Wem­b­ley’s wow, but too early to call it great

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Prime Space - Guy Al­lenby Sta­di­ums

WHEN the FA Cup Fi­nal was played last month, the game it­self might have been lack­lus­tre, but foot­ball fans couldn’t fail to be im­pressed by how the new Wem­b­ley Sta­dium looked, sounded and felt when filled to ca­pac­ity for the first big event.

Nor could peo­ple have missed — at least those who hap­pened to be walk­ing past a Mul­ti­plex of­fice at the time — the huge sigh of re­lief that would have rip­pled from the firm’s ex­ec­u­tive floor.

At last the brand new ground was get­ting glow­ing press as a sport­ing tem­ple seething with ex­cite­ment, rather than stut­ter­ing ex­pec­ta­tions. First planned to be fin­ished in 2003, then for the 2006 FA Cup Fi­nal, it fi­nally opened this year.

The con­struc­tion cost was ini­tially es­ti­mated at $ 778 mil­lion; the fi­nal cost came in nearer to $ 1.9 bil­lion.

‘‘ Has it been worth the wait, and the ex­pense?’’ asked Jonathan Glancey in Lon­don’s . ‘‘ I think so.

‘‘ The new sta­dium has been, to put po­litely, a bit of a strug­gle to com­plete.

‘‘ And yet, when the first crowds come here, to foot­ball matches, to rock con­certs, and to some of the events planned for the 2012 Olympics, they are un­likely to think much about how long the sta­dium took to build or how much it has cost.’’

It’s a might­ily im­pres­sive piece of ar­chi­tec­ture and en­gi­neer­ing, with its huge sin­gle arch, 315m long, sup­port­ing a re­tractable roof which negates the need for sup­port­ing pil­lars that would oth­er­wise ob­struct the view of the pitch.

Each of the sta­dium’s two gi­ant screens are as big as 600 nor­mal television sets, there’s a world record 2618 toi­lets in the place and the sta­dium seat­ing is ap­par­ently comfy ( and there’s lots of leg- room com­pared with the cramped old build­ing).

But as to whether it is — or will even­tu­ally

it earn — the right to call it­self the ‘‘ best sta­dium in the world’’, as its own­ers claim, is yet to be set­tled. And that’s be­cause there are dozens of other venues around the world that rou­tinely claim ex­actly the same hon­our ( for the record there are 75 foot­ball sta­di­ums — with a ca­pac­ity of more than 40,000 spectators — in Europe alone).

We did it — claimed ‘‘ world’s best’’ sta­tus, that is — with Tel­stra Sta­dium ( or Sta­dium Aus­tralia as it was then known) be­fore the 2000 Olympics.

Bei­jing will do it next year when the new Bei­jing Na­tional Sta­dium plays host to the 29th Olympiad ( see break­out) and ev­ery ma­jor sta­dium that’s ever been built — from An­cient Rome’s Colos­seum down — al­ways claims ‘‘ best of the best’’ brag­ging rights.

That’s be­cause the sta­dium is the big- ticket item in a ‘‘ look how mod­ern and clever we are’’ mar­ket­ing strat­egy for a city/ coun­try and the latest ma­jor sport­ing fes­ti­val it hap­pens to be show­cas­ing.

At Wem­b­ley, it’s the sup­port­ing arch that’s been cal­cu­lated to im­press and cre­ate a new land­mark for the Lon­don sky­line and the 2012 Olympics.

In Ger­many, the most im­pres­sive new sta­dium, show­cased at last year’s FIFA World Cup Fi­nals, was the Al­lianz Arena in Mu­nich with its quilted translu­cent shell made of a light­weight plas­tic ( called ETFE foil).

A sys­tem of lights has been in­cor­po­rated in the quilted struc­ture to al­low the whole fa­cade to change colour. The 66,000- seat sta­dium was de­signed by Jac­ques Her­zog and Pierre de Meu­ron — also the brains be­hind Bei­jing’s Olympic sta­dium.

In the US, mean­while, the new home ground of Amer­i­can Foot­ball team the Car­di­nals, in Glen­dale Ari­zona, has an en­tire field that’s re­mov­able.

Con­tained in a mas­sive 120m- long, 70m- wide tray, it can be rolled in and out of the re­tractable- roofed sta­dium in about 45 min­utes. Ap­par­ently by leav­ing the grass out­side the sta­dium, when it’s not be­ing played on, turf main­te­nance is a much cheaper propo­si­tion than if it was stored inside.

Im­pres­sive as they all are, though, nei­ther the Car­di­nals Sta­dium, nor Mu­nich’s Al­lianz Arena, nor the new Wem­b­ley Sta­dium can con­vinc­ingly sug­gest they are the world’s best.

That, of course, is be­cause the truly great sta­di­ums are about so much more than just ar­chi­tec­ture and en­gi­neer­ing, but are more about at­mos­phere and what has tran­spired inside them over the years.

The old Wem­b­ley was truly great be­cause it played host to count­less fan­tas­tic FA Cup fi­nals and was the scene of Bri­tain’s great­est ever sport­ing tri­umph: win­ning the 1966 World Cup. Brazil’s Jor­nal­ista Mario Filho Sta­dium ( known af­fec­tion­ately as the Mara- cana Sta­dium) can claim leg­endary sta­tus be­cause it holds the world record for at­ten­dance and hosted a FIFA World Cup fi­nal ( 1950).

Equally, the Azteca Sta­dium in Mex­ico City achieved im­mor­tal sta­tus hav­ing hosted two FIFA World Cup Fi­nals in 1970 and 1990.

Once filled with lo­cal fans, the at­mos­phere in all th­ese are­nas was re­port­edly deaf­en­ing, spine- tin­gling, un­for­get­table.

( For a world- beat­ing at­mos­phere at a foot­ball match mean­while, it’s hard to beat watch­ing Spain’s Barcelona FC at its home ground Nou Camp.)

Tel­stra Sta­dium reached th­ese sorts of tran­scen­dent heights when Cathy Free­man won the 400m in 2000. The old Wem­b­ley had it when Eng­land won the World Cup in 1966.

The new Wem­b­ley mean­while might well ex­ude ‘‘ a ro­bust con­fi­dence and easy grandeur’’, Glancey says, but come 2012 and a few his­tory- mak­ing Olympic gold medal per­for­mances, it may be able to lay claim to un­de­ni­able great­ness.

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