When 200,000 entering the stadium. This was because thousands

When the Empire Stadium (renamed Wembley Stadium) was opened
in 1923, it was the forefront masterpiece of the British Empire Exhibition.
However, after the exhibition, the survival of the stadium was put into the
hands of Arthur Elvin in 1927. He had bought the venue and saved it from
certain destruction. In this essay, the commercial sporting history of Wembley Stadium
will be assessed through three key events. These events are: the 1923 FA Cup
Final; 1966 World Cup Final; and the construction of the ‘New Wembley’. During
this assessment, the impact of the events on culture, society and sport will be
evaluated so that Wembley’s journey from near demolition to worldwide spectacle
can be seen.

On 28th April 1923, the first FA Cup final at the
Empire Stadium was between Bolton Wanderers and West Ham United. The
anticipation leading up to the game was mixed. The Londoners and the
Northerners felt the rivalry between the North and the South, but despite the
stadium capacity reaching 125,000, it was reported only 35,000 tickets were
sold in advance. This was due to Bolton and West Ham failing to get big
attendances. Regardless of this, mismanagement on the day led to estimations of
200,000 entering the stadium. This was because thousands of spectators bought from
the turnstiles. This resulted in the stadium reaching its maximum capacity an
hour before kick-off, but the fans that couldn’t get in, climbed over the walls.
From this, the popularity makes it one of the most important events in Wembley’s
history (Spartacus Educational, 2014 and Hughson, 2016).

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Culture in sport can be defined as the “customs, ideas and
social behaviour” people show (Oxford Dictionary, 2018). This is important
while looking at the 1923 FA Cup final because it marks a unique moment for
English football. The spectators behaved surprisingly well amongst the chaos,
which contrasts to the hooliganism that would riddle through the sport 50 years
later. In the book ‘Soccer and Disaster: International Disasters’, the authors’
say the peaceful crowd “came to symbolise the orderliness of English crowds and
the wider working-class people” (Darby, Johnes and Mellor, 2005). This is
significant because it highlights the attitudes of the public. Spectators would
support teams based on location and would go to games with little attachment.
To add, they also had little interest showing aggression towards each other which
is a key reason why disaster didn’t strike when the stadium became
overpopulated. Despite the disorganisation, there was no public inquiry into it
and the final was regarded as a mass achievement; making it the first
commercial success for the stadium.

The FA Cup final would be held at the Empire Stadium
annually after the successful final. By doing so, it would impact social
aspects of the sport, for example, the amount of football spectators. The attendances
at the FA Cup final in the 1920s and 1930s didn’t drop below 90,000. Regardless
of the attendance decrease, it shows a high level of interest in the event. This
is because there were spectators willing to travel from all parts of the
country to Wembley to support their local team; despite it being difficult with
travel arrangements. This is shown through 9 of the 16 finalists between 1923
and 1930s were from the North. However, due to the lack of commercialisation of
football in the evolving media, for example the first radio broadcast in
football came in 1927, football’s popularity wouldn’t grow enormously until the
post-war years. Regardless of this, the FA Cup final did become an important
event. Its commercialisation grew through Pathe News which showed highlights in
cinemas. The impact of this led to the Empire Stadium and football obtaining
the commercial success it desired. As a result, the football fan-base would
grow due to the impact that the 1923 FA Cup final had at the Empire Stadium
(Pitchfork, 2010).

The final’s popularity wasn’t only a key moment in football
history, but also sporting history. This is because the venue was the biggest
in Europe and Arthur Elvin saw the potential it could have. After the underwhelming
Empire Exhibition, he believed the stadium’s purpose wasn’t only to hold football
events, but also a venue to bring the nation together for a wide range of
events like speedway. Elvin was a turning point for the Empire Stadium and
sport. He helped to commercialise football and boxing into the juggernauts they
are today by holding international football games; popularising other sports like
speedway which saw a crowd of 87,000 in 1937; and truly creating a National
Stadium. However, without the international success of the 1923 FA Cup final,
Elvin may have turned a blind eye to what the Empire Stadium could bring to
England and sport (Independent, 2018).

Moving onto the 1966 World Cup, the world had recovered from
World War 2. Football grew enormously as it played an important part in
bringing things back to normal for Britain. This was because it offered
entertainment and joy after its devastation from the Blitz and losing its fallen
heroes. Alf Ramsey assembled a team that revolved around the Hungarian style
that beat England 6-3 at WembleyEB1 
in. Through this, England beat West Germany 4-2 in the World Cup final. The
World Cup success caused drastic changes as it would not only secure Wembley at
the heart of English football, but also changed how people perceived it and how
fans behaved (The Guardian, 2008).

Before a ball was kicked in the World Cup, radical changes
and ideas had already taken place. Jimmy Hill led the charge to abolish the
£20-a-week rule and Match of the Day was introduced in 1964. For the World Cup
however, a cultural revolution took place. 75% of households had a television
by 1961. By combining this with radios, they acted as a driving force in
changing the culture of football during the World Cup. Slow motion was
introduced for viewers as well as a panel of a rotating 16 analysists on the
BBC – a similar idea that was used for the 2014 World Cup. On Final day, 38m in
the UK watched it on TV, while 400m watched it worldwide. For the first time,
Wembley was at the forefront of the world. The World Cup Final acted as a
commercialisation catalyst for people to get interested in football. In just
over 40 years, Wembley had helped football to adventure from a working-class
day-out culture, to the mainstream news on the television through the success
of the 1966 World Cup. Therefore, this shows how the World Cup was a significant
moment in the commercialisation of Wembley and football (Telegraph, 2017 and BBC,
2014).

