Offside, 4 October
Wembley whingers? Send them all to Birmingham.
So farewell then Wembley stadium. Your sight lines were awful, your seats were uncomfortable, and your toilets were unfit for the third world. This week, after eight long years of wrangling, indecision and buck-passing the bulldozers finally moved in. As far as I’m concerned, they can’t demolish it fast enough.
‘We believe we will have the finest stadium in the world, a stadium the whole country will be very, very proud of’, said Football Association chief Adam Crozier. Maybe so, but unless the stadium is built on time and to budget then we can expect much more of the very British whingeing that has dogged the Wembley project from its inception.
Let’s examine some of the most common gripes, shall we? First of all there are those who balk at the cost of the new stadium. All the wrangling, changes of plan and footdragging has bumped the total cost up to £757million – making it the most expensive sports arena in the world.
Daily Telegraph football writer Henry Winter describes the new stadium as a ‘hi-tech, high-cost folly’. Winter thinks the money should be spent on building grassroots football centres or guaranteeing the future of debt-ridden Football League clubs (1). Yes, there are plenty of deserving causes, but why can’t we spend money on a national stadium as well as football academies? Britain has become a nation of miserly bean-counters, obsessed with value for money.
Witness, too, the traditionalists who want to preserve the famous ‘twin towers’ in the mistaken belief that they are important historical monuments. Let’s just get one thing straight: the twin towers are cheap and tacky monstrosities. Like mock Tudor houses they have no architectural merit. ‘Wembley was thrown up in 1923 with a hotchpotch of confused ideas’, writes Daily Mirror columnist Mick Dennis. ‘There was a hint of Rome Coliseum in the arches around the outside, a dab of art deco in the hangar-like banqueting hall and an echo of St Paul’s Cathedral in the preposterously grandiose domes at the top of the two towers.’ (2) I couldn’t agree more.
Some people wanted a national stadium, but not in London. According to a Leicester University poll most football fans favoured Birmingham over London because they thought it would be easier to access, particularly by car (3). I might be inclined to agree if Birmingham was the political, financial, or cultural heart of the nation (which it isn’t). The industrial revolution apart, the sum total of Birmingham’s contribution to civilisation is Black Sabbath, ELO, Wizzard, JR Tolkien, and Jasper Carrott. I rest my case.
The transport case for Wembley is far stronger than for Birmingham (unless you actually enjoy being stuck in traffic jams). It is estimated that car travellers would face four-hour traffic delays getting out of Birmingham after matches. Moreover, Wembley has far better public transport links with three tube lines and two rail lines capable of handling 70,000 passengers an hour. By contrast Birmingham International station only has a capacity of 10,000 passengers an hour (4).
The unexpected popularity of rotating England internationals around different Premiership grounds has led some to question the need for a national stadium. I have no objection to staging England games outside London, perhaps even in Birmingham. By all means build bigger, better football stadiums across the country. But cup finals and important international matches should be played at Wembley.
If you can’t see the point of a national stadium then consider this: the French, who don’t even like football, have constructed a magnificent national stadium. Even Scotland and Wales, not exactly football superpowers, have their own national stadiums.
The fantastic space-age stadiums built in Japan and Korea for the 2002 World Cup show what can be done when you have some ambition. The incessant moaning and protracted wrangling over Wembley shows what happens when you have none.
(1) Wembley will be a mark of FA folly, Daily Telegraph, 27 September 2002
(2) Don’t shed a tear…the place has been a disaster since the White Horse Final, Daily Mirror, 26 September 2002
(3) Fans Want New Home Of Football In Birmingham, Leicester University press release
(4) Transport for London report
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