After a long hiatus for redevelopment, it was good to stride up Wembley Way on Saturday afternoon amidst a crowd of expectant spectators. They poured from the tube station, past the hot dog stalls and the ice cream van, heading south towards the epicentre of English football. But quite a strange crowd to be attending a big match, I thought. Almost all female (with just the odd bewildered husband tagging along), most over 50 or under 15, and not a stripy scarf in sight. So I wasn't entirely surprised when we reached the twin ramps up to the stadium and they continued onward at ground level and around the corner towards Wembley Arena. To attend the matinée performance of Strictly Come Dancing Live, as it turned out. The strictly macho stadium remained mostly untroubled by visitors, bar a few of us curious souls keen to view the arched wonder up close.
The wind whipped round the elevated concrete promenade. Up on level two the bronze figure of BobbyMoore stood watching over the stadium approach, a large St George's flag fluttering limply behind behind his right shoulder . Every 15 minutes or so a group of paid-up tourists emerged from the glass doors of "Club Wembley" to stand at his feet as their guide related the tale of our glorious 1966 World Cup victory. I understand that the rest of their £15 tour included rather more exclusive locations such as the Royal Box, the changing rooms and the Wembley Stadium Tour Cafe. Plus, of course, the official shop where you can purchase a souvenir tankard, a teddy bear or a patch of turf to remember your visit. Not for me. I held back for a few minutes to attempt to take a photograph that didn't contain a shaven-headed fan gawping in excited adulation . And then I continued on my free circumnavigation of the giant glass bowl. Which was closed.
The stadium has several entrances, all of them securely fastened with impregnable shiny metal doors when no event is underway. A long list of regulations informs spectators what they can and can't bring inside . No darts, air horns or explosives (obviously). No cameras, radios or umbrellas (good grief, I wonder how many unwitting visitors get those confiscated when they attempt to attend a concert or match). And no balls. One hopes that the England football team aren't required to abide by that last one.
What you can see from the outside of the stadium is the curved glass wall that rises up several storeys into the sky , and the great white arch above. Ahh, the Wembley Arch, a simple enough idea but so magnificently realised. It rises out of the walkway on opposite sides of the stadium, bolted into the ground with a big concrete plug, and launches into the sky in a sweeping white-piped curve . You don't really get a sense of its enormity from up close, but you do get some excellent arch-y reflections in the building as you walk round the perimeter . And you get some mighty fine views out across the surrounding area, just as they can see right back towards the arch even from several miles away .
Time your visit right and you might end up sharing most of your walk only with a couple of bored-looking security guards. Or time your visit right and you might end being swept along by a crowd of jubilant spectators celebrating a glorious national victory. It's all or nothing at the New Wembley. by tube: Wembley Park by bus: 92, PR2