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Last Updated: Saturday, 19 May 2007, 23:04 GMT 00:04 UK
Wembley worth the wait
By Howard Nurse
BBC Sport website football editor at Wembley

Wembley Stadium
What a view: the magnificent new Wembley Stadium
It was a football match seven years in the making at the new 800m Wembley Stadium - but an FA Cup final that failed to live up to expectations on the field.

Half a billion people around the globe witnessed the event on television, and a further 89,826 inside the world's most expensive stadium saw the spectacle pass by with relatively few hitches.

So did new Wembley live up to the expectations and the hype?

GETTING TO THE STADIUM

Considering the mass of people heading for north-west London, the travel organisation was no doubt helped by the fact that one of the teams was from the capital.

With the vast majority of Chelsea fans using London Transport and the improved Wembley stations, the pressure on the road network was eased to some extent (and there were also plenty of Manchester United fans based in the city who also used public transport).

Having said that, there were still pockets of empty seats scattered around, even 25 minutes into the drab first half, so clearly not everybody made it on time.

Wembley way
Fans making their way to the stadium
The Football Association had urged fans not to travel to the stadium by car but there was plenty of "unofficial" car-parking in the array of industrial estates surrounding Wembley, with prices ranging from 5 to 15.

Getting away from the stadium was not too bad either after Chelsea's fans stayed behind after the game while the defeated Manchester United followers made a hasty exit. Definitely easier than trying to leave the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.

GETTING INSIDE THE STADIUM

Security was clearly going to be tight and it had to be.

Bags were searched and electronic devices used to screen the 400 members of the written press while supporters were not permitted to take drinks and food inside.

More than 1,000 Metropolitan Police officers were on duty and they were in good spirits thanks to the fact that both sets of supporters went to the game without any intentions of causing trouble.

Sensibly, there were no Draconian measures like those imposed at the recent cricket World Cup when it came to fans' paraphernalia.

There were plenty of inflatable FA Cups at the red end of the ground and hundreds of blue-and-white checked flags fluttering in the Chelsea section.

FOOD AND DRINK

The Football Supporters' Federation (FSF) called for a boycott of catering outlets in protest at the high prices being charged for burgers, drinks and the match-day programme.

606: DEBATE

Well, I witnessed a fair few people buying drinks and food, though not as many as I think you would normally see at this type of event, so it appeared that the call to arms did get through to a fair extent.

The official programmes cost 10 but they were apparently being sold for six times that figure on eBay. The glossy 148-page publication was a real collector's edition and although a tenner is a lot to pay, it was probably not too over-priced given the occasion.

THE BUILD-UP

The Football Association got this absolutely spot on and it was also timed to perfection.

The band of the Royal Engineers maintained an old Wembley tradition by belting out a few marching tunes but the highlight of the pre-match entertainment was the parade of legendary FA Cup winners from 1957-2000.

John Terry and Frank Lampard
Chelsea's John Terry and Frank Lampard lift the trophy
There were some great names, including Denis Law, who was always going to get a rousing reception from the United fans and ex-Chelsea hard man Ron "Chopper" Harris.

Other greats like Sir Geoff Hurst, Dave Mackay, Ian St John, Ricky Villa and more recent heroes Peter Schmeichel and Marcel Desailly were treated like royalty (as was Prince William, who officially declared the new Wembley Stadium well and truly open).

The singing of the melancholy Abide With Me remains a ritual of Cup final day. It provided a moment of unity on an afternoon when images of missing Madeleine McCann were broadcast on the big screens to the backdrop of the Simple Minds classic Don't You Forget About Me.

THE MATCH

Oh dear, not the best. Dismal to begin with in terms of entertainment value.

Manchester United's 18th final saw them go into the game looking to record a league and Cup Double but it was Chelsea who snatched victory late in extra time to make it a domestic cup Double for them.

The first half was so bad that dozens of corporate seats were still empty five minutes into the second period.

Thankfully, the game improved and became quite absorbing but both teams looked shattered and intent on not losing rather than going all out to win.

LIFTING THE TROPHY

Manchester United looked unwilling when it came to climbing the 107 steps up to the Royal box to receive their losers' medals from Prince William. Skipper Ryan Giggs, who struggled in the second half, looked particularly dejected.

While United's weary stars then walked slowly in front of their fans, the west end of the ground was close to being empty by the time victorious Chelsea went up to collect the trophy.

Then it was party time with that classic Chelsea track Blue Is The Colour accompanied by fireworks and tickertape and a raft of other cheesy tunes to aid the celebrations.

Both teams will be back next season even stronger and just as determined to battle it out again and I bet next year's final will be a much better match.

A personal note to finish. I found it an absolute privilege to be present at such a magnificent sporting occasion in an awesome new stadium.



SEE ALSO
Chelsea 1-0 Manchester United
19 May 07 |  FA Cup
FA Cup final photos
19 May 07 |  FA Cup
The new Wembley Stadium
16 May 07 |  Football
BBC pundits on the FA Cup final
19 May 07 |  FA Cup


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