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(2007-05-23 21:28:06)







Wembley fit for its new heroes



IT IS A SELDOM RECOGNISED FACT that if England’s national stadium had been built a couple of miles farther south, the place-name synonymous with glory would be Neasden. The only reason it doesn’t have the same ring as Wembley is because the stadium was built in one unexciting London suburb rather than another. If the old Twin Towers had raised their length from the end of Neasden Way, it is the name of Neasden that would have echoed round the world: a name for ever inextricable from that passion of the crazy English.



We’re going to Neasden, we’re going to Neasden! You’re not! You’re not! All we have to do is beat your lot in the semis and we’re on our way to Neasden. The name would be sung with joy when that semi-final victory had been secured: Neasden! Semper Neasden! Neasden, the peg on which we hang our dreams! Neasden, the place where heaven awaits for half of those who walk along Neasden Way; where hell awaits the rest.

我们去Neasden,我们去Neasden,但你却不是Neasden,你不是!我们所要做的就是在半决赛中把你打得落花流水然后就踏上去Neasden的征程。当确保半决赛胜利后,这个名字将被我们津津乐道地高唱:Neasden!永远的Neasden! Neasden,我们梦想的寄托!Neasden,对其中一半沿Neasden路前来看球的人而言,它就是天堂;而对另一半人,它是地狱。


Neasden, where England had their finest hour, where all those agonies of qualification were endured. Neasden, where every player in the world longs to set foot. Neasden, that name almost as famous as football itself. Neasden, my hopes, my dreams, my heartbreak, Neasden, my shame, my glory, Neasden, my heart, my soul, my self: Neasden, mon amour!



But actually, it’s Wembley. A no more enticing place, one whose principal virtue is that it’s quite easy to leave. But it’s not the place, as it exists in physical terms, that matters. It is the spiritual Wembley that matters: the Wembley that exists in our imaginations and our dreams of glory. That’s why we want – rather than need – a national stadium.



It’s not because we need a Brobdingnagian structure we can see from the train, or because we need a large concrete boast to impress foreigners, or because the football team need a stable home. No: it’s because our national temperament, our national mythology, demands that our dreams of glory be tied to a place. And there is only one place that can be.



I must say, I rather enjoyed the England road show, while it lasted, before the FA lost its nerve and held every match at Old Trafford. England played at Sunderland, Middlesbrough and Newcastle, White Hart Lane and Villa Park, and even Southampton: the show came to the people and the people responded with full hearts. It was a pleasant change from the glum-mer days of the old Wembley, when scattered clusters of people peered gloomily at a struggling England team over the vast, empty wastes of the dog-track.



No: England had no need of an national stadium, just a huge, overweening desire for one. And so, a mere seven years and 800 million quid later, it came to pass, and I stepped out of Wembley Park tube and walked the few hundred yards along Wembley Way (named, but never actually called Olympic Way, such is the power of the name) and found myself almost unwillingly impressed.



You’ve got to hand it to old Fozzie, that arch is a damn good wheeze. Apparently it even holds up the roof, an altogether unexpected bonus. Its main function is to look cool; to make the stadium look like a suitable place for dreams of glory.



Wembley Stadium is not just a space to contain lots of people and a football match. Its function – perhaps even its principal function – is as a repository for myths. That’s what the arch supports: not roofs, but dreams.



I prefer bridges to stadiums. A good bridge speaks of human ambition, striving, belief. Clift-on Suspension Bridge, the old Severn Bridge, the Orwell Bridge: they have an unquenchable optimism, a soaring of the human spirit. It is an architectural triumph that New Wembley manages to express the same thing, albeit in a muted form.



And inside, there was a bit of a football match going on. And with it, another muted miracle: despite the megalomaniac dimensions of the place, it somehow maintains a human proportion. There was no cliff-edge vertiginous quality, no claustrophobia, no killing acoustic, no confusing of atmosphere with noise. The rake of the seats was gentle, the personal space generous: good qualities in humans and buildings both.



There was a feeling that one could remain an individual while still experiencing a sense of unity. It is a completely different way of thinking from the stadiums of old.



And you could see, and feel a part of what was going on, feel involved in the action on the pitch and savour the ebbing and flowing of emotions. Will some find all that a little cold? Me, I found the cool rather refreshing.



It is no longer the place where Billy the white horse stood his ground, and where Stanley Matthews forced others to yield theirs; it’s not the place where Jim Montgomery made his save, or where Ricky Villa made his mazy dribble, or where Elton John’s uncle got crocked, or where Smith must score, or where some people were on the pitch: they thought it was all over, it was then.



But it’s the place where a new series of myths will be created, and the name of Wembley will again echo in trisyllabic glory in the hearts and minds of England and the footballing world. On Saturday, some people were on the pitch.



They thought it had all started. It has now.




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