Wembley Stadium, which celebrates its 100th birthday on Friday, is known as the Venue of Legends, and does precisely what it says on the tin.
From the Matthews final to Bobby Moore lifting the World Cup and Lioness Chloe Kelly celebrating her Euro 2022 winner, heroes have been created for a century under the Twin Towers, and more latterly the stunning 133-foot Arch.
There has been heartbreak too – as penalty-takers Gareth Southgate and Marcus Rashford would testify – but one thing hasn’t changed, once you’ve made an impact at Wembley, it’s never forgotten.
As Ricky Villa, scorer of one of Wembley’s greatest goals for Spurs against Manchester City in 1981, puts it: ‘Sometimes it’s though I only played one match!’ And that from an Argentine World Cup winner.
Football has been the dominant but not exclusive force at Wembley.
Wembley Stadium, which celebrates its 100th birthday on Friday, is called Venue of Legends
Heroes have been created for a century under the Twin Towers, and the new 133-foot Arch
American daredevil Evel Knievel makes a motorcycle jump over thirteen AEC Merlin buses
George Best, Kenny Dalglish and Lionel Messi have all scored in European Cup finals. Geoff Hurst unforgettably got three in 1966. Less celebrated figures Jim Montgomery, Bobby Stokes and Roger Osborne became household names overnight after their starring roles in FA Cup finals.
Other sports too benefitted. Heavyweight Henry Cooper will always be remembered for knocking down Cassius Clay (later Muhammad Ali) as will Frank Bruno who won the world title there at the fourth attempt. Clay said Cooper’s left hook was so hard, ‘my ancestors in Africa felt it.’
Showbiz also got in on the act. Freddie Mercury and Queen gave arguably the greatest live performance ever seen by a band at Live Aid in 1985. Pope John Paul II ‘played’ Wembley to a packed house in 1982 and Spitting Image made a puppet complete with guitar and sunglasses in tribute.
Most have enjoyed the limelight bestowed by Wembley, but not all. David Barber, FA historian between 1969 and 2016, put together a parade of all living FA Cup-winning captains for the 100th cup final, in 1981.
‘Only two didn’t make it,’ he recalls. ‘Billy Bremner (Leeds) was abroad and Billy Bonds (West Ham) didn’t want to know. He wasn’t interested. In the end, Dick Pym took his place, the Bolton goalkeeper from 1923.’
Few have seen more changes than Barber. ‘I started work sitting next to Sir Alf Ramsey. He’d scribble down the England squad for Wembley internationals in pencil and I rang it into the Press Association. By the time I left, squad announcements were huge events with every media outlet invited.’
Some legendary names have experienced both triumph and disaster. Paul Gascoigne scored a worldie free-kick for Spurs in the 1991 FA Cup semi-final and a stunning volley for England against Scotland at Euro 96, celebrating with the Dentist’s Chair.
But he also shattered his knee with a rash challenge on Gary Charles in the 1991 FA Cup final.
England footballer Paul Gascoigne scored a stunning volley and received a ‘Dentist’s Chair’
The midfielder (pictured) also scored a stunning free-kick in the FA Cup semi-final in 1991
But he also shattered his knee with a rash challenge on Gary Charles in the 1991 FA Cup final
Likewise, Brian Clough won three League Cups at Wembley (and a fourth in a replay) but was beaten in his only FA Cup final. He also had mishaps there as a sought-after TV pundit. In 1973, he described goalkeeper Jan Tomaszewski as ‘a clown’ before the Pole made a string of superlative saves to stop England qualifying for the World Cup.
Before the 1980 FA Cup final, he said about West Ham’s Trevor Brooking: ‘Floats like a butterfly and stings like one too.’ Brooking scored the winning header against favourites Arsenal.
Given Wembley has hosted every big team in world football, Barber’s favourite trivia question is the only side to have scored double figures. The answer is Greenwich, who beat Paddington 10-1 in the London Civil Defence cup final of 1945.
Indeed, part of Wembley’s charm is how it’s often turned everyday footballers into history-makers. The most recent example was Wigan Athletic’s Ben Watson, their 2013 match-winner when they beat Manchester City 1-0 in the last major FA Cup final giant-killing.
Mail Sport took Watson back to the scene of his greatest triumph to mark the stadium’s 100th birthday and he admitted that despite playing 544 matches spanning 19 years, he is only ever asked about one.
