Wem­b­ley, al­ways a dis­puted prop­erty

World Soccer - - From The Editor -

The FA’s fail­ure to sell Wem­b­ley brought a pro­fu­sion of re­lief and sat­is­fac­tion. Yet, in purely his­tor­i­cal terms, you won­der whether such ju­bi­la­tion was jus­ti­fied.

It seems largely to be for­got­ten that it has be­longed to the FA only in com­par­a­tively re­cent years. It was ini­tially owned by Arthur Elvin, who had a mere to­bac­conist’s kiosk at the Great Ex­hi­bi­tion at Wem­b­ley in the early 1920s.

The sta­dium made its ini­tial mark on foot­ball his­tory with the FA Cup Fi­nal of 1923, be­tween Bolton Wan­der­ers and West Ham United. Enor­mous crowds be­sieged the sta­dium and thus be­gan the leg­end of the po­lice­man on the white

horse who helped to con­trol and dis­ci­pline, so far as pos­si­ble, the surg­ing crowds. The game, ar­guably, should never have be­gun, but per­haps a fear of con­se­quent ri­ot­ing saw that it did, with the fans press­ing close to the touch­line. One player re­marked af­ter­wards that the best pass he re­ceived in the game came from a spec­ta­tor.

Far from be­ing the prop­erty of the FA it was for decades not only un­der in­de­pen­dent own­er­ship but un­der a dom­i­nant force.

I re­mem­ber tak­ing Ted Cro­ker for lunch when he be­came sec­re­tary of the FA and hear­ing him lament the jux­ta­po­si­tion of Wem­b­ley and the FA, who were obliged to use Wem­b­ley for al­most ev­ery Eng­land in­ter­na­tional match. He im­plied that he was go­ing to change all that, but in the event he didn’t – or he couldn’t.

Even­tu­ally Wem­b­ley’s own­ers al­lowed it to fall into dis­mal dere­lic­tion and when the FA bought it they spent a vast for­tune in re­build­ing it.

Abroad, it came to be known as the “Temple of Foot­ball”, a nomen­cla­ture given ex­treme em­pha­sis when in 1966 Eng­land won the World Cup, play­ing ev­ery one of its games at Wem­b­ley.

There was con­tro­versy over this, with even Stan­ley Rous, the FIFA pres­i­dent, opin­ing that the game should have been played at Liver­pool. But closer ex­am­i­na­tion of the rule book showed that Wem­b­ley was the proper choice.

Wem­b­ley cer­tainly has a magic ap­peal for fans. How well I re­mem­ber see­ing sup­port­ers of a pro­vin­cial club in­volved in the Cup Fi­nal lean­ing against the win­dow of the tube train to mar­vel as the twin tow­ers came into sight.

To­day it might be ar­gued that Wem­b­ley is overused by foot­ball; not least in its stag­ing of both FA Cup semi-fi­nals which, of course, used to take place on the same day at two dif­fer­ent venues.

One player re­marked af­ter­wards that the best pass he re­ceived in the game came from a spec­ta­tor

White Horse Fi­nal... Wem­b­ley in 1923

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