Wembley. The two-syllable word that is perpetually stretched to three when crowds flock to the national stadium of England. It’s been 13 years since the second iteration of the venue was opened, and boy haven’t they flown?
There’s been 12 subsequent FA Cup Finals, a Champions League showpiece, and more playoff finals than we can be bothered to count (calculator is on the other side of the room). The original, iconic stadium - baptised in 1923 - closed its doors just shy of its 80th anniversary. Famously, Chelsea have the honour of being the winners of the FA Cup in the last year of the old and the first year of the new.
Think back to the mid 2000s where clubs would have to trek over to South Wales to the less loved substitute, the Millennium Stadium, to watch the grandest cup Final in the UK take place, it felt like an eternity for that £1billion project in the north of the English capital. Snazzy and jazzy, the second chapter may tick all of the technical boxes, but it’s plainly not those white Twin Towers.
Yes, it’s got that recognisable, sky-line dominating arch, the beautiful statue of Bobby Moore staring down Wembley Way, and the most toilets of any venue in the world. But for many, nothing can emulate the power, magic, and majesty of the original, the stadium Pelé once dubbed ‘the cathedral of football’. Here are some of the greatest moments showcased in the historic setting of ‘Wem-ber-leeeee’...
The One Where The English Conquered Europe - 1968
Pop Quiz Hotshot. Sir Matt Busby’s brilliant Man Utd side of the late sixties featured an eclectic, talented, superlative-defying cast of characters. But who was the Red Devils’ Man of the Match as United became the first English club to win the coveted European Cup, by defeating Benfica on May 29 1968?
Brian Kidd, who extended Utd’s advantage over the Portuguese outfit as the game went into extra time? Unfortunately not. Bobby Charlton, who bagged a brace? Surprisingly no. Forget Nobby Stiles, Alex Stepney, and Paddy Crerand. Or was it even arguably their greatest ever player, George Best, who also got on the scoresheet? Nope.
The honour, football and fact fans, on the night of Busby’s crowning achievement, went to one John Aston Junior. Use that one down your local when the pubs re-open.
The One With Eight Goals In The Best Playoff Final Of All Time - 1998
Charlton v Sunderland might not be the first glamour tie that comes to mind but back in 1998 the two sides set the benchmark for all playoff finals to come - and none have ever lived up to it.
There’s a reason even those who aren’t fans of the Football League tune in to the proclaimed ‘Richest Game in Football’ year-in, year-out, hoping to get a smattering of the entertainment the Addicks and the Black Cats provided for the unassuming observer as the last millennium started to come to a close.
It had been set up as a perfect play-off, their league positions third (Sunderland) v fourth (Charlton) separated by just two points in the old First Division. 3-3 after 90minutes, 4-4 after extra-time. And poor Michael Gray having the ignominy of etching his name into the history books with that decisive penalty miss that sent Charlton up.
The 100th One With The Greatest Goal - 1981
Oh what could have been. Manchester City wouldn’t have had to be irked by that rolling Old Trafford banner that would later appear, mocking the number of years the Blues had gone without a trophy, if they had managed to edge Spurs at the start of the 80s as they attempted to grasp the FA Cup in the 100th iteration of the competition.
Extend your sympathies to City’s Scottish midfielder Tommy Hutchinson who had the dubious prestige of scoring for both teams in the first leg to set up a rematch. It was, however, a replay that produced arguably the greatest goal ever seen in the competition, as Ricky Villa produced the most winningest of winners in a 3-2 thriller, a bamboozling run and strike that would be later voted Wembley’s Goal of the Century.
The One With Sir Stan’s Smile - 1953
The first ever recipient of the Ballon d’Or - the award given to the best footballer on the planet - was Sir Stanley Matthews in 1956 (unbelievably, achieving the feat at the grand old age of 41!). Three years earlier, he had finally got his hands on the FA Cup, by defeating Bolton Wanderers with his Blackpool, 4-3.
Blackpool were making their third FA Cup appearance in six years having been losing finalists in both 1948 and 1951.
It was a result that, though heartbreaking for Bolton, after Matthews and Blackpool and twice being the bridesmaid, put the nation in elation. Today, it’s still known as The Matthews Final.
The One With... You Know... - 1966
You might have heard about it - England won the FIFA World Cup here in 1966, following Uruguay and Italy’s lead by winning the most illustrious trophy in sport on home turf.
We’ll save you a regurgitation of proceedings of that most beloved 20th Century event for citizens of the royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle, earth of majesty, seat of Mars, etc. etc...
Instead, let West Ham fans remind you of their notable contribution to the cause:
I remember Wembley,
When West Ham beat West Germany,
Martin one and Geoffrey three,
And Bobby got the OBE...
It’s pretty basic. The two towers of Wembley, Alf Ramsey, the Queen, Moore, Charlton, 100,000 people. You can’t really fail to omit it from such a list. Jules Rimet is still gleaming.