Wembley Stadium
The Twin Towers, Old Wembley
View from Wembley Way before the Germany v England semi-final at Euro 96
Location Wembley, London, England
Coordinates <span class="geo-dms" title="Maps, aerial photos, and other data for Template:Coord/dec2dms/dExpression error: Unexpected >= operator. Template:Coord/dec2dms/dExpression error: Unexpected >= operator.">Template:Coord/dec2dms/dExpression error: Unexpected >= operator. Template:Coord/dec2dms/dExpression error: Unexpected >= operator. / ,
Broke ground 1922
Opened 1923
Renovated 1963
Closed 2000
Demolished 2003
Owner Wembley Company
Surface Grass and track
Construction cost £750,000 GBP (1923)
Architect Sir John William Simpson and Maxwell Ayrton
Sir Owen Williams (engineer)
Former names Empire Stadium
British Empire Exhibition Stadium
Tenants England national football team
London Monarchs
Wembley Lions speedway team
(1946–1957, 1970–1971)
Arsenal F.C European games
Leyton Orient F.C.
Capacity 82,000 (originally 127,000)

The original Wembley Stadium, officially known as the Empire Stadium, was a football stadium in Wembley, a suburb of north-west London, standing on the site now occupied by the new Wembley Stadium that opened in 2007. Debris from the Old Wembley Stadium was used to make the award-winning Northala Fields in Northolt, Ealing.

It was famous for hosting the annual FA Cup finals, five European Cup finals, the 1948 Summer Olympics, the 1966 World Cup Final, the final of Euro 96 and the 1985 Live Aid concert. Of Wembley Stadium, Pelé said, "Wembley is the cathedral of football. It is the capital of football and it is the heart of football"[1] in recognition of its status as the world's best-known football stadium. The twin towers were once an icon for England and Wembley before their demolition in 2003 which upset many members of the public.[2]


File:Wembley Twin Towers - geograph.org.uk - 258671.jpg

The iconic Twin Towers of Wembley Stadium.

The stadium's first turf was cut by King George V, and it was first opened to the public on 28 April 1923. First known as the British Empire Exhibition Stadium[3] or simply Empire Stadium, it was built by Sir Robert McAlpine[4] for the British Empire Exhibition[5][6][7] of 1924 (extended to 1925).[8][9][10][11]

The stadium cost £750,000, and was constructed on the site of an earlier folly called Watkin's Tower. The architects were Sir John Simpson and Maxwell Ayrton[12] and the Head Engineer Sir Owen Williams. It was originally intended to demolish the stadium at the end of the Exhibition, but it was saved at the suggestion of Sir James Stevenson[citation needed], a Scot who was chairman of the organising committee for the Empire Exhibition. The ground had been used for football as early as the 1880s[13]

At the end of the exhibition, an entrepreneur Arthur Elvin (later to become Sir Arthur Elvin) started buying the derelict buildings one by one, demolishing them, and selling off the scrap. The stadium had gone into liquidation, after it was pronounced "financially unviable".[14] Elvin offered to buy the stadium for £127,000, using a £12,000 downpayment and the balance plus interest payable over ten years.[15]

After complications following the death of James White the original Stadium owner, Elvin bought Wembley Stadium from the new owners, (Wembley Company) at the original price, since they honoured Elvin's original deal. They then immediately bought it back from Elvin, leaving him with a healthy profit. Instead of cash he received shares, which gave him the largest stake in Wembley Stadium and he became chairman.[15]

The electric scoreboard and the all encircling roof, made from aluminium and translucent glass, were added in 1963.

File:Royal Box at Wembley Stadium 1986.jpg

The Royal Box in 1986.

The stadium's distinctive Twin Towers became its trademark and nickname.[16] Also well known were the thirty-nine steps needed to be climbed to reach the Royal box and collect a trophy (and winners'/losers' medals). Wembley was the first pitch to be referred to as "Hallowed Turf", with many stadia around the world borrowing this phrase. In 1934, the Empire Pool was built nearby. The 'Wembley Stadium Collection' is held by the National Football Museum. The stadium closed in October 2000, and was demolished in 2003 for redevelopment. The top of one of the twin towers was erected as a memorial in the park on the north side of Overton Close in the Saint Raphael's Estate.


Wembley is best known for hosting football matches, having hosted the FA Cup annually as well as numerous England International fixtures.

