ENGLAND FAN VIEW: Gareth Southgate was right, the new Wembley has never seemed so good. Finally, after years of flat England occasions there, our £1billion national stadium has become the rocking amphitheatre it should be
- Wembley was rocking as England beat Denmark to reach the Euro 2020 final
- Gareth Southgate said it was the best atmosphere witnessed at new Wembley
- Though only two-thirds full, England fans created an electric atmosphere
- Most England games at the stadium are flat and uninspiring occasions
- But it was transformed into a lion’s den by a passionate crowd on Wednesday
- Find out the latest Euro 2020 news including fixtures, live action and results here
And so, on my 62nd visit to the new Wembley Stadium, I finally get it.
Get why it was built so big, get why almost £1billion was spent on it (three times the original estimate), get why the national stadium was located along lines of history and tradition rather than geographical convenience for the majority of England’s support.
What a night! What an amphitheatre! What an atmosphere!
Occasions such as this, England beating Denmark to reach the final of the European Championship, must be just how the Wembley visionaries first imagined the place (only with that sliding roof that never happened).
England captain Harry Kane salutes the England fans after semi-final victory over Denmark
England manager Gareth Southgate celebrates in front of the Wembley crowd at the end
It was undoubtedly the best atmosphere witnessed at the modern Wembley Stadium
They say you need to ‘drink in’ these moments because they happen so rarely. So I did and it was simply magnificent.
As thousands of England fans joined the players in singing along to Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline, I turned around and glanced up to the middle and top tiers.
Beyond the usual road atlas of England flags fluttering was an enormous, encircling, euphoric sweep of people right up to the rafters with their arms outstretched. ‘Reaching out, touching me, touching you…’
This swaying, singing mass of humanity was not a sight to be forgotten in a hurry. And to think it was only two-thirds full.
The modern Wembley opened, two years behind schedule, in 2007. But only now are we seeing the best of it as England’s national stadium in the first major tournament it has hosted.
The human sea on Wembley Way as fans queue for the Tube after the extra-time victory
A haze of smoke from a flare in front of the Wembley arch as fans get the party started
The wild scenes in the crowd as England celebrate the second goal scored by Harry Kane
As Gareth Southgate said afterwards: ‘I’ve not heard the new Wembley like that, ever. It’s an incredible occasion to be a part of. The fans were incredible all night.’
As he often does, England’s manager nailed it. Wembley finally looked and sounded like it should do. England’s lion’s den.
As an England follower for years, it’s been a bit of a chore trekking up there at times if I’m perfectly honest.
The initial novelty of visiting the place soon wears off when you’re going for that Thursday night World Cup qualifier against San Marino or an uninspiring friendly against Norway (to pick names at random).
And that’s coming from someone who lives in London, so fair play to those who actually put in the miles from all four corners of England to watch the team there.
There’s absolutely zero sense of occasion about most games and many England fans respond by turning up as close to kick-off as possible and leaving 20 minutes from the end to beat the queues for the Tube on Wembley Way.
Fans can finally start to believe football is coming home but Italy await in Sunday night’s final
A face mask of Harry Maguire in the stands as England fans celebrate at the final whistle
Through the laboured Hodgson years, most England fans only went to the Wembley internationals to top up their travel club ‘caps’ and ensure they could do the far more exciting away trips.
The place was flat with games against the minnows really hard to get excited about when you’re expecting England to score four goals minimum.
The abiding memories are of the drummer in the England band pounding away but only a handful actually clapping and singing, of Mexican waves just 20 minutes into the game and of people floating paper aeroplanes down to the pitch. Of ‘fans’ getting refreshments at half-time and deciding to stay on the concourse rather than return to their seats for kick-off, finally returning then 20 minutes later vanishing into the night.
You couldn’t help the feeling of being ripped off as well. I appreciate the FA have plenty of Wembley costs to repay but £10 for a burger and chips and £6 a pint doesn’t entice people to hang around.
Not many England games at Wembley have a sense of occasion – in 2014, just after the World Cup debacle, a friendly with Norway saw a crowd of just 40,181
It has been a chore at times to watch England at Wembley but the mood is very different now
At one England match, feeling the need to have something sweet, I filled up a bag of pick and mix, only to be charged £16 by the scales.
It didn’t help that until recent redevelopments, the immediate vicinity of the stadium wasn’t too pleasant.
With little to see or do pre-match, most people stayed in the pubs of Baker Street or central London before getting the Tube to Wembley Park at the last possible moment.
On a November night, when a biting wind whipped around the exposed outer ring of the Stadium, it wasn’t somewhere you particularly wanted to linger.
Once inside, over-zealous stewards demanded everybody sit down at all times, often quite aggressively. Understandable to ensure everybody can see the match, of course, but not great for generating an atmosphere to support the team.
But all that was a world away from Wednesday night and, indeed, last week’s Germany match and to a lesser extent the group games with only about 20,000 allowed in.
Some came in fancy dress, such as these two lions. We’re not sure what happened to the third
Emotion spilled over as England came from behind to overcome Denmark’s stiff resistance
The 8,000 or so Danish fans, all UK citizens, also contributed to a superb Wembley atmosphere
A successful team has helped improve the atmosphere, obviously, but finally we’ve seen how Wembley should be for international games.
Cup finals there have always been a better experience but here we had every fan on their feet for the entire 120 minutes, the noise bouncing around from one side to the other, ecstatic celebrations after England’s two goals.
Instead of just a pocket of fans singing along it felt like the whole stadium, an outpouring of pride and passion that tumbled down the stands and transmitted to the players to keep energy levels high. It was a true wall of noise.
It was also clear that having been starved of live football for so long during the Covid-19 pandemic, England’s fans were just desperate to get inside a stadium, watch a match and sing their hearts out.
It certainly wasn’t the day to get some quiet studying in Wembley Library near the ground
Thousands gathered on Wembley Way to help build the atmosphere hours before kick-off
And the party continued long into the night as fans spilled out of Wembley after the victory
There wasn’t a mask in sight though everyone had to show evidence of a negative lateral flow test to get in.
Regardless, there will be plenty of concerns about the potential spread of the virus through such large crowds but it didn’t appear to be at the forefront of minds as strangers hugged and fell over one another following the two goals.
It had also been noticeable that the regeneration of the vicinity of Wembley, all shopping outlets, apartments, pubs and restaurants, has encouraged people to get there a bit earlier and get the party started.
Huge crowds gathered at the top of Wembley Way hours before kick-off, enjoying a few drinks in the sunshine. It was certainly a bad time to be studying inside Wembley Library, which is adjacent to stadium entrance one, given the racket outside.
Oh what a night! Same time Sunday?
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