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The original Wembley Stadium, known as the Empire Stadium, was a football stadium in Wembleymarker, a suburb of north-west London, standing on the site now occupied by the new Wembley Stadiummarker that opened in 2007.


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 or simply Empire Stadium, it was built by Sir Robert McAlpine for the British Empire Exhibitionof 1924 (extended to 1925).

The stadium cost £750,000, and was constructed on the site of an earlier folly called Watkin's Towermarker. The architects were Sir John Simpson and Maxwell Ayrton 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 , a Scotmarker who was chairman of the organising committee for the Empire Exhibition. The ground had been used for football as early as the 1880s/

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". Elvin offered to buy the stadium for £127,000, using a £12,000 downpayment and the balance plus interest payable over ten years.

After complications following the death of 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.

The stadium's distinctive Twin Towers became its trademark. 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 Poolmarker was built nearby. The 'Wembley Stadium Collection' is held by the National Football Museummarker. The stadium closed in October 2000, and was demolished in 2003 for redevelopmentmarker.


White Horse Cup Final

Crowds define the edges of the pitch and watch from the roof
Empire Stadium was built in exactly 300 days at the cost of £750,000. Described as the world's greatest sporting arena (at the time), it was ready only 4 days before the White Horse Final. The FA had not considered admission by ticket, grossly under-estimating 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, since has been ticketed.
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 to well over 300,000. 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, which is very unlikely to be broken in the near future. (This claim, however, is disputed, as the Maracanamarker held (officially) 199,854 fans during the 1950 World Cup final match between Brazil and Uruguay.) 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 stadium also sported the largest football pitch in the world until it was made smaller to conform to FIFAmarker regulations.

"The Matthews Final"

The 1953 FA Cup Final, dubbed the "Matthews Final", after the performance of the winger, between Blackpool and Bolton Wanderers. At 38, this was likely to be Matthews' third and final chance to earn an FA Cup winner's medal. In the previous six years, he failed to earn a winner's medal against Manchester United in 1948 and Newcastle United in 1951. It featured a hat-trick by Blackpool's Stan Mortensen in his side's 4–3 win. It remained the only hat-trick ever scored in an FA Cup Final at the original Wembley.

The Home of Football and England

The FA Cup final was played there in April or May until 2000 (excluding the 1970 replay when Chelsea beat Leeds at Old Traffordmarker). 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), Associate Members' Cup and the Football League promotion play-offs (in the early years of play-offs they were home and away fixtures).

As the home of the English national football team, 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. The penultimate and ultimate competitive games played at the stadium resulted in 0–1 defeats for England to Scotland and Germany respectively.

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. The last such occasion was in 1992, when Barcelona played Sampdoria. The FA unsuccessfully bid for the redeveloped Wembley to host the 2007 final. Wembley has also hosted two UEFA Cup Winners' Cup finals (in 1965, when West Ham United beat 1860 Munich, and 1993).

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 and in 1930–31 for eight matches by non-League Ealing A.F.C. It was also to be the home of the amateur club which made several applications to join the Football League, the Argonauts.

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. David Jack scored the first goal at Wembley during The White Horse Final in 1923. The last goal to be scored at the old Wembley came in Kevin Keegan's last game as England manager. Manchester City midfielder Dietmar Hamann (at the time a Liverpool player) hit a low free-kick as England were beaten 0–1 by their arch-rivals Germany on 7 October 2000. On that day, Tony Adams played his 60th Wembley match, setting the record for the most matches played there. As well as England appearances, his tally includes Cup Finals, Cup semi-finals, pre-season tournaments and Champions League matches for Arsenal. Adams captained England in that match and was also the last ever England player to score in an international fixture at the stadium, having scored against Ukraine.

Of Wembley Stadium, Pelé said, "Wembley is the cathedral of football. It is the capital of football and it is the heart of football." in recognition of its status as the world's best-known football stadium.

Prior to the 1923 Wembley stadium, international football games had been played by England at two other notable stadia. Most early internationals (including the first ever international football match (1870)) were played at the Ovalmarker, which had been built in 1845 and has always been a major cricket venue. Internationals were also played at Bramall Lanemarker, Sheffieldmarker, which hosted its first football match in 1862 and is currently the home of Sheffield United FC

Other sports

Close-up of one of the Twin Towers

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.