White Horse Final


Billy the White Horse, saviour of the 1923 FA Cup Final

The Empire Stadium was built in exactly 300 days at the cost of £750,000. Described as the world's greatest sporting arena, it was ready only 4 days before the White Horse Final. The FA had not considered admission by ticket, grossly underestimating the anticipation of the number of fans turning up to the 104 gates on match day. However, after the game, every event, apart from the 1982 replay,[17] was ticketed.

File:White Horse Final1923.jpg

Crowds define the edges of the pitch

The first event held at the stadium was the FA Cup final on 28 April 1923 between Bolton Wanderers and West Ham United. This is known as the White Horse Final. Such was the eagerness of fans and casual observers to attend the final at the new national stadium that vast numbers of people crammed through the 104 turnstiles into the stadium, far exceeding its official 127,000 capacity. The crowds overflowed onto the pitch as there was no room on the terraces. Estimates of the number of fans in attendance range from 240,000[18] to well over 300,000.[19] It is estimated that another 60,000 were locked outside the gates. The FA were forced to refund 10% of the total gate money to fans unable to reach the terraces. The White Horse Final has the highest ever unofficial "non-racing" sports attendance in the world,[citation needed] which is very unlikely to be broken in the near future. It was thought that the match would not be played because of the volume of spectators inside the stadium that had spilled onto the pitch. That was until mounted police, including Police Constable George Scorey and his white horse, Billy, slowly pushed the masses back to the sides of the field of play for the FA Cup Final to start, just 45 minutes late. In honour of Billy, the footbridge outside the new Wembley Stadium has been named the White Horse Bridge. The official attendance is often quoted as 126,047. The match was a 2–0 victory for Bolton Wanderers, with David Jack scoring the first ever goal at Wembley.

Matthews Final

The 1953 FA Cup Final between Blackpool and Bolton Wanderers was dubbed the "Matthews Final" after Blackpool's winger Stanley Matthews. At 38, he was making his third and ultimately his final attempt at winning an FA Cup medal.[20] In the previous six years, he failed to earn a winner's medal against Manchester United in 1948 and Newcastle United in 1951.[20] It featured a hat-trick by Blackpool's Stan Mortensen in his side's 4–3 win, with Matthews almost single-handedly turning the game around for Blackpool who had trailed 3–0 to Bolton Wanderers before fighting back to win the game. It remained the only hat-trick ever scored in an FA Cup Final at the original Wembley.

The FA Cup final was played there in April or May until 2000 (excluding the 1970 replay when Chelsea beat Leeds at Old Trafford). It was also the venue for Finals of the FA Amateur Cup, League Cup (except for the early years when this was settled on a home and away basis) and in later years the Associate Members' Cup and the Football League promotion play-off finals (in the early years of play-offs they were home and away fixtures). The 1988 final of the Middlesex Charity Cup was also played there.[21]

International fixtures

File:Scoreboard end in the old Wembley Stadium.jpg

England v Scotland in 1981

Prior to the 1923 Wembley stadium, international football games had been played by England at various different stadia. Most early internationals (including the first ever international football match (1870)) were played at the Oval, which had been built in 1845 and has always been a major cricket venue. For the first 27 years the only International England games played at Wembley were fixtures against Scotland, with other games played elsewhere until 1951. The first team other than Scotland to face England at the venue was Argentina.[22]

In 1956 and 1971, it was the venue of the home matches of the Great Britain national football team for the qualification matches to the Summer Olympic Games against Bulgaria.[23]

In 1966 it was the leading venue of the World Cup. It hosted the final game, where the tournament hosts, England, won 4–2 after extra-time against West Germany. Thirty years later, it was the principal venue of Euro 96, hosting all of England's matches, as well as the tournament's final, where reunified Germany won the cup for a third time with the first international Golden Goal in football history. (Germany - Czech Republic 2:1) The penultimate and ultimate competitive games played at the stadium resulted in 0–1 defeats for England to Scotland and Germany respectively.

Club football

File:Bristol Rovers v Tranmere Rovers, Wembley 1990 (344523653).jpg

Bristol Rovers v Tranmere Rovers Leyland DAF Cup Final in 1990

In all, the stadium hosted five European Cup finals, including the 1963 final between AC Milan and Benfica, and the 1968 final between Manchester United and Benfica. In 1971 it again hosted the final, between Ajax and Panathinaikos, and once more in 1978, this time between Liverpool and Club Brugge, another in 1992, when Barcelona played Sampdoria. Wembley has also hosted two UEFA Cup Winners' Cup finals (in 1965, when West Ham United beat 1860 Munich, and in 1993, when Parma overcame Antwerp).

