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  Sunday, 1 October, 2000, 17:05 GMT 18:05 UK
Truly a great arena
Nelson Mandela's 70th birthday bash at Wembley in 1988
Nelson Mandela's 70th birthday bash at Wembley
By BBC Sport Online's Charles McFaulds.

Wembley's reputation as one of the world's great arenas is of course based primarily on its status as the home of English football.

But the stadium has also hosted many other great performances of both the sporting and the musical variety down through the years.

In the televised age, Wembley second game has very much been Rugby League, and the sport's Challenge Cup has been a calendar event to rival the FA Cup in terms of occasion and colour.

While the Challenge Cup has been an almost constant fixture at Wembley since 1929, rugby's other code has featured far less.

In recent years though, both England and Wales have used the stadium to hold Union internationals while Twickenham and Cardiff Arms Park were being redeveloped. The first time Wembley was used for Rugby Union though was actually during the Second World War, when England played Scotland in 1942.

Going to the dogs

Another popular sport to be held below the Twin Towers was greyhound racing. Indeed, in the ground's early years, it was the greyhounds that actually prevented Wembley from going to the dogs.

Crowds of up to 50,000 attended meetings, and there were still tens of thousands turning up to watch the dogs until the final race in December 1998.

Two years after greyhound racing began at Wembley, speedway became a regular fixture on the events list too.

Again the sport proved to be a great money-spinner, and the local team Wembley Lions used the ground as their home venue, drawing large crowds for local clashes with West Ham in particular.

American stunt legend Evel Knievel roared into Wembley on his motorcycle to leap over 13 London buses in a one-off event, when the daredevil was at his peak.

Henry Cooper v Muhammad Ali
Cooper floored but failed to beat Ali at Wembley

As the swinging sixties became the sensational seventies, horsepower of another variety was evident at Wembley Stadium in the shape of the Horse of the Year Show.

But the event caused so much damage to the turf that it was cancelled after a couple of years when the contract expired.

Athletics enjoyed a brief sojourn at Wembley when the main events of the first post-war Olympic games were held there in 1948. Previously, the site had also hosted the Empire games of 1924 and 1925.

Boxing has also had a fleeting association with Wembley Stadium when Henry Cooper fought Cassius Clay (before he became Muhammad Ali) in 1963 for the World Heavyweight Championship, and more recently Frank Bruno beat Oliver McCall to win the WBC Heavyweight Championship.

But Wembley's first boxing event actually took place during the Empire Exhibition in 1924. It was a light-heavyweight bout between Jack Bloomfield and American Tom Gibbons which was so sparsely attended that the latter demanded his share of the purse before stepping into the ring.

American football crossed the Atlantic to Wembley Stadium in the mid-1980s when Chicago Bears played the Dallas Cowboys in front of 82,000 in August 1986.

Height of interest

During the height of interest in the sport in this country, the London Monarchs team used Wembley Stadium as their home ground until April 1992.

Another American sport to be played on the Wembley turf was baseball when two matches were staged there at the request of the American Ambassador to London.

The first in June 1934 involved two teams from the USS New Orleans, and later that year American servicemen from the US Air Force and the US Ground Forces played each other.

The previous December hundreds of servicemen and woman flocked to Wembley for a series of Christmas parties at the ground.

Wembley has even hosted a charity Crickathon back in September 1991. However, that other great British wonder, the summer weather intervened, and the event was rained off.

As for events outside the sporting scene, the eyes of the world were certainly fixed on Wembley, as well as the JFK Stadium in Philadelphia for the Live Aid concert on 13 July, 1985.

While that is possibly Wembley's biggest ever showpiece, the first musical event to have taken place at below the Twin Towers was back in 1972 when the likes of Bill Haley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard and Chuck Berry featured in The London Rock and Roll Show.

72 countries watched Nelson Mandela's 70th Birthday Tribute on 11 June 1988, when many well-known pop stars took part in the epic concert.

Other artists like Crosby, Stills and Nash, Bruce Springsteen and U2 have also played the venue, with Bon Jovi the last to play this very special corner of north west London.

As Jon Bon Jovi himself would doubtless say with fist raised high to salute the adoring crowd: "Thank You Wembley!"

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