Sweet smell of success in Wembley’s new way

SJA member Matt Scott reports on the new Wembley’s first FA Cup final

The fact that I have found Wembley’s countless contractor disputes, its collapsing rafters and its fissile concrete such fertile territory for stories over the past three years meant I was looking forward to my first visit to the new stadium on FA Cup final day.

London football reporters have been spoiled with the Emirates Stadium, where the access to the cavernous press facilities is slick and quick, the food is unfailingly good and the only slight drawback is that the well-appointed press seats are closer to the goals than to the halfway line. How would Wembley compare?

The Jubilee Line is a godsend and made my journey from south-east London direct and easy. Previous 7am odysseys to Cardiff had required weeks-long preparation, conferring with fans and reporters about back routes that might avoid the five-hour tailbacks into the city. Thankfully I shall never again have to wait for yet another cancelled train at Severn Tunnel Junction.

Station improvements at Wembley Park meant there were happily no bottlenecks on exiting the Tube – and that is not the only unlamented characteristic of the old venue that has been done away with. Fortunately the best part of £1 billion buys a lot of lavs, and on walking down Wembley Way you are struck by the fact that the stadium’s 2,618 conveniences have removed the once-familiar stench of decades-old wee.

Mercifully clean shoes can take you quickly to the press area, whose entrance is on the correct side of the stadium to approach from the Tube.

Though the security demand for a valid passport seemed a little officious to say the least, the Football Association’s Jo Budd was relaxed enough not to ask for proof of identity as I picked up my ticket from reception.

A photographer colleague had less luck in negotiating security. He complained that smudgers had to enter the stadium through the staff entrance and had to queue behind long lines of stewards, cooks and waiters; that once they were in the stadium they were not allowed back out to snap the crowds and that the lack of mobile-phone reception was obstructive.

It being a Saturday match I had no complaints about this but a Wednesday-night, Champions League-final runner might become fraught if that is not sorted. On the plus side for today’s entirely digitalised snappers, they do have a dark room (a legacy of the delays between planning the new stadium and its ultimate delivery).

The media-area food at Wembley was pretty good, a free bar was welcome (makes a change for it to be us Dailies and not the Sundays taking advantage) and the press desks were comfortable. They had easy-to-use, fast-cable internet access; swanky, multi-directional chairs; good legroom; ample power points; TV monitors and, most important, an excellent view. Finding the mixed zone was simple, a blessed relief from the seemingly eight-mile March Of The Scufflers required at the Millennium.

And thanks, too, to E-On for the bags, pens and leather-bound notebooks. Sorry it didn’t bag you a mention in The Guardian.

All in all, then, it looks like £1 billion well spent. Not least for not being at the other end of the M4.

Wembley’s arch of triumph – click here to read more