Despite having spent over twenty years working at and attending major tournaments, yesterday’s experience at Wembley was something I wasn’t quite prepared for. I had visions of a carnival atmosphere, just like the Euros Final I attended in Vienna or the France/Germany World Cup Quarter-Final in the Maracana in 2014, but got completely the opposite.
Just before 1pm on Sunday, I got a phone call that there were two tickets going spare if I could get to Wembley, so I quickly sold a kidney to cover the cost and jumped in my car to set off from Manchester to London, dumping my car at a hotel on the outskirts of town and using public transport rather than having to deal with traffic near the stadium.
Getting off the tube at Wembley Park was pretty chaotic, but once I got through the barriers, the scene set out before me was more like something out of a zombie apocalypse movie. Thousands of pissed-up, ticketless (I presume) ‘fans’ flooding Wembley Way – the floor littered with broken glass, bottles and cans, something you might expect the morning after a game but this was still two hours before kick-off.
I somehow managed to meet up with my mate and we started to wade our way through the rubbish dump that was Wembley Way, weaving past the swathes of drunken kids while dodging flying bottles and cans, fully aware that it could all kick off at any moment. On the way we passed a group who were tearing down security fencing (it turns out this was the start of a large group breaking their way into the stadium) and yet there seemed to be very few police or stewards on duty. Don’t get me wrong, the ones that were there were doing a great job, there just weren’t enough of them and it felt like they had lost control of the situation and were just trying to make the best of a bad situation.
We passed through the ineffectual Covid-checks (despite the stadium being ‘connected by EE’, you couldn’t get any data to call up the NHS app anyway), but I think you could have shown a QR code of a train ticket and they would have waved you through. Again, stewards doing their best, but massively overrun and you could see the fear in their eyes of what they were up against as the crowd pushed and surged towards them.
Once at the ticket gates, we waited over an hour to get anywhere near the actual turnstiles, watching several chancers squeezing through the gaps to swell the 65,000 crowd. Ticketless gangs would push their way into the queues, hoping to follow an unsuspecting ticket-holder through the moving turnstile, offering “…fifty quid if I can sneak in with ya, mate”. I saw one poor guy scan his barcode and before he could move through the turnstile, someone had pushed in front of him and stolen his place, so he was now trapped outside with a ticket that no longer worked. I’ve spent 18 months trying to keep my distance from people and here we were, crammed into a tiny space with hardly anyone wearing a facemask (the trains were the same both ways – I must have missed the memo that said London was exempt).
If UEFA or FIFA delegates could have seen what was going on rather than being whisked directly into their safe zones, there isn’t a chance in hell this country will ever host a major tournament again. Don’t be putting your money on us pulling off a successful 2030 World Cup bid.
Then there was the pathetic booing of the Italian national anthem, the ‘lads’ on the train home plotting which Italian restaurants to smash up and the post-match racist abuse of England players (behaviour fuelled/promoted by politicians and online soapbox gobshites).
I’m just glad I didn’t take my boy to the game – it would have put him off for life.