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

Rugby League

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 largest crowd being for the 1985 cup final when Wiganmarker beat Hull F.C. 28–24 in front of 99,801 fans. The stadium was also regularly used by the sport for major international matches, such as Great Britain versus Australia. 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 Aussies won the game 10–6 on the back of a brilliant Steve Renouf try in the north-east corner and Meninga's almost flawless goal kicking. The first Ashes tests of 1990 and 1994 are also particularly well remembered by English rugby league supporters. The 1995 World Cup final between England and Australia was also played at Wembley with 66,540 fans watching Australia win 16–8.

Rugby union

Though the venue has not traditionally been a regular host of rugby union matches, England played a friendly against Canada on October 17, 1992, as their regular home stadium at Twickenhammarker was undergoing redevelopment. Wales played its Five Nations home matches at Wembley (as Twickenham Stadiummarker would not accommodate them) while Cardiff Arms Parkmarker was being rebuilt as the Millennium Stadiummarker in the early 2000s (despite being in England).
Interior of Old Wembley Stadium


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. 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:[22107]).

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 Citymarker.

American football

The National Football League held several preseason American football games at Wembley during the 1980s and 1990s, and 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

Wembley 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 31 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 drew a sellout of 80,355 when SummerSlam was hosted at Wembley Stadium. This was one of the biggest crowds ever at a WWWF/WWF/WWE event (and may in fact be the biggest due to the doubts surrounding the attendance of WrestleMania III). The main event featured English wrestler Davey Boy Smith winning the Intercontinental Championship from Bret Hart.


Wembley Stadium became a musical venue in August 1972 with an all-star rock 'n' roll concert called the London Rock and Roll Show. It since 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, The Who, Dire Straits and U2, was held at the stadium on 13 July 1985.

Other charity concerts which took place in the stadium were the 1988 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:

During Michael Jackson's Bad 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 total concerts. These seven concerts were highly anticipated and created huge media attention. A further six sell-out concerts followed in 1992 during his Dangerous Tour and his three shows in 1997 during his HIStory Tour brought total tickets sold to over 1.1 million. Until the demolition of the 1923 stadium, this record had not been beaten.

Bon Jovi were 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 June 2006 and the following day. However, due to the delays in the construction of the new stadium, the concerts were moved to the National Bowlmarker in Milton Keynesmarker.


  1. Staff (17 June 1924) "Asks Premier to Stop Rodeo Steer Roping; British Society Appeals 'in Name of Humanity' Against Contest of American Cowboys" New York Times"
  2. Sir Robert McAlpine Project Archive
  3. Photograph of exhibition site
  4. Map of exhibition site
  5. Sunday Tribune of India (newspaper) Article on exhibition (2004)
  6. British Pathe (agency) Film of British Empire Exhibition, reel one
  7. British Pathe (agency) Film of British Empire Exhibition, reel two
  8. British Pathe (agency) Film of British Empire Exhibition, reel three
  9. British Pathe (agency) Film of British Empire Exhibition, reel four
  10. Sutcliffe, Anthony London: An Architectural History (Yale University Press, 2006, ISBN 0300110065), p. 172 online at, accessed 4 February 2009
  11. Jacobs, N and Lipscombe, P (2005). Wembley Speedway: The Pre-War Years. Stroud: Tempus Publishing ISBN 0-7524-3750-X
  12. Jacobs, N and Lipscombe, P (2005). Wembley Speedway: The Pre-War Years. Stroud: Tempus Publishing ISBN 0-7524-3750-X
  13. Mayor of London - Case for Wembley Stadium
  14. Bamford, R and Jarvis J.(2001). Homes of British Speedway. Stroud: Tempus Publishing ISBN 0-7524-2210-3
  15. Jacobs, N and Lipscombe, P (2005). Wembley Speedway: The Pre-War Years. Stroud: Tempus Publishing ISBN 0-7524-3750-X

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