- Chris Tuck
Wembley Stadium – England National Football
Photos by Chris Tuck, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.43
Wembley Stadium London, England HA9 0WS
England National Football website
Year Opened: 2007
A March to the Arch
Many would argue that the journey ends when one arrives at a warm and sunny Wembley in northwest London. The name, simply the area where it’s located, evokes emotions like no other. To travel the 11 miles from central London to Wembley Stadium is to arrive at a true coliseum of football. If any stadium should have had the tag ‘theatre of dreams’ it’s this one. Very few stadiums in the world transcend their raison d’être quite like Wembley does.
The original Wembley Stadium was constructed in breath-taking time, less than a year, so as to be ready for the British Empire Exhibition. The first FA Cup Final played here was in 1923, attracting huge numbers, officially 126,047.
The last key match was played in October 2000, a comparatively low 76,377 looked on as the Germans did what the Germans do – beat England. In-between those two matches, history played itself out at the old Wembley providing lasting memories at every turn. In 1966, England hosted and won the World Cup beating Germany 4-2 to show that the old stadium also delivered a nice line in miracles.
The Iconic twin towers were then demolished as part of a complete rebuild, eventually revealing a new all-seater Wembley Stadium in 2007. Replacing the twin towers came a new iconic feature, a huge lattice arch, 133 meters high, curving up and over the north stand. Construction was undertaken by Australian company Multiplex and the architects were Foster & Partners and Populous. The final costs were reported to be a colossal £962.4 Million (some sources show £798 million), and bank loans contributed nearly half of the total.
The stadium is still home to the England football team and hosts national cup finals from the FA Cup to non-league’s FA Vase. It’s also a European Cup and Champions League final venue, most recently in 1992, 2011, and 2013.
These days, as traditionalists cling to the idea of a Wembley ‘for the people,’ the reality has become a little tarnished. Ticket and refreshments prices are often criticised and a squabble with a local non-league club with the same name did not endear the FA nor Wembley to grassroots fans.
Food & Beverage 3
Inside the stadium, there are an eye-watering 688 food and drink service points. Draught, real ale, and bottle bars are all available, serving up to 40,000 pints during the half time interval alone!
Food options served include hot dogs, fish & chips, pizzas and, it’s claimed, Britain’s best sausage!
Eating and drinking at the stadium does of course come at a price. A pint of Real Ale, Budweiser or Cider costs £5.50, coffee (£2,30), and a bottle of water (£2.50). Crisps (£1.60), a hot dog (£5.70), and a pulled pork dog (£7). On the positive side, the vast array of refreshment outlets, together with good staffing levels mean queues stay low throughout a visit.
Immediately outside the stadium is a similar picture. The food stalls on the outskirts of the stadium and outside Wembley Park underground station also have short queues, but are quite expensive. A Cornish Pasty food van for example charges £6 for a traditional pasty and £3 for soft drinks.
To the east of the stadium, on Wembley Park Boulevard, there is a new collection of hotels, factory outlet retail units, and chain restaurants providing options such as TGI Fridays, Wagamamas, and Sugar Dumplin, although of course they will be extremely busy on match days.
A little further afield, and a lot less salubrious, is the bustling cosmopolitan High Road where you can grab a drink and some international foods for a lot less of your English sterling.
The stadium is operated by Wembley National Stadium Ltd, a subsidiary of the English FA and has a total capacity of 90,000. Although the roof does not fully close, all seats can technically be ‘covered.’ Like most modern stadiums, the seats completely encircle the pitch; including the corporate seats (‘Club Wembley’) it has three distinct tiers. The lowest/closest to the pitch are blocks 101-144. The second tier is found between 201-252 and the top tier includes sections 501-552. Scoreboards are embedded high above both goals in the top tier, providing all the usual information and updates.
Football isn’t the only sport associated with Wembley, in fact the Olympic Games no less used the stadium in 1948 and, less extensively in 2012. Rugby Football League hold their annual Cup Final here and speedway used to be very much part of the fabric in days gone by, sadly no more. The stadium also hosts music concerts, boxing, and American Football which all bring in extra cash to the FA coffers.
The atmosphere at games here can be variable to say the least. England home games have become very ‘family friendly’ with cheap tickets sometimes available from as little as £10. This, and the relative malaise currently felt by England fans, means these occasions are often sanitised to the point of stupor (we’re talking paper airplanes and mexican waves here). Other matches here can be the opposite, two sets of fans thrilled to be in attendance, more than a little alcohol can fuel the noise echoing impressively around the stadium.
The neighbourhood around the stadium is certainly not on the tourist trail, but there are numerous league and non-league sides in London if you want to catch more than one game. The aforementioned Wembley FC play at Vale Farm, a couple of miles from the stadium and would offer a warm grassroots welcome if you made it to a game. Wembley Arena is also next door with a capacity of 12,500 where you can watch the latest music concerts and shows.
Most visitors to the national stadium would take the opportunity to visit central London where all the famous landmarks are located. Hundreds of guides and articles are available on the web which provide all the information you need to plan a trip.
My recommendation would be to visit the viewing areas in the Houses of Parliament and the House of Lords. Free to enter, it is a fascinating experience to watch the ancient traditions and the fierce debate that often ensues. The National Gallery is also free to enter on the northside of Trafalgar Square, where you could easily spend a whole afternoon wandering around viewing timeworn and modern artwork.
Just up the road from Trafalgar Square you can watch the latest films in Leicester Square and grab something to eat in the numerous restaurants. Chiquitos would be my recommendation for some Mexican food, and a cocktail or bottle of Sol.