It was also the venue for Arsenal's home Champions League matches in 1998–99 and 1999–2000. It has hosted an individual club's home matches on two other occasions, in 1930 when Leyton Orient F.C. played two home Third Division South games[24] and in 1930–31 for eight matches by non-League Ealing A.F.C.[25] It was also to be the home of the amateur club which made several applications to join the Football League, the Argonauts.[25]

In March 1998, Arsenal made a bid to buy Wembley in hope of gaining a larger stadium to replace their Highbury ground which had a capacity of less than 40,000 and was unsuitable for expansion, but the bid was later abandoned in favour of building the 60,000 capacity Emirates Stadium which was opened in 2006.[26]

Last matches

On 20 May 2000 the last FA Cup final to be played at the old Wembley saw Chelsea defeat Aston Villa with the only goal scored by Roberto Di Matteo.[27] The last competitive club match the was 2000 First Division play-off final on 29 May between Ipswich Town and Barnsley, a 4–2 win resulting in promotion to the Premier League for Ipswich.[28] The last club match of all was the 2000 Charity Shield in which Chelsea beat Manchester United 2–0. The last international match was on 7 October in Kevin Keegan's last game as England manager. England were beaten 1-0 by Germany, with Dietmar Hamann scoring the last goal at Wembley. On that day Tony Adams made his 60th Wembley appearance, a record for any player.[29] Adams also claimed England's final goal at the stadium, having scored in the previous home fixture against Ukraine on 31 May.[30]

Other sports

Rugby league

File:Wembley Stadium interior 1956.jpg

A marching band entertains the incoming crowd prior to the 1956 Rugby League Cup Final

In the sport of rugby league, the RFL has held its Challenge Cup final at Wembley from 1929 onwards. The stadium was also regularly used by the sport for major international matches, such as Great Britain versus Australia. In 1949 the France national rugby league team became the first French national team of any sport to win at Wembley. The largest crowd for a Challenge Cup final at Wembley was set in 1985 when Wigan beat Hull F.C. 28–24 in front of 99,801 fans. The stadium set the international record crowd for a rugby league game when 73,631 fans turned out for the 1992 Rugby League World Cup Final between Great Britain and Australia. The Mal Meninga-led Australian team won the game 10–6 on the back of a Steve Renouf try in the north-east corner and Meninga's goal kicking. The 1995 World Cup final between England and Australia was also played at Wembley with 66,540 fans watching Australia win 16–8.

1948 Summer Olympics

Wembley was the main athletics venue for the 1948 Summer Olympics, with Fanny Blankers-Koen and Emil Zátopek among the notable winners. The Stadium also hosted the semi-finals and finals of the Olympic hockey and football tournaments, the Prix des Nations event in the equestrian competition, and a demonstration match of lacrosse.[31]


Between 1936 and 1960 Wembley hosted all of the first fifteen finals of the Speedway World Championship. It hosted another nine World Finals before the last one at Wembley took place in 1981.[32] Wembley was also the home to the Wembley Lions motorcycle speedway team, formed by the Wembley Stadium chairman Sir Arthur Elvin.[15]

Speedway first took place at Wembley in 1929, and operated until the outbreak of World War II in 1939, a few days before the 1939 World Championship Final was due to be held, but was cancelled as a result of the war. The Lions returned in 1946 and operated in the top flight until the end of the 1956 season winning a number of League titles. A short lived revival saw the Lions in the British League in the 1970 and 1971 seasons. Lionel Van Praag, Tommy Price, and Freddie Williams, all won World Championships whilst riding for Wembley. The ashes for the speedway track were supplied by Richard Biffa Ltd who's operating base at the time was in Wembley Hill Road. Richard Biffa later became Biffa Waste Services.

The Speedway track at Wembley Stadium was 345 metres (377 yards) in length.

Rugby union

Though the venue was not traditionally a regular host of rugby union matches, England played a friendly against Canada on 17 October 1992, as their regular home stadium at Twickenham was undergoing redevelopment. Wales played their Five Nations and autumn international home matches at Wembley (as Twickenham Stadium would not accommodate them) while Cardiff Arms Park was being rebuilt as the Millennium Stadium in the late 1990s (despite being in England). In total there were seven internationals.

