Football: A BRIEF HISTORY OF WEMBLEY

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The Independent Online
Ah, Wembley. There is not a football crowd that has not sung wistfully of going there. The name conjures the World Cup win of 1966, 39 steps to exultation or despair and, when the romantic trimmings have been stripped away, a stadium that is ill-equipped for the 21st century.

Outdated and uncomfortable compared to modern grounds in Britain and abroad, it has needed a facelift for decades, something that will be addressed if the plans to renovate Wembley to become the national stadium are fulfilled. It was due to close next summer for the pounds 240m facelift and re-open, completely modernised, in 2002.

Even in its is current state, however, it is undeniably the mecca of football in this country, and its heritage is the envy of the world. There is barely a foreign player who has not yearned to play there. As Joao Havelange, president of Fifa, the game's world governing body, said on Monday: "Wembley is a monument".

Yet, curiously, although English football may see it as its spiritual home, Wembley has never belonged to the nation. A private company built the stadium in 300 working days (at a cost of pounds 750,000) for the Empire Exhibition in 1924, and it is still run by Wembley Stadium Ltd, a subsiduary company of Wembley plc.

Wembley have a contract with England, who first played there in 1924, that lasts until 2002. The FA Cup final has been held there since Wembley's inauguration on 28 April 1923, when Bolton beat West Ham, while the League Cup final has been played there since 1967. But even with the recent introduction of end-of-season play-offs, Wembley could not survive on football alone. Last year it staged 25 large events, 18 of which were of a sporting nature.

Football supporters have the chance to visit Wembley on the cheap twice a week, when the stadium becomes the biggest capacity greyhound track in the country. Sadly few do, as the crowd averages around 1,000.

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