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