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Wembley Stadium, London
League Two Play Off Final
Bristol Rovers v Shrewsbury Town

Saturday May 26th, 2007, 3pm
By Chris Czora

1. Why you were looking forward to going to the ground (or not as the case may be):

Shrewsbury had beaten the highly fancied MK Dons to earn a Play-Off final place against Bristol Rovers, so had the honour of being one of the first teams to play at the new Wembley. This was a must-see game, and it was exciting, and a little surreal to be going to the much-talked about new Wembley Stadium.

2. How easy was your journey/finding the ground/car parking:

Journey was straightforward from the Midlands down the M40 to Junction 2, where I opted to take the Metropolitan Line from Amersham tube station. If travelling to Wembley by car and taking the tube to the ground, I would recommend going to Amersham. Whilst a little more off the beaten track from places like Uxbridge or Watford, there is a 700 space, multi storey car park next door and the line takes you directly to Wembley Park station (5 minutes from the stadium), plus the train is a lot less busy and therefore more comfortable. Parking was 3.50 all day. I purchased an all-day travel card, which a 4.90 was cheaper than 2 singles and saved time.

The Metropolitan Line on the Tube system takes fans directly to Wembley Park station, literally a 5 minute walk to the ground up the famous Wembley Way. From Amersham the ride is around 30 minutes, and also passes Chalfont and Latimer, also meant to be a good option for parking. It is impossible to miss the ground, upon approaching, it dominates the low-lying surroundings.

3. What you did before the game pub/chippy.... home fans friendly?

Sadly, the new Wembley suffers from the same problem as the old stadium, namely that the ground is seemingly 'dropped' into the middle of an average suburban area and there is not much to do. In the end we went to the top of Wembley Way and had a picnic prior to the gates opening.

Could not see any pubs, although there were quite a few guys on Wembley Way handing out flyers for local pubs so the option was there. We walked up Wembley Way, where there were quite a few burger vans, selling food cheaper than at the ground, along with souvenir sellers, and plenty of official programme sellers. There is also a Lidl supermarket adjacent to Wembley Way, and some supporters from both sides were opting to buy drink from there and have a picnic on Wembley Way, police were not objecting to people drinking, as both sets of fans were orderly. It was a nice atmosphere pre-match, both sets of fans sat and mingled together with no real trouble, everyone was enjoying the great occasion.

Much of the surrounding area is currently being redeveloped, with most of the surrounding buildings being demolished. Hopefully in years to come there will be more attractions and things for fans to do once the area is redeveloped.

4. What you thought on seeing the ground, first impressions of away end then other sides of the ground?

The ground is very impressive, personally I still think the FA should not have spent so much money on a national stadium, but now we have the end result and in all fairness it is superb. From the outside it looks imposing and very impressive, especially on the famous walk up Wembley Way.

The design of the ground is contemporary and clinical. It is very light and airy, with lots of glass frontages, personally I thought it felt more like an airport terminal than a football stadium! The only real thing to watch out for is the lack of toilets outside the stadium. Once inside it is not a problem, but queues were developing for the toilets situated outside of the stadium.

Supporters on upper tiers are transported to the correct tier via 3 escalators taking supporters to the top tiers. Those who suffer from vertigo may wish to think carefully when booking as the escalators and the view get very high on the upper tiers.

Once on the concourse, there are plenty of toilets, with bars and refreshments. I saw very few people buying the overpriced food, but beer was not overly expensive. There were also plenty of official souvenir stores on the concourse, selling reasonably priced souvenirs such as flags, t-shirts and programmes, all of which were of good quality and design.

Apart from the food, I actually felt that prices inside the ground were not too bad and it was not as much of a 'rip-off' that the public has been led to believe. On another note, there are no litter bins at the stadium for security purposes, instead mobile litter pickers are employed to ensure litter is kept to a minimum.

I was sat in the upper tier, around sixth from bottom, and the view was superb. Once inside the ground and surveying the view, I'm sure only the most critical supporter could find fault with it or fail to be impressed. Unlike the old ground, there is not a bad seat in the house. Legroom is excellent, and the plastic seats are well designed and comfortable. To ensure a good view, the upper tiers are very steep, which was a little un-nerving when stepping into the seating areas!

My only real gripe was with the stewards, who would not let us hang our flag over the edge of the stand, as it would block the view of those in the empty corporate middle tier, even though the flag would have been well out of view.

5. Comment on the game itself, atmosphere, stewards, pies, toilets etc..

Despite Bristol Rovers being the clear favourites, Shrewsbury upset the applecart (and the Bristol fans who outnumbered us almost 2 to 1) by taking a second minute lead. For 20 minutes we were totally in control against Bristol who seemed very nervous. Perhaps we did not make the most of our chances as Bristol scored soon after and settled into the game, eventually taking a 2-1 lead at the interval. Despite Shrewsbury battling hard they could not find an equaliser and Rovers secured victory in injury time scoring on the break to win 3-1 after our keeper came up for a corner.

Atmosphere was very good, with the design of the stadium allowing both fans to make a good deal of noise. However I felt the ticket allocation to fans could have been better. Both sets of fans were seated in the lower and upper tiers only, with the middle corporate tiers virtually unoccupied. Even with 61,000 people in the ground, this lead to the atmosphere feel somewhat fragmented and the ground feel emptier than it was. Several fans of both sides commented about this problem on the radio afterwards, as whilst the atmosphere generated by fans was very good, it would have been a lot better if fans would have been allowed on all tiers.

Facilities at the ground are very good, once inside the ground there are ample toilets, with some of the most powerful hand-dryers I have ever seen!

6. Comment on getting away from the ground after the game:

I decide I couldn't stomach watching the Rovers team celebrate and lift the cup, so after taking time to properly applaud Shrewsbury after the match (which sadly a number of 'fans' opted not to do), I took one last look at the grand new stadium and left. After the game, it was quite quick and easy getting away from the ground. All gates were open at Wembley Park tube station and there were plenty of police on hand to direct fans to their correct location as quickly as possible and to ensure there was no trouble between fans.

Once at the station, my decision to park at Amserham paid dividends. I'd say the good majority of fans from both sides opted to go to Uxbridge and Watford, with Amersham trains on the opposite platform. Whilst Amersham trains were busy, the ones to Uxbridge were packed. The platform was packed, with fans having to wait in the station before being allowed onto the platform and trains went and space was freed up. In all fairness, the police and tube staff seemed pretty well rehearsed, trains were punctual, and whilst very busy, it was well organised.

We managed to leave Wembley Park with no problems, and from there it was a half-hour ride to Amersham. Within an hour of leaving my seat at the ground, I was in my car on the motorway well on the way home.

7. Summary of overall thoughts of the day out:

A real shame Shrewsbury lost, but nonetheless, what a fantastic day! A truly fantastic stadium, impressive on the outside and mind-blowingly good on the inside. There are one or two teething problems, ticket allocation could be a lot better, but as the years go on, I'm sure things will develop and the new Wembley will be the 'Mecca' for English football fans, even more so than the old ground.

 

 

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