“My memories are the old Wembley because it’s the first time I played in 98 I think against Newcastle in the Final. When I was a kid I watched the games at Wembley on television so that (98 Final) was the first time for me to reach Wembley. Now we have been a bit more used to it and the new Wembley is like a stadium you meet everywhere, but it’s still massive. You see your fans coming in and it’s a unique experience for them and their children in life and they never forget. I feel happy to be there. We have played a few games there now.”
Whilst Arsene may not agree with much I write these days he made a very good stab at what I feel about Wembley at his pre-match press conference today (Thursday). On that basis I should really go back to the days when the ends of the stadium were uncovered. Apparently my first game at the stadium was England versus Russia in 1958. Forgive me for not remembering it. I was only eighteen months old!
So I share Arsene’s attachment to the old stadium after it was completely re-roofed in 1963. I missed Arsenal’s first Wembley of my lifetime in 1968 as we were moving house. Terry Cooper won it for dirty Leeds after Jack Charlton left goalkeeper Jim Furnell on the deck at a corner. I made two trips there in 1969, first to see John Radford’s England debut, a 1-1 draw with Romania. The second I remember rather more but sadly defeat to Third Division Swindon is a match I am reminded of to this day.
My love affair with the old girl took flight in the seventies with two remarkable FA Cup triumphs. We came from behind to defeat Liverpool in extra-time to complete the double in 1971. Behind the goal where Charlie George smashed in the winner a huge swaying mass of Gooners made a tremendous atmosphere. Eight years later Alan Sunderland won the ‘five minute Final’ and we were behind the goal at the tunnel end where he struck the last-gasp winner.
There were to be other great days there. A first League Cup triumph in 1987 thanks to champagne Charlie, the Cup double in 93, and the second double winning Final against Newcastle that provided Arsene with his first experience of the national stadium. Those two in the seventies however burned the iconic twin towers into my heart. I know the facilities underneath the stadium were tired by the time the wrecking ball moved in, but I cannot help but believe that a massive mistake was made in not incorporating the twin towers into the new design.
It also doesn’t help that my first trip to the ‘new’ Wembley was for a semi-final defeat against the bus stop in Fulham. Perhaps the memory is playing tricks, but these days getting away from the new stadium by public transport is a drawn-out chore. Added to that with one exception I have always ended up in that oxygen-starved tier five. Fine if you only have a couple of steps to climb to get to your row, but a nightmare when further back.
Obviously we have now had some wonderful wins there, and I will never forget the triumphs of 2014 and 2015, but with a loud PA system drowning out any pre-match atmosphere, expensive food and drink, and the lack of soul that is shared with so many other new stadia I just cannot love the current incarnation. That will be an age-related thing you may think, and you might be right. The analogy with my feelings about Highbury and the Grove is not lost on me.
Give us a couple of reasons to feel more positive about the place this year please, Arsene and the Arsenal.