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Last Updated: Saturday, 17 March 2007, 17:15 GMT
The new Wembley tried and tested
By Victoria Bone
BBC News

Wembley Stadium
The new Wembley has a capacity of 90,000

It's taken six-and-a-half years and 800m, but finally the all-new Wembley has welcomed the neighbours round for tea. And hot dogs and burgers and pies.

About 60,000 local people from the borough of Brent in north west London were invited to see what all the fuss was about.

And apart from the odd minor gripe and a few teething problems, the day seemed to be a success.

It's no surprise that Wembley is huge, state-of-the-art and imposing. But perhaps more unexpected is that it really is beautiful.

The view hits you as soon as you step out of the Underground station, with the signature arch gleaming overhead. Visitors then walk up a long, wide promenade to the stadium, taking in every inch of the new gleaming glass structure.

The turnstiles opened 16 minutes late, but as one fan Paul Tobin, 27, from Birmingham, put it: "What's 16 minutes after a year?"

'Close to the action'

Once inside, the new Wembley is even more dramatic.

One by one, arriving spectators issued an involuntary "Wow!" upon reaching the top of the steps.

And with the 90,000 seats set nearer to the pitch than before and in a big "bowl" rather than four separate stands, you do feel genuinely close to the action.

Wembley Stadium

Despite that, the height is staggering - appropriate given its likely impact on the players too in time. That's because teams collecting their medals from the Royal Box will have to climb 107 steps in future rather than the old 39.

On the pitch itself, the lines were whiter than white and the turf was verdant.

In between the charity matches, dedicated squads of turf-checkers rushed out to make sure it stayed that way.

The stadium was nowhere near full and the atmosphere almost non-existent, but just occasionally when a cheer erupted, a bristle was definitely palpable.

That hairs-on-the-back-of-your-neck sensation of mass excitement - just a tantalising glimpse of what a crunch game or headline concert will be like.

John Doddson, 54, from Brent, said: "It's absolutely magnificent. I'm so proud. None of the problems seem to matter much now. And if it's good today what's it going to be like when it's at capacity?"

The honour of the first goal scored at Wembley in front of a crowd went to ex-player and BBC sports presenter Mark Bright. He was part of the Geoff Thomas Foundation Charity team who took on the Wembley Sponsors Allstars.

Also taking centre stage were local children who enjoyed a coaching session in the hallowed surroundings.

Food and drink

Away from the pitch some things were more familiar.

Security was predictably tight with regular warnings over the tannoy about "the current situation".

And the corridors, as you might expect, are painted in a lovely shade of concrete grey with the smell of football "hospitality" pervading the air.

Judging by the queues, the food went down fairly well despite the prices - 7 for fish and chips, 5 for a cheeseburger and 4 for a hotdog.

Jamie Oliver doesn't seem to have been consulted though and there was something of a clash with the announcer inside who was telling all present to do plenty of exercise to keep healthy.

The lack of choice for vegetarians was criticised. One man said: "As a multi ethnic society and with Brent being such a mixed community, I thought there would be foods to reflect that diversity."

There were also mutterings of discontent at the speed of the service.

The bars did well though. All are named after memorable Wembley events - Bar 1985 for Live Aid, Bar 1923 for the White Horse final and Bar 1966 - well, that speaks for itself.

The community day may not have been quite the all-singing, all-dancing fanfare many people had expected, but it seemed to be well-received and any problems were taken in good humour.

When an escalator broke down we willingly walked the last few steps. And in the toilets, ladies coped with the terrible din from the hand driers by washing one hand at a time and keeping the other over a pained ear.

But they were small moans and the few mutterings of "But it still doesn't look finished" were overwhelmingly drowned out by "Oohs" and "Aahs".

And, with more loos than any other building in the world - 2,618 to be precise - how could anyone really complain?


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