It was marketed as "the one you can't afford to miss" and 90,000 have taken the Football Association at its word; tomorrow night's World Cup qualifier against the worst team in the world is a sell-out.
The FA has not had its troubles to seek in recent weeks but a keenly priced and well-targeted campaign enabled the governing body to announce yesterday that the ground will be full for the visit of San Marino – it will see the world's 207th-ranked team play in front of a crowd three times the size of the republic's population. For all the furore surrounding John Terry, Ashley Cole and England's stuttering form, the national team remain an attraction that the rest of Europe can only envy.
A crowd of 68,000 watched England's previous game at Wembley against Ukraine and although that was the largest for a World Cup qualifier that night, it disappointed the FA. A post-Olympic lull was suggested as one reason but the governing body has used the Games as part of their campaign to attract fans to Wembley. Eight thousand volunteers, Games Makers, were given a promotional offer of £20.12 a ticket.
Pricing has proved key, particularly for families. A new record of 22,000 family tickets have been sold. A parent can bring two children for around £50 – the same price as a single ticket for a seat at many Premier League grounds. The lure of seeing Premier League stars such as Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard in the flesh – no matter the opponents – remains a notable pull.
"It is a great tribute to the magnificent support the national team enjoys in this country," said manager Roy Hodgson. "It has a terrific impact on players to have a passionate home support turning out."
Tomorrow night's match, against a side ranked level with Bhutan, is the last to be played at Wembley in 2012. Next year is the FA's 150th anniversary and a series of high-profile friendly games will sell out – against Brazil in February before the Republic of Ireland and Scotland visit in the summer.
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