they will ever get back home before the next World Cup. It is advised to leave about five to ten minutes before the end of the game- something that does not feel right to me at any ground, but you sense that there is no other option.

Being closer to the other end of the ground, I opted to head to Wembley Stadium station to catch a train back into London. People were running for the trains. I wondered if people thought that they would miss the last ever train back to London. It is a military operation outside this particular station with carefully lined crash barriers to guide you into the station as if you were waiting to board a fair ground ride. The train was waiting in the platform to head to Marylebone and was not especially busy either.

When you arrive into the north west part of Central London, you struggle to really know where to go next. There are underground lines but each line does not really seem to be going where you want it to. If you were trying to get to Liverpool Street, like I was on that Friday night, it is another half an hour of underground journey with a possible change. The carriages were full of fairly happy and slightly merry England fans heading to wherever they needed to be. There was a feeling of collective experience that you had seen the sporting event of that Friday night, but the match lacked the Olympic fever that I had enjoyed in the Summer when moving around the city of London.
6.Summary of overall thoughts of the day out

I do want to stress that I did enjoy my trip to Wembley. If you are from the UK, and like you football, and you have the opportunity to get to Wembley, then you should go to England’s national stadium. The opportunity to catch the cream of England’s football talent was welcomed, and the fact that San Marino were not really at the races, says more about the bloated nature of World Cup qualifying rather than any physical defect of Wembley Stadium.

The new Wembley is still very new and it takes a while for any new stadium to gain the atmosphere and the character that makes it a well-loved ground. None of us were around when the old Wembley was being built so it is difficult to think how that version of the ground began to be loved by the football-going public. You have to go, and you may like your time at the stadium but you may be thinking that you wanted a bit more when you jump on the underground train, car or bus for the journey home.

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