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Wembley: Stadium of Legends by Pete Tomsett & Chris Brand

Release date: 06th April, 2007
Publisher: Dewi Lewis Media

List Price: £12.99
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A few years ago, long before the final decision to rebuild a 'national' football stadium in London was officially taken - without too much serious consultation, it should be said - a newspaper reporter concluded that a stadium reserved ostensibly for the FA Cup should be built somewhere along the M62.

His thesis was faultless: since 1945, the vast majority of finalists had come from the north and if the FA had any kind of empathy with football fans, it followed that a new stadium funded by them should have been built at a convenient junction on one of the nation's principle east-west thoroughfares.

Of course, there was never much doubt that the £800-odd million that Wembley has officially cost would be spent in what remains an incredibly inconvenient location. Fans arriving in the capital by train must first go into central London and then endure another hour or so being herded back north on overcrowded Tubes.

Yet despite the overcrowding, rip-off pricing and inconvenience, Wembley retains a place in the heart of most football fans. Moreover, a number of authors and others have endeavoured to capture the stadium's unique appeal in print with varying degrees of success. From Wembley Wizards to FA Cup histories - even Colin himself has had a crack with Neil Warnock''s Wembley Way, published in 1996.

Now Pete Tomsett and Chris Brand have produced an account of Wembley which may be politely described as 'history lite'. Readers may wonder whether there really is any need for 26 pages of photographs of cranes and JCB's, first demolishing the old stadium and then rebuilding the new. Probably not in a book running to 160 pages. This is a pity because what precedes this liberal use of construction site photography is actually quite good.

The authors embark on a whistle-stop history of the area, starting with the little-known fact that in 825 AD, the land upon which the stadium would eventually appear was owned by the Archbishop of Canterbury and was known as Wemba Lea. This is literally translated as 'Wemba's clearing', but surely it was the forerunner to the terrace chant which will be heard at many ground from next season, "We're the greatest team in Europe and we're going to Wemba Lea! Wemba Lea, Wemba Lea!"?

Moreover, as the PC brigade tighten their already tight control over our lives, it's encouraging to learn that readers will still have the opportunity to discover that the original arena was known as the Empire Stadium. None of that now, of course: it's the English National Stadium.

While Tomsett and Baird touch upon aspects of Wembley's history and reveal some fascinating facts - 16 different sports were played there, for example - this could not be called a completely comprehensive account, even though several stats will provide some great pub quiz questions. Did you know that Bros and Simple Minds accompanied Cliff Richard in concert at Wembley in 1989? Or that Wigan beat Dewsbury 13-2 in the first Rugby League Challenge Cup final played there in 1929?

Details of every single football match ever played on the hallowed Wembley turf are also listed - from the Middlesex Senior Red Cross Cup Final of 1945 (Golders Green beat Tufnell Park 4-1) to the Simod Cup Final of 1989 (Nottingham Forest beat Everton 4-3) and ending with England's 1-0 defeat to Germany in October 2000.

"In a world that has developed so great a devotion to sport, there is no arena that can compare with Wembley's" said the Official Guide to the British Empire Exhibition in 1924. Such was the old ground's unique place in our sporting life, it seems peculiar that a definite history of the place remains unwritten.


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