Saturday, 26 March 2016

Wembley Stadium

England 2-0 Estonia
(Euro16 Group E Qualifying tie)

9th October 2015

Having attended a match at the “old” Wembley during its swansong year, a trip to the “new” one was definitely on the old Bucket List.  That visit back in April 2000 had been for an Auto Windscreens Trophy Final between Stoke and Bristol City, and I would have been more than happy to attend another of these all lower league affairs, for the atmosphere really had been rather special.  But when I noted England were hosting Estonia on the Friday evening before my Saturday Rugby World Cup date at Twickenham, this clearly was too convenient an opportunity to pass up.

Approaching Wembley from the south, my plan had initially been to take the Piccadilly line up to Rayner’s Lane and then change onto the Metropolitan line.  But as the tube drew in to Alperton, there, on the not too distant horizon, I caught my first glimpse of the new stadium, arch and all.  So I jumped off there and then to set off on foot.

The route picked out for me by Google Maps had me initially heading up the Ealing Road, before detouring through what I have to say appeared to be quite the most ethnically un-diverse housing estate I think I have ever encountered: Asian-extraction one and all (nothing wrong with that of course).  I was then directed up a footpath which ran alongside the Cecil Avenue Allotments guiding me up and then over a railway line via an alarmingly steep flight of steps.  A most enjoyable walk in the early autumn sunshine it turned out to be…but I certainly would not be coming back this way after dark.

Any doubts I may have harboured that I was being sent on a wild goose chase by Google were dispelled when I encountered a mountain of discarded beer cans, which had been lazily tossed over a chain-link fence into the grounds of a school.  Clearly this was a route well-trodden by footie fans.  There was also, rather bizarrely, an old mattress amongst the detritus.  Beer cans I could understand, if not condone, but who brings a mattress to a football match to dispose of?

Wembley Stadium from the bridge which crosses the London Midland rail line.

"Hey, everybody! Somebody said 'mattress' to Mr Lambert !"

I appear to have made this pic look like a Winter scene - but it was actually a mild Autumn evening

One of the arch's feet.

Wembley Stadium arch.

Wembley Stadium arch.

The whole Wembley complex sits rather incongruously at the end of High Road, which is in effect just an old-fashioned shopping street – the fast food joints and hair salons contrasting jarringly with the up-market hotels and designer outlets which surround the stadium itself.

Externally that arch does give Wembley a certain cache, which it may otherwise lack.  But is it as iconic as the two towers?  Not in the slightest, but I wonder if perhaps it took a quarter century or so for those twin constructions to achieve their exalted status.  Perhaps by 2035, the arch will be equally revered.  But I rather doubt it.  Inside, however, the sheer size of the place took my breath away.  It was e-fucking-normous!

Given I knew those few Estonian fans who had made the trip from the Baltic state would be corralled into one of the corners of the stadium, I fully expected of find myself surrounded by Englishmen once I took my seat.  But not a bit of it.  To my immediate left and also in the row in front were a collection of Germans presumably stopping off on their way home from Dublin.  Whilst to my right were a pair of chaps from Belfast en route to Finland, proudly sporting green tops and still basking in the gloss of their side’s Euro16 qualification the previous evening.

Thus there was no feeling of being an alien at Wembley this evening – indeed as I left the ground I saw one fellow-countryman (or at least I assumed him to be) in kilt and CU Jimmy wig’n’bunnet!  Brave man.

Wembley Stadium - England v Estonia - October 2015

Wembley Stadium - England v Estonia - October 2015

England line up prior to match with Estonia - October 2015

Adam Lallana & Harry Kane

The Aesti !

One consequence of the introduction of the UEFA "Football Week"
is that travelling fans have the opportunity
to pick up additional international matches.  

Nevertheless, just to ensure my allegiance did not start wandering towards the visitors, and also, it had to be said, in order to attempt to inject a modicum of interest into the match, just before kick-off I made one of my very rare visits to a bookmaker and placed ten of my hard-earned pounds on Theo Walcott to open the scoring in a 3-0 home win; the odds given a rather neat 14-1.

With neither side having anything concrete to play for (England already qualified, and Estonia already out), I perhaps naively hoped both sets of players may toss a bit of caution to the winds and actually attempt to entertain us.  Unfortunately the tie lived down to all my expectations, and was the sort of encounter which made ditch water look like sparkling Malvern.  

Harry Kane in particular was just woeful, genuinely looking at times as if he may never score another goal in his life; guilty perhaps of trying too hard.  Raheem Stirling by contrast appeared filled to the brim with self-confidence, attempting time and again (to the frustration of his team-mates, I am sure) to dribble through the whole Estonian defence, rather than picking out an easy pass.

The other England forward, Theo WALCOTT - upon whose shoulders rested my financial future - as is his wont, flitted in and out of the match barely appearing interested.  He did, however, oblige me by opening the scoring seconds before the break.  Initially looking metres offside, TV replays later showed his apparent isolation in the visitors’ penalty box to be a wonder of timing.

This loss of a goal appeared to make not a jot of difference to the dreadfully negative attitude of the visitors; their whole philosophy this evening neatly summed up during a single passage of play midway through the second-half.   Nicking the ball off the England midfield and breaking up the right, the Estonians briefly appeared to enjoy a man advantage.  But, infuriatingly, rather than take a few chances they instead chose to turn back and within seconds the ball was back in the arms of their goalkeeper.  What a waste – both of a promising scoring opportunity….and of all of our time.

Any possibility of Estonia somehow snaffling anything from the tie was ended when STERLING enjoyed a tap-in from inside the six yard box (where was Kane?) five minutes from time.

Theo Walcott

Walcott's right-foot volley is saved by Mihkel Aksalu.

England v Estonia - October 2015

Walcott's goal initially looked offside.

England v Estonia - October 2015

Panorama of Wembley Stadium.

Here Harry Kane had the opportunity to win my bet for me, but somehow
contrived to poke this one wide rather than score.

Roy, Gary etc.

Estonian midfielder Konstantin Vassiljev -
currently plying his trade in the Polish leagues.  

England v Estonia - October 2015

A very rare trip upfield for the visitors.  Six players in the England box - clearly this must have been a set-piece.

I know this was naught but a dead rubber, and that little Estonia are not the most adventurous or glamorous of visitors, but the atmosphere inside Wembley really was funereal, this evening.  

Any sense of occasion had been further diminished, I suppose, by the fact Wayne Rooney, who had just broken the record for English international goals, missed the match due to injury.  He was trotted out beforehand to receive a golden boot from previous record holder Bobby Charlton.

Rooney gets the boot.

Does this make Rooney England’s greatest ever striker?  Rooney reached his half-century in 107 matches, I noted.  Charlton, by contrast achieved his 49 in just one match less.  But what Charlton did not enjoy were shooting-fish-in-a-barrel opportunities against the likes of San Marino, Kazakhstan, Andorra, Liechtenstein, Estonia and Montenegro; Rooney having picked up 15 of his total against this collection of plankton.

Off for a wander at half-time I discovered, as with the old Wembley, the concourse runs right around the ground, so I was able to take in the match from South Stand, where there were a very large number of empty seats.  So many in fact, that the PA-announced official attendance of 75,427 brought audible guffaws of disbelief from the few souls around me.

Empty seats to my left....

....and to my right.

Panorama of Wembley Stadium.

Panorama of Wembley Stadium.

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