Situated in North West London, Wembley Stadium was originally built in 1923 before being demolished and reopened in 2007. I’ll stop there with the boring Wembley facts though (if you’re a fan of The Apprentice, you’ll especially appreciate that gesture).
Wembley is regarded as the home of football, certainly within the UK, and it’s where the England national team play their home games. Every single home game England play, whether it be a World Cup Qualifier, friendly or any other type of match, is played at Wembley stadium, in London. Just to clarify, that means a football team which represents an entire country, plays all of its games right at the South of that country. Is it just me, or does that seem a little odd? What about fans who want to watch England but live nowhere near London?
Lets take an example of a football fan, maybe a 35-year-old man, living in somewhere in the north like Liverpool. Realistically he'll never get the opportunity to watch his national team play because of how far it is to travel to Wembley. Sure, you can watch it on TV. But it’s not the same.
Continuing with the example of the person from Liverpool, if he were to travel to London to watch England hed’d have to pay a very expensive train fare. From there, he'd have to navigate an unfamiliar tube system to make his way to Wembley. Once the game is over, he’d have to take a late night train ride back to Liverpool which isn't ideal, right? So he might be forced to book accommodation for the night and travel back to Liverpool in the morning. As you can imagine, these costs all rack up, resulting in some fans having to pay £100s to see England play.
It’s not just England that has this problem, though. The vast majority of countries play all of their national team games at just one stadium. It just seems like a very unusual system. One nation that doesn’t follow the status quo, though, is Spain - they play national team games in a variety of stadiums across the country. Even when it comes to competitive games, the national team could play at any one of the Bernabéu, Camp Nou or Estadio Olimpico de Sevilla – and if you take a look at a map, those three stadiums are spread quite evenly across the country. Moreover, each of those stadiums has a high capacity and is correctly facilitated to hold a large number of fans.
Why can’t England copy the Spain model? There certainly isn't a lack of quality stadiums in England. Even if national team games were shared between just a few different venues, it would still allow almost every fan the opportunity to see their nation play, live in the flesh. There are no stadiums in England that can even match the mammoth 90,000-person capacity of Wembley. However, Old Trafford in Manchester can hold 75,000, St James’ Park in Newcastle has a capacity of 52,000 and Villa Park in Birmingham can hold 42,500. When you consider that Wembley rarely reaches maximum capacity anyway, it seems quite logical that games of less importance could easily be played at different locations around England.
Spreading games out in this manner is also helpful for players who live further away from Wembley. Instead of having to travel to London every time there is an international break, it gets shaken up a bit to make things a little more fair for those players who live away from the capital. Plus, if clubs have the pressure of knowing that during an international break they may have to host the national team, it will force them into renovating their facilities and ensuring the stadium is of good quality, which then will benefit the fans and players of that particular club, too.
It just seems like it would be beneficial to the majority if England games were played at various stadiums across the whole country, rather than solely at Wembley. And who knows, maybe the national team will start performing better on the pitch as a result.
by George (@georjecb on Twitter)