Wembley stadium, London

Wembley Stadium is an iconic feature on the London skyline, and one of the most impressive sports venues in the world. 100 years after the original stadium was opened, find out more about the history of ‘The Home of Football’, how it was built and some of its most impressive features. 

Where is Wembley Stadium?

Wembley Stadium is in North West London, about 10 miles from Central London. The closest underground station is Wembley Park.  

The history of Wembley Stadium, the home of English football

Wembley Stadium is built on the same site as the original Wembley stadium, which closed in 2000 and was demolished in 2003. The old stadium was opened in 1923. It was originally called the ‘Empire Stadium’ and was English football’s national stadium. It hosted every FA Cup Final from 1923-2000, the Olympic Games of 1948, the World Cup Final of 1966, European Cup finals and numerous major international and domestic matches. Its Twin Towers were its most recognisable feature.   

When was Wembley Stadium built?

The new stadium was constructed between 2003 and 2007. Designing the stadium was a partnership between the design company Populous and world-renowned architects Foster and Partners. The challenge for the architects was to design a stadium that would have the same iconic atmosphere and stature of the old Wembley, but be a state of the art venue fit for the 21st century. As beloved as the old stadium was, its facilities had become out of date.  

When was Wembley Stadium opened? 

The new Wembley was officially opened for the FA Cup Final in May 2007. The opening had been due to be a year earlier, but delays meant this was not possible.  

Design and construction

The project cost a staggering £798 million, and there were numerous setbacks to contend with. But the stadium is a magnificent achievement of architecture and construction, and seeing it for the first time is breathtaking. It has won numerous building design awards.  

Its 90,000 seats are bigger, spectators have more legroom than the seats in the old stadium’s royal box and every fan now has an unobstructed view of the action on the pitch, which was not the case with the old Wembley.   

The iconic Wembley Stadium arch 

The most iconic feature of the stadium is the monumental steel arch, which is the longest single span roof structure in the world. It is 133 metres high and 315 metres long. It’s not merely decorative but has a major architectural purpose. It helps support the weight of the stadium’s north roof, and 60% of the weight of the retractable roof on the south of the stadium. It is an incredibly innovative example of structural engineering. During matches and stadium events the arch is lit up, and it is one of the most recognisable features of the London skyline.  

The retractable roof 

Spectators, players and performers are protected from inclement weather by the 7000 tonne retractable roof. The roof only takes 15 minutes to close. The roof panels can be manoeuvred to allow the maximum amount of sunlight to reach the playing area. One of the issues the stadium faced in its early years was poor grass growth, leading to the turf needing to be re-laid numerous times. The stadium is almost four times as high as its predecessor, casting more shadow over the pitch. One Wembley groundsman said it is like ‘growing grass in a shoebox’.  

The seats and pitch of Wembley stadium
The new Wembley stadium was opened in 2007

The construction process

The contractors for the project were the Australian company Multiplex. With such a huge build there were always going to be some challenges.  

The challenges faced during construction 

Raising the arch was a difficult process. It weighed 1700 tonnes and took five turning struts to lift it off the ground and rotate it to its final inclined position. A fatal accident during construction occurred when a crane collided with a platform and debris fell 100 ft. There were also problems with sewers buckling, fallen roof rafters and delays due to financial issues.  

Features and technology 

As might be expected from such an expensive and ambitious venue, Wembley stadium boasts some innovative technology, including:  

  • Two giant screens at either end of the stadium – each the equivalent of 600 TV sets combined  
  • A dedicated pitch-exclusive 5G mobile network – the first of its kind in the UK  
  • State of the art lighting – an LED floodlight system that uses 40% less energy, and can be turned on or off instantly  
  • Modern sound system – rotatable loudspeaker system suspended from wire ropes, giving every seat the same exceptional audio experience.  

There are 34 bars, 8 restaurants and 688 food and drink service points. Let’s not forget the toilets – there are 2,618, more than any other building in the world!  

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