Once it was a name that evoked magic, dreams and destiny. In recent years it's taken on connotations of folly, nightmare and derision, but now it looks finally as if Wembley might be ready to resume its place at the very top of the pantheon of British sporting venues. The troubled new stadium has been granted its fire alarm safety certificate, the first tangible evidence that it might really be ready to hold all those football finals and rock concerts that have been queuing up for so long. We suspect the embers of sporting romance are beginning to rekindle even in cynical hearts hardened by the arguments, overruns and financial troubles that have beset the project.
We remember when the painfully slow lifting of what appeared to be a giant ferris wheel into position near Waterloo was greeted with disbelieving laughter that anything so monstrously twee could have been considered a suitable monument for the new Millennium. Yes, there were reservations down in the docklands, but surely the Dome was the safer bet for a long term addition to the highlights sections of London guidebooks? Even James Bond seemed to think so. The vibes coming from those who've had a look around the nearly completed Wembley indicate that we'll soon be enjoying the ride so much people will look at you oddly if you ever suggest that the project was going to be anything other than a riproaring success. The Guardian's Jonathan Glancey was certainly overawed by:
...a vast, saucer-shaped, 90,000-seat arena, twice the size and four times as high as the old Wembley, and crowned (although its principal architect, Norman Foster, describes this as a "tiara") with an eye-boggling steel arch, so high that the London Eye could be bowled through it with room to spare, and so substantial that a Eurostar train might just run up, through and down its great length.
Nevertheless, there's plenty of dusting to do before it's a done deal, as some bookmakers are keen to make clear:
William Hill will not be paying out to punters who have placed bets on Wembley being ready for the FA Cup Final until the first ball is kicked on the 19th of May. Hills have now closed the book on whether the stadium would host the Final - offering 1/7 that the Cup Final would be played at Wembley and 4/1 that it would be played in Cardiff, the vast majority of wagers were placed for the stadium not to be ready. “The whole Wembley saga has cost us a fortune, mainly because we listened to information coming out of the FA a year ago, which suggested the stadium would be ready for last year's Final. Therefore, we will not be taking their word for it this time round," said Hill's spokesman Rupert Adams.
In fact it's the pop stars who seem more sure of imminent completion than the sporting fraternity. Muse are already lined up to be the first band to headline underneath the illuminated arch and Metallica are reported to be ready to follow in their footsteps on Sunday July 8th. George Michael seems to have got in before either of them, though he may yet provide the irony of being the first artiste to cancel the stadium courtesy of a Bench in Brent not destined to be installed on the touchline:
Judge Katherine Marshall responded sarcastically to claims Michael was unable to attend the court dates because he had just announced a European tour. She said: "He's playing Wembley on June 9 isn't he? So he is in the area. I know he's busy, but he may have to take a day off work."
Someone facing the opposite prospect is blogger El Director:
I never went to the old stadium. It's unlikely that I will go to the new one, so it doesn't make the slightest bit of difference to me. However for my bus garage, the news is perfect as they supply the shuttle services for the new stadium. Ah, the smell of overtime...
Picture of Wembley Stadium last Tuesday courtesy of Londonist going past on a train.