Date Competition Home team Away team
17 October 1992 1992 Autumn International Series England 26 Canada 13
29 November 1997 1997 Autumn International Series Wales 7 New Zealand 42
5 April 1998 1998 Five Nations Championship Wales 0 France 51
7 March 1998 1998 Five Nations Championship Wales 19 Scotland 13
14 November 1998 1998 Autumn International Series Wales 20 South Africa 28
20 February 1999 1999 Five Nations Championship Wales 23 Ireland 29
11 April 1999 1999 Five Nations Championship Wales 32 England 31

Greyhound racing

Wembley was also a regular venue for greyhound racing. It was the first sport Sir Arthur Elvin introduced to the stadium. The opening meeting was in 1927 and 50,000 people attended to watch the first race won by a greyhound named Spin.[33] The dog racing provided the stadium with its main source of regular income, especially in the early days, and continued to attract crowds of several thousand up until the early 1960s (Photo of wembley stadium, pepared for the next greyhound race:[3]).

Two of the biggest events in the greyhound racing calendar are the St Leger and Trafalgar Cup[34] Both were originally held at Wembley, the St Leger from 1928 until 1998 after which it moved to Wimbledon Stadium and the Trafalgar Cup from 1929 until 1998 after which it moved to Oxford Stadium. In 1931 the famous greyhound Mick the Miller won the St Leger.

Wembley's owner's refusal to cancel the regular greyhound racing meant that the match between Uruguay and France in the 1966 World Cup was played at White City.

American football

The National Football League held several preseason American football games at Wembley during the 1980s and 1990s. The Minnesota Vikings and the St. Louis Cardinals played the first game on 6 August 1983. The United States Football League also played an exhibition game there on 21 July 1984 between the Philadelphia Stars and Tampa Bay Bandits. The London Monarchs of the World League of American Football played at the venue in 1991 and 1992. Wembley hosted the inaugural World Bowl where the Monarchs defeated the Barcelona Dragons 21–0.

Gaelic football

From 1958 until the mid-1970s, hurling and gaelic football tournaments known as the "Wembley Tournaments" were held at Wembley Stadium to bring the Irish sports to expatriates in Britain at the time. Several Gaelic football games were played in Wembley Stadium, most of them exhibition matches, most notably Kerry and Down in 1961.

Other events

The stadium also staged women's field hockey matches in which England appeared in their annual match between 1951 to 1969 and then from 1971 to 1991.

On 26 May 1975, in front of 90,000 people, Evel Knievel crashed while trying to land a jump over thirteen single decker city buses, an accident which resulted in his initial retirement from his daredevil life.

In 1992, the World Wrestling Federation (now known as WWE) drew a sellout of 80,355 when SummerSlam was hosted at Wembley Stadium. The main event featured English wrestler Davey Boy Smith winning the Intercontinental Championship from Bret Hart.


The stadium became a musical venue in August 1972 with The London Rock and Roll Show, an all-star concert. It later played host to a number of concerts and events, most notably the British leg of Live Aid, which featured such acts as David Bowie, Queen, Paul McCartney, Elton John, The Who, Bon Jovi, Dire Straits and U2, held at the stadium on 13 July 1985. Phil Collins made news by performing at Wembley, then boarding a helicopter to London Heathrow Airport, taking a British Airways Concorde to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and performing at that segment of Live Aid at JFK Stadium on the same day.

Other charity concerts which took place in the stadium were the 1988 Human Rights Now! and Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute concert, The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert for AIDS Awareness and the NetAid charity concert.

Acts who played at Wembley Stadium include:

  • Michael Jackson (15 times, most by any artist in the history of Wembley Stadium, selling over 1.1 million tickets in the process)

During Michael Jackson's Bad World Tour in 1988, seven sell-out concerts were staged at Wembley which included five in a row, and two at a later date. Each concert had an attendance of 72,000 people. According to the Guinness Book of World Records Jackson set a new world record with 504,000 people attending the seven sold out concerts. Over 2 million people tried to buy tickets. More concerts could have been staged but the stadium's quota was full. These seven concerts were highly anticipated and created huge media attention. He was also give a special award by Wembley Stadium Officials for achieving this milestone. The concert on 16 July 1988 (One of the seven sell-out concert) was attended by Princess Diana and Prince Charles. The DVD of this concert (Michael Jackson: Live at Wembley July 16, 1988) was released on 18 September 2012 as part of the 25th Anniversary reissue of his 1987 hit album Bad and as well as a stand alone DVD. A further five sell-out concerts followed in 1992 during his Dangerous World Tour and his last three shows in 1997 during HIStory World Tour brought total tickets sale over 1.1 million. Till date this record is not broken.

