Thursday, September 13, 2007

England at Wembley

To Wembley for the first time in 20 years to see my first ever competitive match here; England vs Russia in a Euro 2008 qualifier.

My brilliant friend Steve had been offered two free tickets from a famous database manufacturer, so off we went. Neither of us had been to the new Wembley stadium before.

First impressions, approaching from the White Horse Bridge side were of a shiny modern structure, like all modern stadiums looking like a shiny spaceship has landed in North London. Sad to say, from a distance only the slightly ridiculous arch really impresses.

What a contrast inside! It's massive, yet feels quite intimate, with tons of interesting details. It's still new enough to feel brand new, not a speck of rust or dirt anywhere - the seats unscratched, the concrete smooth, white paint shimmering in the flood lights. The atmosphere has that mildly hysterical feel of 'anything can happen' you get before major sporting events - drama without a script. What really shocks is the height of the stands - tier after tier rises up into the sky, row after row of white or red shirted fans, ever smaller and more distant.

It's a brilliant venue, and must make visiting teams (and match officials) feel small and vulnerable. No England team will lose many matches here, especially when it's as it was last night - filled to capacity.

Britain is an aggressively secular country (we don't do god here), so perhaps football fills some kind of spiritual and emotional need that religion meets elsewhere. When England score their first goal the men SHOUT, the women SCREAM, the children HOWL and you can feel the emotion like a solid object. It's intense and vivid and shocking to be in the midst of such raw passion.

England go on to play with increasing confidence and score another two, including a beautiful shot from Micheal Owen to get his second goal of the match and 40th for the team. My respect for the players grows all the while - they manage to perform the most difficult and at times delicate moves with perfect co-ordination while 80,000 people periodically go insane around them.

One of those vivid evenings I know I'll never forget.


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