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Sunday, 24 September, 2000, 20:22 GMT 21:22 UK
The metaphor of Wembley
Wembley Stadium
Out with the old and in with the new
The BBC's Rob Bonnet believes that keepsakes from the old Wembley should be left behind as England and the national stadium enter a new era.

It's funny the kind of things I get in the post at the BBC.

Mostly it's boring press releases that get filed more often than not under W (for "waste-bin") - then there's the occasional viewer's letter, sometimes complimentary, sometimes the reverse.

One regular correspondent always communicates anonymously by a sealed, unstamped envelope the address always approximate on the front, the message always distinctive in block capitals on the back.

The latest is a classic and will be framed on the loo wall at home. "Your boss must be crackers to keep your boring on and on (sic) - what's the hurry machine gun mouth."

I liked the bit about the boss but since I've always thought of myself as slow in delivery as well as on the uptake, the rest of it left me as nonplussed as the contents of a little package that arrived last week.


Wrapped in that nice bubbly, polythene that we all love to pop in those absent-minded moments - and then further encased in a cardboard package straight out of the local Chinese take-away - was some grass. Wow! Far out!

Bobby Charlton
Bobby Charlton lifts the 1968 European Cup

Before the Drug Squad mounts a full-scale raid on Television Centre (an exercise in futility if ever there was one!) I should add that there was a label too. "Genuine Turf from Wembley Stadium".

Nevertheless, I opened the package with the same kind of caution that's always sensible when examining the sweet and sour contents from the Hong Kong Garden.

And inside? Turf! Earth! Water! Another wow! Maybe this was the bit onto which Geoff Hurst's shot bounced down so incontrovertibly and incontestably behind the line for England's third goal in the 1966 World Cup Final?

Maybe it was from that spot just outside the area where Paul Gascoigne blasted his FA Cup semi-final free-kick into the Arsenal goal in 1991 or perhaps where he gouged both turf, Nottingham Forest's Gary Charles and his own cruciate ligament in that reckless challenge in the final that followed.

White echoes

Frankly, by the look of it, (soggy, yellow and straggly as opposed to lush, emerald and manicured) this was nothing of the sort.

Geoff Hurst
Geoff Hurst scores the 'controversial' goal

At best, maybe, a jagged cut from beside the water jump at that infamous Horse of the Year Show all those years ago. More likely a quarter shovel-full from the bank outside the stadium where millions have discarded empty cigarette packets, hot dog wrappers and much, much worse over 80 years or so.

Which only goes to prove - I suppose - that we should be left with our memories rather than their momentoes when the old stadium finally goes under the demolition-man's ball and chain.

England's World Cup qualifier against Germany on 7 October (England in red, Germany in white echoes of 1966 and all that) is the last international there before the new Wembley re-emerges in...

Well, who knows, now that there are further complications with the contractors and no 2006 World Cup deadline to worry about?

We'll all have our favourite recollections of course. Those of us old enough may even have them burned onto the mind's eye in television's black and white which now seems to me to have been the best way of building up to the real thing.

So after watching Cup Finals and England internationals at home in fuzzy monochrome, I - like millions of others - experienced the small boy's awe and wonder as I walked up the stairway and out into Wembley's concrete bowl for the first time to see a schoolboy international.


Never mind that the game was scoreless and that I was straining to see over adult heads to the action in a distant goalmouth. The colour, the scale and the sense of drama explained it all. So 'this' is football!

I opened the package with the same kind of caution that's always sensible when examining the sweet and sour contents from the Hong Kong Garden
  Rob Bonnet

Since then the personal highlights boil down to a five shilling ticket to watch Manchester United beat Benfica in the 1968 European Cup Final something a little pricier to see the Euro 96 triumph against Holland and penalty shoot-out disaster against Germany and privileged cost-free working access in between at countless internationals and cup finals.

Now, of course, Wembley gets nothing but a bad press. Antiquated facilities, dreadful sightlines, poor access never mind the to-ing and fro-ing over the running track and the Lottery money.

And now that so many fans know just what it means to have grade one amenities week in week out at their own clubs, it's clear that the new Wembley is long overdue.

So it's a double build-up to the big game on 7 October end of an era for the stadium, start of a new era for the England team. We hope.

Crumbling Wembley somehow felt like a metaphor for a team that - whatever the England revisionists might say - was so hopelessly exposed at Euro 2000. Since then, the draw in Stade de France has given a glimmer of hope.

Let's not get carried away, but maybe, just maybe, the new England will match the new Wembley as a modern, sophisticated and successful example of what the game here might just achieve once self-interest, insularity and mediocrity have been discarded.

Fingers crossed, then, for the new England!

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18 Sep 00 |  Olympics2000
Australia keeps Olympic spirit alive
10 Sep 00 |  Fans Guide
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