Home at last: New Wembley is a triumph

It was years over deadline, millions over budget, and last staged a cup final when Wayne Rooney was 14. But yesterday it was back
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The Independent Online

English football came home yesterday, and the only thing that spoiled the party was the football itself. The new Wembley stadium looked magnificent - as it should have done for a building that was opening four years late and way over budget at £757m. The FA Cup final had a royal guest of honour, a fly-past from the Red Arrows and even a white police horse to match the one made famous by the first ever final at the old Wembley in 1923. But the party was dampened by an FA Cup tradition almost as old - a really dull game.

The best players in the country, paid fortunes to appear for Chelsea and Manchester United and finally given the world-class stadium their talents deserve, could only produce a 0-0 draw. Didier Drogba, the Ivorian, settled it in extra time, scoring after 116 minutes. So it was the exhausted English captain of Chelsea, John Terry, who climbed the 107 new steps to receive the cup from Prince William.

The Prince declared the stadium "magnificent" and the same word was used by Sir Geoff Hurst, scorer of a hat-trick in England's 1966 World Cup win at the old stadium and one of many Wembley heroes who paraded before the game. "We have all forgotten all the trials and tribulations we have had over the last six or seven years," he said. "We invented the game of football. We deserve to have the best stadium in the world and we have got it by far."

The last FA Cup final to be played at the old Wembley was in 2000, when the Australian construction company Multiplex agreed to build its replacement for £326.5m. It was supposed to take three years, but legal wrangles, strikes, mismanagement at the Football Association and a crisis over funding meant the final work was completed only in March. The game was supposed to be a celebration, but even the BBC commentator John Motson admitted: "It's been a bit gruelling, to be honest."

The arch looked lovely, though. The steel curve 436ft above the stadium had become an icon of the north London skyline even before the spectacle caused fans to stop and gasp as they arrived at Wembley Park station yesterday. There to greet them was Zena, wearing a plastic visor to protect her eyes, one of 15 white horses used by the Metropolitan Police in a conscious echo of 1923. Back then Billie, ridden by PC George Storey, helped keep 200,000 fans back from the pitch in what became known as the White Horse final. Then fans smoked Woodbines; in 2007 electronic notice- boards declared Wembley a no-smoking venue.

The language and the ticket prices suggested this was theatre. Perhaps it felt like that in the FA's hospitality suites, but at the Tube station there was an old-fashioned bottleneck. And on Wembley Way the sights, sounds and smells were traditional: drunks staggering blindly towards a game they would not remember; young boys (and girls now) holding a parent's hand for dear life and experiencing something they would never forget; and loud, rude, funny chants about Wayne Rooney's looks or Jose Mourinho's dog.

The Chelsea manager was arrested last week when police called at his home to ask about Leya the Yorkshire terrier. Yesterday the dog was revealed to be in Portugal with Tami Mourinho, his wife. He also said he was going to have to move now his address had been broadcast. One United fan wore a picture of Mourinho taped to his back with the words: "Jose's Diary. May 6 Lose the Premiership. May 15 Lose dog. Get arrested. May 19 Lose FA Cup Final."

He was wrong - and must have been particularly gutted if he had paid the £1,700 that some tickets fetched on eBay. Inside the ground a beer was £4.50, a burger £5 and the match programme £10 - and the Football Supporters' Federation advised followers of both sides not to buy, saying: "Fans are fed up with being treated as turnstile fodder."

The atmosphere was subdued by a two-minute video about the missing four-year-old Madeleine McCann. But the spectacle - and seats with as much space around them as the ones in the old royal box - excited Simon Golding from Walton-on-Thames. "This is magnificent," he said. "The best stadium I have ever been to."

Jose Mourinho raised six fingers as he lifted the cup, indicating the trophies he has won for his apparently disgruntled boss Roman Abramovich. The dog was safe. So was his job, for a while. Football had its new home, too. The game was dire - but as fans know, it is the result that counts.

The tale of two stadiums

Winners

1923: Bolton Wanderers 2 West Ham United 0

2007: Chelsea 1 Manchester United 0

First Goal

1923: David Jack, Bolton, after two minutes

2007: Didier Drogba, in 116th minute, extra time

Attendance

1923: 125,000, but 200,000 are thought to have got in

2007: 90,000

Footballer's Wage

1923: £9 a week maximum

2007: Up to £120,000 a week

Tickets

1923: 2 shillings to 15 shillings

2007: £95

Pint of Beer

1923: 7d

2007: £4.50

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