The impact on the culture around football simultaneously
impacted the social aspects of the game. With the sport entering mainstream
news for the first time, the World Cup win was a turning point for English
sport. Football attendances increased on average across the four divisions.
Division 1 saw the biggest growth with an estimation of 27,000 attending per
game in 1966. This increased to an average estimation of 30,800 attending per
game in 1967. This figure would rise for the early 1970s, reaching a peak in
1970 of around 32,000 attending per game. The World Cup win would have played a
big role in the rise of popularity. Although it had a successful impact on
society in the short-term, it could be inferred it indirectly helped to cause the
rise of hooliganism in the 1970s. This is because of the sudden rise of people
taking interest in football matches and travelling around the nation on
football special trains. However, there is little evidence to suggest this.
Therefore, the World Cup impacted the society significantly as the sport became
more popular around Wembley (European Football Statistics, 2018).

The final key event for how Wembley Stadium and sport became
commercialised is through building the New Wembley Stadium. The reason why
Wembley had to be rebuilt was because the Old Wembley had poor facilities and
fell behind the standards after the Bradford Fire and Hillsborough disaster.
The dated and ill-equipped stadium either had to be rebuilt or removed as it
was no longer capable to hold important events. Controversially, the decision
was for it to be rebuilt as it was key to English sport. The impact of the New
Wembley has had mostly positive effects on culture, society and sport, but
there have been signs of negative effects also.

When the stadium re-opened in 2007, it became a turning
point in English football for how the culture would change. The ideals of design,
and facilities it has would go onto influence how other clubs begin to evolve
in the era of modern football. For example, Manchester City’s training complex
was influenced by the New Wembley. While the complex was inspired by most footballing
nations, Wembley was a key aspect of this. These ideas have been built on
significantly since 2007, and will continue to be pushed forward as more clubs
look to build new stadiums and facilities. For this reason, the New Wembley has
changed the way clubs behave towards their own grounds, which was non-existent during
the 1980s. Therefore, the cultural ideas have changed since the New Wembley was
built.

The new venue has had a big impact on the local community.
The stadium acts as a “centrepiece for massive regeneration efforts which will
totally transform the local area” (Wembley Stadium, 2018). This can be seen
through more than £70m being invested into the railway, road, and pedestrian
routes. As the regeneration projects grows, Wembley Stadium is at the heart of
it, because of the money it generates from various events. By it being an
attraction, the local shops and hotels will benefit greatly from Wembley’s
success because of the additional income when big events are held. The chain
reaction from having the New Wembley has been widely successful for Brent Council.
However, because of Wembley’s presence and domination, other parts of society
lose out. For example, every England football game and the most publicised English
boxing bouts, take place there, which means the pool of wealth is only being
distributed in one area. As well as this, it is difficult for those in the
North to attend the events because of travel times and costs. While the local
community is benefitting, other parts of the country are failing to reap the
same benefits. By doing so, this shows how Wembley has become enormously
commercialised since 1923 (Wembley Stadium, 2018).

Lastly, the impact on sport from the new stadium has had
both positive and negative effects. Wembley has become globally commercialised
through football, boxing and the NFL. The new venue has held two Champion
League Finals, some of the biggest boxing matches and helped commercialisation
of the NFL in England. By doing so, it has had a massive impact on sport in
England. The Anthony Joshua vs Vladimir Klitschko fight saw 90,000 attend the
bout, whereas the NFL attendance at Wembley has consistently been over 80,000.
This success makes the prospect of a London based NFL team even more likely. Furthermore,
even though Wembley has helped to grow other sports, there has become an ill-feeling
towards football and Wembley. This is because, every England game and FA Cup
Semi-Final is played there, which has caused criticism. Commercially it is the
best place for games to be played as it is the largest stadium, but recent
detachment between the FA Cup, the England national team and the fans, has
caused a loss of feelings, fans once felt when they went to Wembley. This
feeling has again been damaged through Tottenham Hotspurs playing every home
game there for the 2017/18 season; as will Chelsea for the 2018/19. Through
this, the mass commercialisation the New Wembley has brought to football has
now started to hinder it. In contrary, its role in the growth of sports like
boxing and the NFL are undeniable, and it is expected for the NFL will increase
in England in the next decade. As a result, the New Wembley has had a big
impact on sport which has seen the commercialisation of the stadium and the
sports increase since 2007 (Telegraph, 2017 and The Big Lead, 2017).

In conclusion, Wembley
Stadium has seen vast changes since it opened for the 1923 FA Cup final. Its
steady growth can be seen through the 3 key events in its history. During these
events, not only has Wembley become commercialised in the media and among
football fans, but the events have had a big impact on culture, society and
sport. Whether it acted as a catalyst or an inspiration, the example, the
change of culture during the 1966 World Cup. As a result, if Arthur Elvin
didn’t save Wembley in 1927, it is likely the culture, society and sport in
England would be a lot different. Therefore, Wembley is a pinnacle part of
English history.

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