A Brief History of Wembley Stadium

Published: 08th September 2010
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London’s Wembley Stadium is one of the most well-known and iconic sporting arenas in the world. The current structure was opened in 2007 and was built on the site of the previous stadium, which opened its doors in 1923. But the history of Wembley Stadium goes back much further.

In the 1880s, the site which now boasts Wembley Stadium was known as the Wembley Park Leisure Grounds. Amid the grounds were football and cricket pitches, an athletics track and picturesque water-fountains and waterfalls. Then in 1889, the site was earmarked by Sir Edward Watkin to house a major attraction in order to encourage greater use of the nearby railway line. His plan was to build a huge four-legged tower within the site, with a projected height of some 350 metres.

It was an ambitious plan, but one which was never completed due to money issues. The structure was demolished in 1907.

It wasn’t until after the First World War ended in 1918 that the Government decided to build a national sports ground as part of its British Empire Exhibition plans and the Wembley Park Leisure Ground – then the home of an 18-hole golf course - was chosen as the site on which to build.

Known as the Empire Stadium, the stadium was designed by architects Sir John Simpson, Maxwell Ayerton and engineer Sir Owen Williams, with the construction tasked to Sir Robert McAlpine. The stadium was built in just 300 days and cost £750,000.

After the end of the British Empire Exhibition, the future of the stadium was unknown until the death of the stadium’s owner saw the stadium being bought by the Wembley Company.

The first sporting event to take place in the Stadium was the famous ‘white horse cup final’ in 1923 between Bolton Wanderers and West Ham United. The event gained its moniker after mounted police, and in particular Police Constable George Scorley atop his white horse, Billy, were used to push back the crowds from around the pitch in order to allow play to begin.

Over the years the stadium underwent regular upgrades and improvements. Floodlights were installed in 1955, whilst an electronic scoreboard and encircling roof were added in 1963.

Throughout the years, Wembley Stadium played host to a wide array of sporting events, such as the 1948 Olympic Games and some of the finest football matches ever. Other sporting events to have taken place at Wembley Stadium include greyhound racing, American football, speedway, wrestling and rugby.

Wembley Stadium has also hosted numerous music concerts, with notable acts including Michael Jackson, The Rolling Stones and U2 having played there. It was also the host for the charity concert Live Aid in 1985.

Wembley Stadium closed its doors in 2000 after the stadium struggled to cope with the developing needs of sports fans. A new Wembley Stadium was, however, built on the same site and opened in 2007.

This new stadium picked up where the old stadium left, and plays host to numerous music, entertainment and sporting events throughout the year, including England’s international home matches, the FA Cup final and the Npower football league play-off finals.

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