The trip every true football fan must take



By | Category: Travel tips & opinions

Make a pilgrimage to Wembley – the beautiful game’s spiritual home – says Kaye Holland

Football. Right now there’s no getting away from the children’s playground game, thanks to the Leicester City story.

Unless you’ve been living on another planet for the past month, you’ll know that Leicester City – an unfashionable team from the East Midlands – stormed the Premier League to be crowned 2015-16 champions against all odds.

Make no mistake: Claudio Ranieri’s side  – who flirted with relegation last season and were 5000-1 outsiders to lift this year’s title –  are one of the poorest clubs in the Premier League. Conversely recent champions Chelsea, Man City and Man United, all  had humongous wage bills.


Leicester (pronounced Lester) City’s underdog status helps explain why even those who don’t understand the offside rule and have zero interest in watching a bunch of grown men kick a ball about, are singing about the East Midlands team’s success and rejoicing in this footballing fairytale.

For the Foxes rise from the bottom of the Premier League a mere 12 months ago to its summit today, appeals to our sense of fairness. Little Leicester have given us back what we all love about football: good old fashioned hard work, honest players, team spirit and togetherness. Or in the words of The Daily Mail’s Martin Samuel: “Leicester have restored emotions we thought had been lost from the game for good. Faith, idealism, optimism, romance. They are the somebodies from nowhere that, unfathomably, pulled off the greatest title victory in the history of English sport.”

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In short, Leicester City  have shaken up English football and made the game beautiful again. Football has always been our national game and now we as a nation can rejoice in it once more.

And the trip every true soccer fan must take now that the 2015-16 season has come to a close and Euro 2016 is still a couple of weeks away? Why to Wembley of course.

The national football stadium- was recently voted the UK’s most iconic venue ahead of Wimbledon and Wales’ Millennium Stadium, according to a survey by Stubhub. And for good reason: the 90,000 capacity stadium, is renowned around the world for its iconic, 134m high arch that towers over the North stand, and has hosted some of football’s biggest spectacles: think 78 FA Cup Finals – including England’s World Cup Final win over West Germany in 1966 – 258 England senior internationals, 40 League Cup Finals, six European Cup Finals and Euro 96.

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Haven’t managed to bag tickets to the Championship, League one or League two play off finals (28, 29 and 30 May respectively) or the England v Portugal game (the Three Lions’ final home game prior to Euro 2016) on 2 June? Follow in Just About Travel’s footsteps and  take a Wembley tour. This excellent 75 minute excursion takes you behind-the-scenes of what, footballing legend Pele, once called “the cathedral of football, the capital of football and the heart of football”.

Our guide, the enthusiastic and incredibly knowledgeable Ian, allowed us to get up close and personal with the 1966 World Cup crossbar and the Jules Rimet Trophy commemorating England’s World Cup glory, as well as sit in the England manager’s hot-seat used during press conferences. We also got to  climb the 107 steps to where the winners collect their medals and snap a few selfies in both the Players’ Tunnel and the England Changing Rooms, where you can imagine how Rooney et al must have felt ahead of last week’s FA Cup final.
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But it’s not just football that has wowed Wembley  The stadium, which first appeared on the London skyline in 1923 before being rebuilt in 2007, has also hosted Rugby League’s Challenge Cup Final since 1929, Rugby World Cup matches, greyhound racing, American wresting and  the glitz and glamour of the American NFL International Series.

Wembley is also something of a music mecca having witnessed concerts by the likes of Coldplay, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Queen and the Rolling Stones – regardless of the weather. For the  £750 million venue also has a retractable roof that’s situated 52 metres above the pitch. While the roof doesn’t completely close, it does cover every seat in the stadium ensuring that, in the event of bad weather, every single spectator stays dry.

The bottom line though is this: “Wem-ber-lee” is best known as the ‘home of football’  and, as such, is as famous as the players it welcomes each week, making a pilgrimage to HA9 a must for every football fan.

