The iconic London landmark currently known as “Wembley Stadium” was actually completed in 2007, but it bears the name of what has been one of England’s and the world’s most famous sport and entertainment venues for the better part of a century. This is a brief history of the original 1923 Wembley Stadium, and the new arena on the same sight which carries on the Wembley legacy.
The Construction of Empire Stadium
In 1922, ground was first broken on what would become Wembley Stadium by none other than King George V. The initial purpose of the stadium, which first opened in the spring of 1923, was to provide a venue for 1924’s British Empire Exhibition (see video), and indeed the arena was originally known as the “British Empire Exhibition Stadium”, later shortened to just “Exhibition Stadium”. The stadium was constructed by the Sir Robert McAlpine company for a then princely sum of £750,000, and even at that price the plan was to tear the venue down after the exhibition had ended.
A Second Chance for the Stadium
In 1925, after the British Empire Exhibition had run its course, the stadium was purchased by Arthur Elvin (read his biography) with the original intention of razing the arena and selling the materials. However, the Wembley Company purchased the stadium before this occurred, and Elvin ended up also owning a majority of Wembley Stadium. With help from the Wembley Company, a new era for an English institution began.
“The Cathedral of Football”
Football matches had been held on the site of what would become Wembley stadium since the late 19th century. The first match actually held in the stadium was the FA Cup Final in 1923, and Wembley became the traditional host of the final in subsequent years.
As any football fan in the world will tell you, Wembley also became the world’s most well-known venue for the sport, with other events such as the Final of the 1966 World Cup (which England won, of course, see video below) and the UEFA Euro 1996 Final also being held at the stadium.
Other sporting events held at the stadium over the years include rugby and American football, as well as much of the 1948 Summer Olympics.
A Legendary Concert Venue
The original Wembley Stadium was one of the premier concert venues in the country, and the new Wembley carries on that prestigious legacy. In addition to 1985’s Live Aid concert, Wembley has hosted a range of enormously famous acts from Pink Floyd to Queen to Elton John to the Rolling Stones. The new Wembley stadium has already hosted such luminaries as Madonna and U2, both of whom played to crowds in excess of 70,000.
The New Wembley Stadium
While the original Wembley Stadium was demolished in 2003, a new, modern arena was built in its place. The new Wembley opened in 2007, with the first event being, appropriately enough, the FA Cup Final of 2007.
The new Wembley Stadium continues to be one of the most popular attractions in London, with visitors to the city flocking to hotels near Wembley Stadium such as the K-West, especially during frequent big events at the venue in order to enjoy the full-days experience at this most historic of buildings.
This contemporary venue, with its now famous arch echoing the original Wembley’s Twin Towers, is set to be home of London’s leading sport and entertainment events for many decades to come.
- License: Royalty Free or iStock source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Wembley_Stadium_interior.jpg
- License: Royalty Free or iStock source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Wembley_Stadium,_illuminated.jpg
- License: Image author owned
Sarina Bertson is a freelance journalist based in London. She has always been interested in sports and sports history, and when she’s not writing, her interests include traveling, shopping and cooking.
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