‘It’s the only thing I’m remembered for but I’m proud to be part of something that will last forever,’ he said. ‘I’m still asked about the goal and never get bored speaking about it. Coming here again makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.
‘The impact of the goal was immediate. I went on holiday to Portugal that summer. Whereas nobody noticed me before, all of a sudden people wanted my picture.’
It was emotional for the midfielder as he walked around the perimeter of the pitch, walked up to the royal box where he’d collected his winners’ medal and sat in the dressing-room where manager Roberto Martinez did his team talk.
Mail Sport took ex-Wigan midfielder Ben Watson (left) back to the scene of his biggest triumph
Watson scored the winner as Wigan beat Manchester City 1-0 in the 2013 FA Cup final
He had to pinch himself further walking down a corridor lined with pictures of musical greats like U2, The Rolling Stones and Madonna who have all played Wembley.
‘It is the best stadium in the world. The whole place is magical. Having that personal connection makes it really special and I’ve seen the other side too. I’ve been as a fan myself to watch Coldplay,’ said Watson.
‘Last summer, I was invited to mark the 150th anniversary of the FA Cup and lucky enough to meet John Motson. I’m very grateful, it is hard to explain. This stadium has a hundred years of memories and my name is included in it.’
Ian Porterfield’s winning goal gave Second Division Sunderland victory against mighty Leeds in the 1973 final. Mention the name Lawrie Sanchez and there is automatic association with his header for Wimbledon that upset Liverpool’s ‘culture club’ in 1988.
Wigan’s victory equalled any of those for shock value. City boasted world-class stars like Vincent Kompany, David Silva, Carlos Tevez and Sergio Aguero while The Latics were heading for relegation.
‘Player-for-player, we should never have beaten them,’ admits Watson. ‘But we had these rascal grey suits for the occasion and Roberto’s calm manner set the tone in the dressing room beforehand.
‘I was coming back from injury so I was substitute. There was always a plan to bring me on for the last 10 minutes but I have to thank the lads we weren’t 3-0 down by then.’
Within minutes of Watson’s arrival, City were reduced to 10 men with Pablo Zabaleta sent off. Then came the moment just as the match was about to enter into injury-time.
Wigan’s underdog story was just one of many magic Wembley moments in its 100-year history
‘I’d usually have been on the edge of the box for Shaun Maloney’s corner but because City were a man short and brought everyone back, I decided to walk into the area with nobody picking me up,’ he recalls.
‘I knew from taking corners myself that if you hit the first man, you got booed, so I darted across the front just in case the ball went there. It was the best run of my life I suppose. It was an amazing corner from Shaun and an even better header past Joe Hart!’
It was the crowning glory for Watson, who had grown up playing Sunday League football in Peckham with Anton Ferdinand.
Wigan were relegated a few days later so didn’t get to properly celebrate their achievement at the time. But next month, a 10th anniversary dinner will be held in the town to put that right, with Martinez and the whole squad expected to attend.
It’s a fabulous story only made possible by an incredible venue. Happy 100th birthday, Wembley!
MEMORIES OF WEMBLEY…
KENNY DALGLISH (Liverpool and Scotland)
I was fortunate to make my Liverpool debut there in the 1977 Charity Shield, scored for Scotland against England and also got the winner against Club Brugge in the 1978 European Cup final.
But the memories that mean most were the Merseyside Cup finals against Everton. The first two, 1984 and 1986, were incredible with red and blue mixed together. 1989 was especially poignant because of how the clubs and both sets of supporters stood together after Hillsborough.
Even as a boy, I remember Scotland fans saving up for two years so they could travel to Wembley. They were brilliant occasions, particularly 1967 when the team won to become world champions. At least that’s what we said north of Carlisle!
Liverpool legend Kenny Dalglish remembers two poignant Merseyside Cup finals vs Everton
ROY HODGSON (England manager 2012-16)
Every time we played at Wembley was a red-letter day. Even travelling into the office and seeing this magnificent stadium gave me a sense of pride. We had some great games there, beating Brazil 2-1 with a winning goal from Frank Lampard stands out.
As a younger manager, I was invited to the 1981 FA Cup Final replay by my former Bristol City player, Gerry Gow who played for Manchester City. That was the game remembered for Ricky Villa’s great goal.
