Wembley, always a disputed property
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