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Last Updated: Saturday, 24 March 2007, 17:52 GMT
New Wembley does not disappoint
By James Clarke
BBC News, Wembley

Wembley Stadium during Saturday's match
The new stadium will hold 90,000 fans when it is full
It poured with rain in north London on 7 October 2000.

I remember that, because it seemed entirely in keeping with the mood of the day at Wembley Stadium, which was hosting its last football match before being demolished. I was there.

It should have been a day of celebration for English football - a fond goodbye to the famous old stadium combined with a game against great rivals Germany, and a look forward to a fantastic new stadium possibly set to open in time for the 2003 FA Cup final.

But instead England lost a dismal game 1-0, Kevin Keegan resigned as manager and it rained so hard that any fan whose mood was not dampened by the match had it positively drenched by the weather.

Place in history

The farewell to Wembley fireworks extravaganza at the end of the match was another damp squib - by the time it started half the fans had left the scene muttering rude words under their breath and the rest were not far behind them.

Most people were even too despondent to pinch any souvenirs on the way out - though I do remember my mate Mark and I spotting one man liberating the largest broom either of us had ever seen.

One of the twin towers from the old stadium and the new stadium's arch
Towers are just so 20th Century

Of course the events of the intervening six-and-a-half years are fairly well known - it was another two years before demolition started, the stadium was obviously not ready by May 2003 nor was it finished in time for its revised deadline of August 2005, and it also cost a bit more than planned to rebuild.

But fast forward to 24 March 2007 and the first professional match at the new Wembley.

Again I have a ticket, allowing me to join 59,999 others in claiming a place in stadium history.

But unlike 2000 I have a view unobstructed by pillars, and there's plenty of leg room and a back to my seat.

RANDOM WEMBLEY FACTS
The arch is made of up 500 steel tubes, each large enough to hold more than 850 pints of milk
The amount of paint needed to coat the arch is enough to cover the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel more than 19 times
The rows of seating, if placed end-to-end would stretch 33.5 miles (54km) - the distance from Manchester to Liverpool
If the stadium was filled with milk, it would require about seven billion pints
Twenty five thousand double decker buses could be fitted into the stadium
Source: Wembley Stadium website

There are enough places to buy a beer or some food that it doesn't take an age to get served and where once you sometimes had to queue the whole of half time to spend a penny, the stadium apparently now has more toilets than any other sporting venue in the world.

And while that arch may not make my seat any more comfortable, improve my view of the pitch or enhance the quality of the football, it does look very impressive.

There are giant screens at both ends of the ground - which there were not at the old stadium, or Old Trafford for that matter - enabling me to watch action replays of the Italians taking the lead after 29 seconds from multiple angles.

Wembley is no longer a stadium built in the 1920s dragged limping into the 21st Century, with seats placed on what was once terracing, meaning they would never be tiered as well as the seats in a ground built for sitting or have proper spaces between rows.

Fans approaching the last game at the old Wembley in the rain and Kevin Keegan about to resign
Old Wembley's last game was a drab experience all round

The view was awesome - sitting in the top tier the players did at times seem like ants, but there was not an inch of the pitch that I could not see.

The food seemed expensive, with one of my friends paying 6 for a pie and a coke, but a pint of lager was 3.50, and while that may seem expensive to some, it is not too out of the ordinary for London and I had expected to pay more.

There were loads of turnstiles and it took me hardly any time at all to get into the ground, and getting out after the match was fairly straightforward too.

Some people were complaining about it taking 40 minutes to get to the Tube station, but when there are 60,000 people trying to get away at once it is never going to be instant, and to me it seems a faster and smoother process than at the old Wembley, or at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium.

I do not want to be too critical of the old Wembley - it was a wonderful ground in its heyday and rightly revered around the world in its time.

Italy players celebrate a goal after 29 seconds
The Italians celebrate their first minute goal - not in the script

I was lucky enough to visit it on a number of occasions - and some very memorable ones too. My first time was a school trip to see England win 8-0 against Turkey in 1987, I was there when we beat Holland 4-1 during Euro 96, and also saw that tournament's final.

I was there when my team, Chelsea, won the FA Cup in 1997, our first trophy in my lifetime, and even saw a great concert there in 2000 - Oasis supported by the Happy Mondays.

And nobody should need reminding that Wembley was home to English sport's finest hour back in 1966 or the Live Aid concert in 1985.

But while the old stadium had a glorious past, the new one has a present and, hopefully, a lengthy future.

People left Wembley in October 2000 getting soaked with frowns on their faces.

In March 2007 it was freezing cold and the skies were grey but there was no rain and very few frowns.

And that was not the only improvement. It is a fantastic new stadium and I am hoping to come back many times.




SEE ALSO
England U21s draw Wembley cracker
24 Mar 07 |  Internationals
How was Wembley for you?
24 Mar 07 |  Football
Wembley pictures
24 Mar 07 |  Football
Wembley game 'sold out' in hours
13 Mar 07 |  England
Inside Wembley
28 Feb 07 |  Football

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