PAUL ROBSON (son of legendary England manager Sir Bobby)
Dad took Mum (Lady Elsie) on a date to the 1951 FA Cup final to see Newcastle United beat Blackpool – the first of many visits for him.
Mum wouldn’t watch England when he was in charge, too much stress, but I’d go with the rest of the family. We’d wait by the massive gate for the team coach to drive in, then Dad would nip back out and give us our tickets.
I remember he’d always offer to book a hotel for his father (Philip) but grand-dad would prefer to head straight back to the station so he could catch the first early-morning train home to the north-east.
Striker Gary Lineker (right) had experience of winning and losing the FA Cup final at Wembley
GARY LINEKER (England striker)
I was eight when my team Leicester reached the FA Cup final against Manchester City in 1969. I cried all the way home after we’d lost 1-0.
Remarkably, the Leicester ‘keeper that day Peter Shilton later became my England room-mate and we played many times together at Wembley. And when I retired in 1994, he was still playing!
I had experience of losing and winning the FA Cup Final, beaten as an Everton player in 1986 but victorious with Tottenham five years later.
RICKY VILLA (1981 Tottenham FA Cup-winning hero)
It’s a huge honour to be mentioned with people like Stanley Matthews and Bobby Moore as part of Wembley history. Playing there was something Ossie Ardiles and myself always thought about when we signed for Spurs.
We knew about Wembley in Argentina from the 1966 World Cup because our captain Antonio Rattin was sent off against England. Personally, winning the FA Cup was on similar level for me as the World Cup in 1978 because I had more of an impact.
I played a defining role in the final and because Ossie and myself were made so welcome in England, it was great to give something back. Sometimes it feels I only played that one game against Manchester City and scored that one famous solo goal in my whole career!
Tottenham star Ricky Villa (right) scored one of the greatest goals in the ground’s history
DAVID BENTLEY (first Englishman to score at new Wembley, 2007)
There was a lot of hype around England v Italy Under-21s being the first competitive game match at this freshly-built super-stadium.
Not every dressing-room was grand at the time, even in the Premier League, so we were knocked out by the size and facilities at Wembley. We always had the sense it was a historic occasion so when we got a free-kick, I was always going to shoot rather than cross or lay-off to someone else!
I retired early at 28 but the older I get, the more I appreciate having a small place in the record books connected with such an iconic stadium. It is something I value alongside everything I did in my club career with the likes of Arsenal, Spurs and Blackburn.
25 WEMBLEY HEROES AND GREAT OCCASIONS
1: White Horse saves the day at Wembley opening (1923)
Bolton beat West Ham 2-0 in the FA Cup Final on April 28, 1923 but the real hero was PC George Scorey and his horse Billie who cleared the pitch of thousands of fans before kick off. An estimated crowd of 200,000 turned up to see history being made in Wembley’s first match.
2: The Matthews Final… Stanley wins elusive first trophy aged 38 (1953)
A nation willed the most celebrated player of the era, Stanley Matthews, to win his first FA Cup after several near-misses. Hope seemed lost with Blackpool trailing Bolton 3-1 in the final but they came back to win 4-3, Matthews causing havoc on the wing and Stan Mortensen scoring a hat-trick.
3: Puskas leads magical Magyars… Hungary wallop England 6-3 to herald new era (1953)
Any complacency England felt about being best at football because they’d invented the game were shattered by Hungary’s exhibition of skill and slick passing. Stocky Ferenc Puskas, dubbed the Galloping Major, scored twice, including a dragback to dumbfound Lions skipper Billy Wright.
Ferenc Puskas (right) led the Magical Magyars of Hungary to a famous 6-3 win against England
4: Trautmann plays on with broken neck (1956)
Manchester City goalkeeper Bert Trautmann felt something wasn’t right when he collided with Birmingham’s Peter Murphy during the FA Cup final but had no idea until after that he’d broken vertebrae in his neck. City won 3-1 and Trautmann collected his medal with head tilted awkwardly.
5: ‘Enry’s ‘Ammer knocks down The Greatest (1963)
The future Muhammad Ali was Cassius Clay when he met Henry Cooper and got dumped put on the canvas by the Englishman’s trademark left hook. Ali later joked the punch was so hard ‘my ancestors felt it in Africa’. But he recovered to cut Cooper and win the fight in the fifth round.