For accommodations, if you are only visiting the stadium, then the Wembley Hilton is a real treat. Situated directly opposite the stadium, the hotel has a swimming pool and a great rooftop bar where you can watch the incoming hordes in a peaceful and relaxed atmosphere. Hundreds of B&B’s, hotels, and hostels are dotted around the capital of course and decent transport links ensure you will be able to arrive in less than 45 minutes from most locations.
Just like the Maracana in Rio and the San Siro in Milan, football fans from across the world have Wembley Stadium on their bucket list.
In England it is a similar picture. For the older fan in particularly there is still a magic about the possibility of your team playing there and when it happens it’s a ‘must-attend’ event. The lower league and non-league fraternity in England also celebrate making it to Wembley for a playoff final or the FA Trophy/FA Vase Finals day. It must be the most sung about stadium in the world as fans sing and dream from the earliest of rounds that their team might make it to the final.
The stadium does however evoke some negative feelings amongst fans for a variety of reasons. The prices of tickets and refreshments are often criticised, tied to the sense that the FA need to recoup that extraordinary outlay for the rebuilt stadium. 2018 Cup Final prices for example will range from £45 for category D through to £145 for category A tickets.
Another factor is the success of the Premier League and the European Champions League. The top 6 clubs in England no longer see a trip to Wembley as the be all and end all. Indeed, many clubs will play weakened teams for FA Cup games if it’s followed by an important Premier League match.
Finally, the decision to play FA Cup Semi Finals at the stadium, moving away from the tradition of neutral venues has, for many, devalued the FA Cup Final itself. Your correspondent subscribes to some of these views however is old enough to still feel the tingle of excitement of a trip to the national stadium.
Perhaps for some of the above reasons, fans arrived for this FA Cup Semi Final, happy but not ecstatic. Wembley organise a split of the local pubs which will be designated for one team’s fans or the another. This works well and many are full in the lead up to kick off. Nearer the stadium, fans enter their own ‘fan zones’ for refreshments and music and also mingle freely.
Fans still arrive in their droves to see the national team too. Attendances at the new Wembley Stadium can range from 50-90,000, the highest so far coming in 2008 for a match vs Kazakhstan when 89,107 watched a 5-1 victory.
In 2017/18 London side Tottenham Hotspur made Wembley their home stadium whilst their new ground was being built. It is rumoured the venue may also host Chelsea soon when work on their new stadium finally gets underway.
London Airports all have quick transfers into central London. If you drive, suggest you park at an outlying station like Hillingdon or Richmond and take the train for the final part of your journey. Parking information for nearer to the stadium can be found on the excellent Wembley Stadium website. Back on the train and from central London head to Baker Street and follow the crowds.
The station you are heading for is Wembley Park station, which is on both the metropolitan and jubilee lines. This is the best place to disembark as you get a good view of the stadium as you leave the station. The over ground railway station is Wembley Central which necessitates a half mile stroll up the High Road to the stadium. There is also a station closer called Wembley Stadium, but this is only served by Chiltern Railways.
Truth be told, it can feel like a bit of a camel ride to get to our national stadium at times. The expectation, or at least the hope however tends to make it feel a bit less of a chore.
Access to the stadium can be gained by staircases and curved slopes. Inside you ascend to your seats via a series of escalators, taking you higher and higher depending on your seat location. (A picture of the stadium layout taken outside the stadium can be found in the photo gallery above).
Tickets need to be purchased beforehand from the club side you are supporting or direct from the English FA website. Bar code readers will allow you to enter with your ticket and expect a bag search just before or after you transit the turnstiles.
If you have any issues with mobility or require accessibility assistance of any kind, there is some helpful guidance on the website.
Return on Investment 2
According to William Shenstone, “Nothing is certain in London but expense,” and in short, he’s right! If a family of four visited Wembley for a prestige match like the FA Cup final, stayed at the Hilton Hotel opposite, bought category A tickets for the game, ate inside the stadium, and visited a few attractions in London the next day, you could easily spend £1,000. Not a great return on investment.
However, there are ways to avoid the high costs. England home matches as mentioned, sometimes sell tickets for kids for just £10. A hotel room outside of central London, somewhere like Hounslow, may be obtained for less than £100 per night. You could also grab your dinner from along the High Road rather than inside the stadium. The bottom line is of course, the same as the top line, that a visit to London coupled with a trip to Wembley Stadium will come at no little expense!
A Guest Support portal on the Wembley Stadium website provides a myriad of excellent answers to your questions, from pushchair access to park and ride, from accessibility to acrophobia (yes really!).
Tours of the stadium are available, currently £22 for adults for a tour lasting 75 minutes. In these corporate dominated times, a VIP tour is of course also available for £60.
The @WembleyStadium twitter feed has a nice line in banter, and will put out event-specific information about parking, where to drink etc. before your visit.
Staff who work the stadium on the day is also excellent. Smiles, helpful responses to questions, and some nice conversations throughout our visit.
If you haven’t visited Wembley Stadium yet, make no mistake, it should be high on your list. The second-largest football stadium in Europe, it’s a hugely impressive arena. The city of London too, for all its faults, is a wonderful place for the big attractions and the small lanes, parks, and markets. It is said in fact that “a bad day in London is still better than a good day anywhere else!”
For die-hard football fans though, there may be elements that disappoint. Prices can be high, building work in the immediate vicinity leave very few complete views of the ground, and the atmosphere may well be diluted by thousands of day trippers.
Overall there’s still a pride about watching your team here, an expectation, as you plan to visit this vast coliseum which has made and broken dreams in equal measure.