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The old Wembley Stadium: demolished to make room for the new Wembley Stadium

Nikola Petrovski

World-famous Brazilian football player Pelé dubbed the stadium as “the cathedral of football.”

Known as the Empire Stadium, the old Wembley Stadium was home to countless football games, as well as the 1948 Summer Olympics, music concerts, rugby games, motorcycle speedway championships, and many other events. It was demolished in 2002.

Old photo of the stadium in 1954.

Old photo of the stadium in 1954.

It was opened on April 28, 1923, and King George V attended the ceremony. It was erected on the grounds of the original Wembley Park, which was designed by the renowned English landscape architect Humphry Repton.

Previously, the park was once the location of the folly Watkin’s Tower. Dubbed as the “Great Tower of London,” it would have surpassed the height of the Parisian Eiffel Tower if the project hadn’t been terminated in 1907.

Where Watkin’s Tower once stood. Author: Simmons Aerofilms

Where Watkin’s Tower once stood. Author: Simmons Aerofilms

The stadium was erected to serve the British Empire Exhibition and at the time it was named the British Empire Exhibition Stadium – thus the moniker Empire Stadium.

The construction company hired for the build was Sir Robert McAlpine. The Millennium Dome, Newcastle Civic Centre, and the Eden Project are only a few of the company’s many projects.

Part of the game England vs Scotland in 1981. Author: Steve Daniels – CC BY-SA 2.0

Part of the game England vs Scotland in 1981. Author: Steve Daniels – CC BY-SA 2.0

The owner James White spent £750,000 ($1,010,000) on the build – the equivalent of over $5 million in today’s money. Maxwell Ayrton and Sir John William Simpson were the architects behind the design.

They were aided by Sir Owen Williams, the well-known British engineer/architect whose portfolio includes projects such as the Wakefield Bridge and “Spaghetti Junction.”

Initially, the stadium was intended to be demolished after the British Empire Exhibition ended, but it remained in use until 2002. Sir Arthur Elvin offered to buy it when it was abandoned after the exhibition.

Photo of the Old Wembley Stadium. Author: Geni – CC BY-SA 3.0

Photo of the Old Wembley Stadium. Author: Geni – CC BY-SA 3.0

He offered to pay £127,000 ($171,000), but James White passed away at the time of negotiations and things became complicated.

The new owners, the Wembley Company, refused to sell the stadium for less than it was worth. Elvin agreed to pay the full price and became the new owner.

It wasn’t long before the Wembley Company changed their minds and bought it back. Instead of cash, Elvin was given shares and he became the new chairman.

Photo of the Old Wembley Stadium. Author: Geni – CC BY-SA 3.0

Photo of the Old Wembley Stadium. Author: Geni – CC BY-SA 3.0

Over the years, the stadium became more and more famous. The FA Cup Finals were held in Wembley in 1923. After this event followed countless others, including the 1953 FA Cup Final and 5 European Cup Finals.

The first European Cup Final to be held at Wembley was in 1963, and the final match was between S. L. Benfica and Milan. The last was in 1992, with the final game between Barcelona and Sampdoria.

The Royal Box in 1986. Author: Steve Daniels – CC BY-SA 2.0

The Royal Box in 1986. Author: Steve Daniels – CC BY-SA 2.0

One of the last games to be played on the stadium’s turf happened on May 20, 2000, when Aston Villa lost in a duel against Chelsea. A number of rugby games were also held, such as the 1999 Challenge Cup.

Besides the numerous sporting events, the stadium was also home to a great number of concerts. On July 13, 1985, the British Live Aid concert was held.

Many famous artists participated such as Queen, David Bowie, The Who, U2, and Elton John. On June 11, 1988, there was a concert dedicated to Nelson Mandela’s 70th birthday.

During the Live Aid concert. Author: Squelle – CC BY-SA 3.0

During the Live Aid concert. Author: Squelle – CC BY-SA 3.0

Michael Jackson played at the stadium a total of 15 times, and the stage also hosted Beyoncé, Celine Dion, Guns N’ Roses, Johnny Cash, Pink Floyd, and the Spice Girls to name only a few.

The new Wembley Stadium. Author: Jbmg40 – CC BY-SA 3.0

The new Wembley Stadium. Author: Jbmg40 – CC BY-SA 3.0

All came to an end in October 2000. The old Wembly Stadium was closed and remained locked for two years before the demolition process began in December 2002. A year later, the stadium was completely gone.

Construction of the current stadium, which bears the same name, began in 2003 and it was officially opened in 2007.