Hall of Shame #36: The new Wembley Stadium
Richard Selbourne has nominated the new Wembley Stadium and Swindon’s three recent performances into the STFC Hall of Shame…
If you’re as old as I am, you will smile smugly to yourself as you remember the Don calmly skipping through the mud and rounding Bob Wilson in the Arsenal goal to win the League Cup for Swindon Town in March 1969. This marked the greatest moment in the club’s history.
You were, no doubt, also at Wembley in May 1990 when Ossie Ardiles’ free-flowing team destroyed Sunderland in of the most one-sided 1-0 games ever played on the hallowed turf. Alan McLoughin’s deflected first-half goal all that the Town had to show for long spells of pressure and an endless string of chances.
While the Football League deemed it necessary to snatch the prize of promotion to the top flight away from us in a cruel case of double standards, it didn’t take long for the club to right that wrong. Three years later, Glenn Hoddle brought Swindon back to Wembley for yet another victory in a see-saw game that saw us give up a 3-0 lead, only to snatch a dramatic victory with a late Paul Bodin penalty.
Oh, how we loved our days out to the national stadium. Our run of heroic successes led to a terrace chant (we still had terraces in those days) that served us well for many years; “We’ve never lost at Wembley!”
Then, at the turn of the century, the FA decided they hadn’t punished us enough for that irregular payments scandal from the Brain Hillier and Lou Macari era, and they proceeded to demolish our favourite away ground. The last game to be played under the twin towers was England’s World Cup Qualifier against Germany in October 2000, with Kevin Keegan resigning after the dismal 1-0 defeat.
The new stadium was originally planned to take three years to build, but work was inevitably delayed after a number of legal and financial difficulties. In the end, the national team lived a nomadic lifestyle for seven years, traipsing the length of the country from Newcastle to Southampton for home games while cup finals and play-off finals were moved to the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. We would have appeared in one of those ourselves in 2004, but for penalty shoot-out heart-break in the semi-final at Brighton.
As it happens, we didn’t have to wait long after the long-awaited new £798 million Wembley Stadium opened in 2007 till we got the chance to check it out for ourselves.
In 2010, Danny Wilson guided a team that had finished 15th in League One the season before to a play-off final against Millwall. Living near High Wycombe, I caught the train from there directly to the new Mecca. The carriages were packed with Town fans and more poured on at Beaconsfield and Gerrards Cross and, as we pulled into Wembley Stadium station, we marveled at the huge construction with its magnificent arch appearing to be a suitable replacement for the iconic twin towers.
While the new stadium, with its 34 bars (including plenty for lovers of Champagne and seafood), 688 food and drink service points and 2,618 toilets, was undeniably impressive, it lacked the character of the old one. The spacious rows of seats were good for legroom, but did nothing for the intensity of the atmosphere. It didn’t help, of course, that while Swindon brought more than 30,000 fans for the occasion, the team never showed up. This was the most one-sided 1-0 game played on the hallowed turf since Swindon beat Sunderland in 1990. Apart from the infamous bobble when Charlie Austin was clean through, we hardly created a single chance while Millwall seemed to miss a sitter every ten minutes.
This game was disappointing enough, but the following season was even more so and resulted in relegation to the Football League’s bottom tier, prompting the arrival of Paolo Di Canio.
In March 2012, on our way to winning the League Two championship, we were back at Wembley for the JPT Trophy Final. Not quite as many as for the Millwall game, but still nearly 30,000 Town fans headed to London full of optimism for the match against Chesterfield, a team struggling at the bottom of League One.
The team coach must have lost its bearings on the way up from Wiltshire because, once again, the players never showed up. We lost 2-0 and played with an inexplicable lack of confidence and fluidity, considering our lofty league position. Once again, the Town fans were streaming out of the stadium, long before the trophy was presented to the victors.
You never ever how long it’s going to be before you’ll get another chance to put the face paint and the jester’s hat back on again. Not very long in this case, as it happens.
In May 2015, we returned for the third time in just five years for another League One Play-Off Final, this time against Preston North End. Preston had been in the play-offs nine times since they’d been invented and hadn’t won a single one – surely this would be our year.
Whether it was the effect of those two previous lacklustre defeats or the result of ludicrously high ticket pricing, just 22,000 Town fans were well outnumbered by those cheering on the Lancashire club.
Mark Cooper and Lee Power had assembled a talented young side, but their big mistake was not recruiting a new driver for the team coach. For the third time in five years, the team never showed up; 2-0 down after 13 minutes, 4-0 down after 90. Like many Town fans that day, I wasn’t inside the stadium to hear the final whistle.
Enough is enough. The way I see it we have one of two options: wait for our luck to change or take matters into our own hands. That’s why I would invite you to click the link below and sign my petition: