Football’s coming home

Accustomed though we have become to the concept of England internationals being played in Manchester, Newcastle, Southampton and even – who would have thought it? – Wales, the return of competitive football to Wembley today was a reassuringly welcome notion, like coming home after a year travelling abroad.

OK, it was only an under-21 match – England versus Italy – but still.

Forget the well-documented budget and timing overruns which dogged the project throughout. Forget the ignominy of defeat suffered in the old stadium’s final game (the 1-0 defeat to Germany which marked the end of Kevin Keegan’s underachieving reign). This is a stunning construction.

Beyond the modern design and the characteristic arch which dominates the skyline for miles around (and which affords spectators an unobstructed, pillar-free view), the new 90,000-seater Wembley Stadium boasts some impressive statistics. 212,000 tons of concrete and a further 23,000 of steel went into its construction, and the site boasts nearly 700 catering outlets and – as anyone who has ever enjoyed a beer or three at a major sporting venue will appreciate – 2,618 toilets. (By comparison, the old Wembley had a paltry, leg-crossing 361 – and people wonder why the British are so good at queuing!)

It has been a long time since we have seen football at Wembley – in total, counting international, domestic cup and playoff finals, 61 matches over six and a half years have had to be relocated elsewhere – so any game at the new stadium would have been welcome, so long awaited (and much delayed) has it been.

The fact the game matched the occasion was just the icing on the cake. Only 25 seconds had elapsed when Giampaolo Pazzini earned the honour of scoring the new Wembley’s first competitive goal with a stunning long-range effort. David Bentley became the first England scorer half an hour later. And four goals in 15 second half minutes produced a 3-3 final scoreline, including the completion of a hat-trick – again, another first – by the impressive Pazzini.

So now we can (hopefully) look forward to the return of the FA Cup final and the England senior team to their spiritual home in May (not to mention the first NFL regular season game outside of the Americas in the autumn).

At last, football has come home. And it’s been worth the wait.

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