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Altogether now…

Que sera sera,

Whatever will be, will be,

We’re going to Wemberly,

Que sera sera…

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The Road to Wembley

1921: The FA declares interest in a new stadium, as Stamford Bride is considered too small for the FA Cup Final

1922: The Empire Stadium is built. It takes just 300 days to construct at a cost of £750,000 and houses 126,000 supporters

1923: The stadium officially opens on 28 April for the FA Cup Final between Bolton Wanderers and West Ham United. Known as ‘The White Horse Final’ after a white police horse called Billie safely ushered supporters off the pitch due to overcrowding

1924: England’s first international fixture at the stadium: a 1-1 draw against Scotland. The British Empire Exhibition opens to the public attracting 27 million people with the stadium as its centrepiece

1929: Speedway, Greyhounds and Rugby League become a permanent fixture of the stadium’s calendar

1940: The stadium becomes a makeshift field hospital as Dunkirk evacuees are treated and given shelter there

1948: Wembley becomes the main venue for the London Olympic Games, delayed from 1944

1953: Ferenc Puskas captains Hungary and leads them to a historic 6-3 victory over England. The first by an overseas team

1963: Wembley hosts its first of 7 European Cup Finals as AC Milan beats Benefice 2-1. That same year, Cassius Clay defeats Henry Cooper in a non-title Boxing bout in front of 40,000 fans

1966: England defeat West Germany 4-2 after extra time to win the FIFA World Cup.. Managed by Sir Alf Ramsey and led by Bobby Moore, the final is a classic encounter with Sir Geoff Hurst scoring a hat trick in the final

1968: Manchester United become the first English club to win the European Cup by defeating Eusebio’s Benfica 4-1

1971: Johan Cruyff’s Ajax Amsterdam defeat Panathinaikos 2-0 to lift the European Cup

1972: Wembley plays host to its first ever concert as ‘The London Rock and Roll Show’ hits the stadium

1978: Liverpool defeat Club Brugge 1-0 to lift the European Cup

1982: Pope John Paul 11 conducts mass for a crowd of 80,000 at Wembley Stadium

1985: The London leg of the most famous concert of all time, Live Aid, is watched by a TV audience of 1.3 billion. Artists such as Paul McCartney, David Bowie, U2 and Queen perform live to raise millions for famine stricken countries in Africa

1989: The Hillsborough Disaster, where 965 Liverpool fans tragically lost their lives, leads to standing areas being permanently removed from Wembley

1992: The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert celebrates the life of the Queen frontman. Also that year, FC Barcelona lifted the European Cup after defeating Sampdoria 1-0 and Australia win the Rugby League World Cup final by narrowly defeating Great Britain

2000: The Empire Stadium’s last ever match takes place on 7 October. Germany defeat England 1-0 in a 2002 World Cup qualifier

2002: After successfully being grated funds for a ‘new’ Wembley’, demolition work begins on the stadium which stood for almost 80 years

2003: Construction begins on the new Wembley Stadium

2007: The new Wembley Stadium officially reopens on 24 March for an England U21 friendly international against Italy

2011: FC Barcelona defeat Manchester United 3-1 to win the UEFA Champions League Final and a reunited Take That play a record eight shows in the summer to over 650k fans

2012: Wembley hosts nine matches for the London Olympic Games including both Gold Medal matches

2013: To celebrate the Football Associations’s 150th anniversary, the UEFA Champions League final returns to Wembley with FC Bayern Munich defeating Borussia Dortmund in the first ever all-German final

2014: Wembley announces a lead partnership deal with technology giants EE to make the stadium the most connected in the world. Boxing returns to Wembley with Super Middleweight Champion Carl Froch defeating George Groves with a stunning 8th round knockout win

Wembley Stadium in numbers

90,000
The stadium has 90,000 seats with NO obstructed views

757,000,000
The stadium cost £757,000,000 and was built on the same land as the old stadium

107
There are 107 steps in the trophy presentation route – the old stadium had 39 steps

54
The rows of seating, if placed end to end, would stretch 54 kilometres

2012
In 2012, Wembley welcomed over 700k people across nine football matches for the London Olympics; Mexico won Men’s Gold with the USA winning Women’s Gold

315
With a span of 315 metres, the arch is the longest single span roof structure in the world and is visible right across London

133
The most striking, highly visible feature of the stadium is 133 metre tall arch that sits above the north stand

54
The rows of seating, if placed end to end, would stretch 54 kilometres

1,032
Each of the two giant screens in new stadium is the size of 600 domestic television sets

126,500
Upon opening, the original capacity was 126,500 with the majority of the crowd standing on huge terraces behind both goals

2007
The new stadium was officially opened in 2007 by HRH Prince William Due of Cambridge, President of the Football Association

Words and pictures: Kaye Holland

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