Adam Bird


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Monday, 26 March 2007


Just under 7 years since Dietmar Hamman buried the last goal at the old Wembley Stadium past an equally creaking David Seaman the new Wembley re-opened it's doors for the first time on Saturday as it hosted an England under 21 match against Italy.

The redevelopment programme had been beset with problems, delays and increasing cost's. In all honesty I had not been too bothered by all the stories, as ultimately once the stadium was finally built I knew we would have a stadium to be proud of. On Saturday afternoon that fact was confirmed to me.

Getting tickets for the first game was a challenge in itself with the website crashing almost immediately the tickets went on sale! Determined not to be beaten I spent a good half hour hitting F5, (the refresh key) and opening multiple windows of the same page.

Lo and behold I had beaten the cyber goalie and had secured the prize of four tickets to the game!

Once the tickets had arrived a good week before the game itself, I tried to work out roughly were we would be sitting. Judging by the diagram on the back which gave us a clue from the entry number I presumed we were sitting behind the goal, just shy of the big TV screens which sit behind both goals.

Getting Gareth, Stuart and Will to come along was easy as pie, and I could have quite easily got rid of another four or five, but the FA only let you get four tickets with each England Fan Number so we had to make do.

Despite the early start on Saturday morning everyone seemed to be in good spirits, even if it was light hearted banter, mostly at my expense! Will initiating a game of follow my leader from Waterloo Station down the escalator into Southwark tube station and continue to grate me all the way to Green Park.

Gareth then copped his first regulatory sulk on as a group of “muppet” teenagers, being teenagers and wearing man bags seemed to vex him, much to our amusement.

Even Gareth couldn’t keep sulking once we arrived at Wembley Park station, which has also had a facelift since I last went, with the ticketing hall and steps leading down to Olympic way all being remodelled.

As I walked out of Wembley Park station and saw the new stadium in front of me my first thoughts were “Wow!” I, along with most others got the camera out straight away and started snapping manically, all the while being moved onwards by the Police!

It is very deceptive, the walk up Wembley Way, especially now as the stadium footprint is slightly closer than the previous one, but with the shear size of it you definitely get the sense of walking and walking but seemingly not getting any closer!

We entered as directed into block K, and all appeared to be quite nice and shiny and new, but just as we entered the turnstiles chaos reigned. I appeared that a line of stewards had been instructed to search everyone as they walked in, but there did not appear to be any order, people were standing around thinking what next!

We were not instructed, but presumed that as this was where everyone was going that we needed to get on an escalator up to the next level. Just as we were about to get on the escalator stopped! In all fairness the steward in charge here dealt with the situation impeccably and directed those waiting up the corridor to the stairwell further along, whilst those on the escalator were told to carry on upwards.

Gareth then got his second mini-strop of the day as he moaned about the amount of stairs we had to walk up in order to get to our designated seats. He had a point, there were a few of them, and they went around in a spiral, so not only did your legs ache, you felt dizzy too!

One final thing before we got to our seats, a small matter of obtaining a programme and prep-match refreshments. Despite being sent in the wrong direction by a steward when enquiring as to the whereabouts of a programme seller the queue was not overly long and seemed to go down fairly quickly. I cannot really comment on the food queue as that’s where Will and Gareth were, but knowing that the prices were expensive I was still surprised when they said each burger was £5 each! Incidentally it was a really tasty burger, but for £5 you would think so too!!

As I have mentioned in previous blogs, the best part about any visit to a new stadium is the walk from the concourse, out into the arena and seeing it for the first time. Especially the new Wembley, which was simply amazing!

Our seats, being slightly misled by the diagram on the ticket were actually very well placed. Above the royal box, on the top tier, situated half way between the half way line and the 18 yard box.

I have argued that sitting higher up is better than sitting close to the pitch at football, and I think after Saturday, I have three more people in agreement with me. Simply put; the seats we had, the view we had were first class.

The best way for me to explain the stadium is to show the photos. That way you will be able to see how impressive the stadium really is, which in time is going to go down as the greatest stadium in the world.

There were only 55,000 fans in the stadium on Saturday, so gave the impression of being fairly empty, so the atmosphere was rather non existent. I think a lot of saddo’s like me went to see the stadium as opposed to the football, which was a great game! 3-3 it finished, with the Italian striker not only getting a hatrick but scoring his first after 28 seconds!

The England team played well, and it was an open game by two teams who will be playing against each other during this summer’s under 21 European championships.

As the stadium has so many spare seats available we decided to change places at half time, and so we went and sat at the back row, the highest seats in the stadium. The view from here was simply spectacular, with a near birds eye view of the proceedings it did give a slightly detached feel to the game but as you will see from the photos we could see everything.

The old Wembley stadium was infamous for poor views, poor legroom, dated facilities, poor access and a list of other grievances against its name. However the new stadium addresses each and everyone of those and does it impressively. Each one of the 90,00 seats is covered, with a perfect view and with generous legroom. Even Stuart who is 8ft something had plenty of room to stretch his legs without worrying about kneeing the person in front.

Although the surrounding areas of Wembley are still unpleasing to the eye the regeneration of the outlying areas is only starting to take place. We will see hopefully from the FA Cup final in May a stadium that generates an amazing atmosphere with people who are enjoying the experience at the same time.

With Arsenal earlier on in the season I was worried that the future was not quite as good as the past with the Emirates stadium having no soul. Wembley to me is different, the soul is in the people who go there, the dreams that are made and broken as supporters watch their team through success and failure, the national team having a home that they can be proud of, even if their current footballing ability is under scrutiny.

As we filed out at the final whistle and made our staggered processing back down Wembley way I couldn’t help look back and hope that next time I came back it would be with the Gills again. They took over 100 years to make it to the last one, then went twice in two years. I will be long gone if they do wait that long, but the new stadium will still be standing and goodness knows what history will have been written. One thing that I can say is that I was part of the history. I was there at the beginning and nobody can take that from. me.


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