One small step from Wembley started one long journey to Spain yesterday as the dismantling of England's most celebrated stadium entered its final stages.
One small step from Wembley started one long journey to Spain yesterday as the dismantling of England's most celebrated stadium entered its final stages. Shortly after breakfast Pablo Ornaque, the curator of Barcelona's museum, arrived in north-west London with an articulated lorry in which to transport the step and an array of other memorabilia back to the Catalan football club, where it will be either displayed at the Nou Camp or disseminated to other collections around Spain.
For the sake of historical record, Ornaque's personal haul, purchased for an undisclosed sum, included the solitary step (one of Wembley's famous 39), the hand rail from the steps (all of it), one set of goalposts, one protective tarpaulin from the players' tunnel, two substitutes' benches from the Royal tunnel, a VIP chair from the Royal ante-room and 75 turnstiles. He said he was delighted with his souvenirs, not least because Wembley was the venue for Barcelona's last and only European Cup final win, against Sampdoria in 1992.
Ornaque is merely the latest admirer of England's football heritage to snap up part of it since the great Wembley sell-off started soon after the stadium's final ignominious game, England's 1-0 World Cup qualifying defeat to Germany in October 2000. Fans and collectors from around the world have been writing, phoning and bidding via internet auctions ever since for everything from seats to slabs of turf, coat pegs, taps, steps, doors, door knobs, tea cups, tiles and bath plugs. Total revenue for the Football Association is estimated at a modest £1m, which will go towards the somewhat heftier £757m the new Wembley will cost.
The range of buyers could best be described as eclectic. The American rock band Bon Jovi, for example, bought a dozen seats and had them shipped across the Atlantic. Evel Knievel, the daredevil rider who performed at the stadium in his heydey, settled for a modest half-dozen chairs, which have been sent to Las Vegas. Ivan Major, a former speedway champion from New Zealand now resident in Australia, bought a chair from Wembley's Royal retiring room.
Dorin Florea, the mayor of Tirgu Mures, a town in Transylvania, secured 2,300 Wembley seats for nothing except the £9,000 transport cost and is using them to equip a new arts and sports venue that will bear the name the Wembley Open-Air Theatre. The Romanian FA also ordered a set of Wembley floodlights for use at the national training centre in Bucharest.
Closer to home, a riding school for the disabled in Avon has acquired 500 seats, Leyton FC have taken 1,000 seats and some floodlights and the National Football Museum in Preston has bagged the memorial plaque from the 1966 World Cup final and the crossbar that Geoff Hurst rattled on the way to England's third goal in the same match.
"Wembley has a great place in the memories of people all over the world," Nick Barron, an FA spokesman, said yesterday. "That's why we're so determined to build a fantastic new stadium to replace it, and why there has been such a breadth of interest from football people everywhere in owning their own little bit of history."
The final stage of the old Wembley's demise will come with the demolition of the Twin Towers, provisionally pencilled in for Monday 16 December. Even those landmark concrete pillars, when reduced to rubble and dust, will be put to use. Most of the remnant masonry will be used to fill the foundations of the new stadium. Some will be taken away and turned into replica miniatures of the old venue.Reuse content