  • Celine Dion (Twice, including 11 & 12 July 1999 as part of her Let's Talk About Love World Tour, performing to 80,000 people each night)
  • Tina Turner (seven times, who had five sold out concerts recorded during her Twenty Four Seven Tour for the live tour DVD in the year 2000)
  • Billy Joel (played 3 concerts in 1984 as part of the "An Innocent Man" tour)
  • Madonna (9 times, including 18, 19, 20 and 21 August 1987, 20, 21, 22 July 1990 and 25 and 26 September 1993, 22 September 2008)
  • The Animals (twice, once 1965 performing three songs at the NME Poll Winners Concert and the other on 31 December 1983, during their reunion tour, which was released as "Rip It To Shreds!" in 1984)
  • Oasis (two times, and recorded their video and album Familiar to Millions at Wembley)
  • Guns N' Roses (In 1991 Izzy Stradlin played his last show as an official member.)
  • Fleetwood Mac (They had 10 sold out shows in 1988 on their "Shake The Cage" tour)
  • Queen (Played two shows on the 1986 "Magic Tour", with the concert on 12 July recorded for a live album and VHS release which was later remastered to DVD)
  • Genesis (Played four consecutive sold out concerts 1-4 July 1987 with a total attendance of nearly 300,000. Shows were filmed for Genesis Live at Wembley Stadium)
  • Johnny Cash (Played in 1979, recorded for the BBC in 1981 and 1986)
  • The Who (18 August 1979: "The Who And Friends Roar In". Following a series of smaller warm-ups this was the band's first major concert after the death of drummer Keith Moon the previous year. An 80,000 sell-out.)
  • INXS (The Concert was recorded and released as a VHS/DVD with the name Live Baby Live)
  • Pink Floyd (2 nights in August 1988, World War II search lights were used outside the stadium for dramatic effect for approaching fans)
  • The Spice Girls (two times, one of which was recorded and released as a VHS/DVD)
  • The Electric Light Orchestra (Played in June 1978 and released an album with the name Live at Wembley '78)
  • The Bee Gees ("One Night Only" Tour in 1998 to a crowd in excess of 56,000)
  • Simple Minds (Played in August 1989)
  • Elton John (7 times, including 1977, 1984, 1992 and 1998. He headlined a summer concert in 1984, part of his European Express Tour, along with bands such as Paul Young, Kool and The Gang and Wang Chung. The show was recorded for a Showtime concert special.)
  • Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band (played three times on the 1984-85 Born in the U.S.A. Tour, twice on the 1988 Tunnel of Love Express Tour)
  • The Rolling Stones (12 times between 1982, 1990, 1995 and 1999)
  • U2 (9 times between 1985 and 1997, including Live Aid.)
  • The Eagles (2 nights in 1996 as part of their Hell Freezes Over Tour.)
  • Bon Jovi played three consecutive nights in June 1995, which were filmed for Live from London. They were also the last musical act to play at the old Wembley before it was closed, and they were scheduled to be the first band to play at the new Wembley Stadium, with concerts on 10 and 11 June 2006. However, due to the delays in the construction of the new stadium, the concerts were moved to the National Bowl in Milton Keynes.


  1. [dead link] Mayor of London – Case for Wembley Stadium
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  4. Sir Robert McAlpine Project Archive
  5. Photograph of exhibition site
  6. Map of exhibition site
  7. Sunday Tribune of India (newspaper) Article on exhibition (2004)
  8. British Pathe (agency) Film of British Empire Exhibition, reel one
  9. British Pathe (agency) Film of British Empire Exhibition, reel two
  10. British Pathe (agency) Film of British Empire Exhibition, reel three
  11. British Pathe (agency) Film of British Empire Exhibition, reel four
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  16. "Gates' Microsoft Becomes Wembley Stadium Backer". Forbes. 20 October 2005. http://www.forbes.com/2005/10/20/microsoft-wembley-sponsorship-cx_cn_1020autofacescan08.html.
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