Stadium Arcadium

Bristol Rovers fans will probably come away with happy memories. Tomorrow, Yeovil Town and Blackpool fans will get a chance to gawp at the New Wembley Stadium. And once they’ve gawped, they’ll head inside and perhaps be a little underwhelmed

Let’s get one thing straight. New Wembley is not a bad stadium. But compared to other around the country, it’s a tad uninspiring.

From the outside, the arc can be seen for miles around. And yes, this is something you can’t help giggling excitedly at for your first visit, knowing you’re going to Wembley.

Walking around the stadium, everything feels shiny and new and just a tad impressive. But inside, you could be anywhere in the world. Somebody, on one of the endless hours of coverage the Beeb devoted to the FA Cup Final, called it an airport lounge. I’d agree with that. Everything’s slick, clean and very professional.

There’s nothing wrong with being slick, clean and professional. But around the bar and food areas in Wembley… well, I’ve been in Starbucks with more personality. The food and drink service is like a very efficient, well-round clean McDonalds [1]. Again, there’s nothing wrong with this but there’s a nagging sense something’s missing.

The seating area’s a bit more impressive. Vast would be the correct word and it’s no lie that you’ll have a perfect view no matter where you are. But there’s something about the design that means it doesn’t seem to hold noise particularly well. Granted, the Exeter fans weren’t in particularly great voice but from where I was sitting the Morecambe noise faded quickly as well.

A Stadium can look fantastic. It can give you a perfect view. But if it’s difficult to generate and keep atmosphere then its failed in part of its job. Perhaps the slick inside contributes to this. Perhaps it just hasn’t had enough memories yet. But Wembley lags a long way behind other stadiums in Britain.

Take Twickenham. The noise and passion generated from the fans for the Leicester v Ospreys game earlier this year managed to send a shiver down even a neutral’s spine. They’re still rebuilding part of it, but the home of English Rugby is a very solid Stadium indeed and outstrips Wembley except for impressiveness from the outside.

Old Trafford is another stadium with more going for it. I’ve absolutely zero love for the Red Devils, Ryan Giggs apart, but OT generates a crackle outside it. Invaded by prawn sarnie lover in recent years, perhaps, but its still a sight to behold and can generate a wall of sound all around. And Man United’s home has something Wembley certainly doesn’t yet: memories.

But all of the above, for me, still can’t beat Cardiff’s wonderful Millennium Stadium. It looks stunning no matter where you approach it from, and the wooden walkway by the River Taf just adds to this. Walking in, you feel like you’re at a proper stadium, with a proper buzz, whether the match is Wales v New Zealand in rugby or the slightly less glamorous fixture of a dead rubber football fixture of Wales v Azerbaijan. And the sound. Roof on or off that building knows how to inspire people to sing and then keep that noise hanging there for an enternity

It looks great, it feels great, the view’s great and the whole experience is something special, no matter how many times you visit. The FA Cup may be back in Wembley, but it’ll have to do a lot to beat the temporary custodians while it was being rebuilt.

[1] I’m not going to gripe about the price of this. It’s only to be expected. Their pies are nice though. 

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