English heavyweight Henry Cooper (left) knocked down Cassius Clay, later Muhammad Ali
6: Geoff Hurst’s hat-trick… and England lift the World Cup (1966)
Arguably the stadium’s most iconic moment as Sir Alf Ramsey’s side beat West Germany 4-2 in the final. West Ham’s Hurst and Martin Peters scored and team-mate Bobby Moore lifted the trophy. Kenneth Wolstenholme’s commentary has gone down in history: ‘They think it’s all over… it is now.’
7: Sir Matt Busby fulfils emotional dream… Man Utd’s European Cup (1968)
A decade after his Busby Babes were decimated by the Munich plane tragedy, the legendary manager was able to lift the European Cup with a 4-1 victory against Benfica. Crash survivor Bobby Charlton scored twice with further goals from George Best and teenager Brian Kidd.
8: ‘He’s a poor lad’… rugby league’s most iconic final (1968)
The Challenge Cup rarely gained national attention but the ‘Watersplash final’ became headline news. Leeds led 11-10 when Don Fox missed the winning kick for Wakefield in front of the posts in slippery conditions. Waring’s empathetic commentary ‘He’s a poor lad’ pulled on the heartstrings.
9: Third Division Don Rogers stuns Gunners… Swindon win League Cup (1969)
Only two years after the League Cup final switched to its current Wembley home, Third Division Swindon stunned Arsenal, who featured many players who would go on to win the Double in 1971. Don Rogers was the Town hero with two extra-time goals that beat legendary No 1 Bob Wilson.
Don Rogers (third right) scored twice in extra time to help Swindon beat Arsenal back in 1969
10: Monty’s save of the century… Sunderland pull off biggest FA Cup shock (1973)
Nobody fancied Second Division Sunderland against Don Revie’s Leeds who dominated English football. Ian Porterfield scored and then Jim Montgomery showed incredible reflexes to tip Peter Lorimer’s shot onto the bar. Commentator David Coleman needed a replay to see he’d got a touch.
11: Superstars Keegan and Bremner throw shirts to ground after being sent off (1974)
You can’t condone retaliation but Kevin Keegan and Billy Bremner felt aggrieved being sent off in the 1974 Liverpool v Leeds Charity Shield for a scuffle after Johnny Giles wasn’t punished for punching Keegan in the face. It was one of manager Brian Clough’s few games at Leeds.
12: Scotland fans do their own crossbar challenge (1977)
Beating England 2-1 at Wembley convinced Scotland they could win the World Cup the following year in Argentina. Gordon McQueen and Kenny Dalglish scored the goals in front of 60,000 travelling fans who invaded the pitch in delight at full-time, and dismantled the goal frame.
13: Hero Osborne faints with emotion… Ipswich down favourites Arsenal (1978)
The more famous names in the ’78 FA Cup final final were overshadowed by little-known Roger Osborne who scored the only goal past Pat Jennings after 77 minutes and then had to be substituted after briefly passing out following the euphoric celebrations. It was Bobby Robson’s first trophy.
14: King Kenny arrives… Liverpool first English club to retain European Cup (1978)
Asked to fill the boots of the departed European player of the year Kevin Keegan, Kenny Dalglish marked the end of his first season at Liverpool with the only goal against Club Brugge. It began a glittering journey that led to him being regarded as the club’s greatest ever player.
Alan Sunderland scored with seconds left to help Arsenal beat Man United in the 1979 FA Cup
15: Alan Sunderland settles the four-minute FA Cup final (1979)
Arsenal were 2-0 up and cruising after 86 minutes against Manchester United until Gordon McQueen and Sammy McIlroy pulled Dave Sexton’s side level out of nowhere. Shellshocked Arsenal were dreading extra-time but with seconds left, Graham Rix set up Sunderland to score.
16: Ossie went to Wembley but it was Ricky who made the knees go trembly (1981)
There was so much excitement about Argentine World Cup winner Ossie Ardiles playing in the 1981 FA Cup final for Spurs against Manchester City, Chas & Dave made a song about it. But it was compatriot Ricky Villa who stole the show to score an incredible solo winner in the replay.
17: The Pope plays Wembley! (1982)
Pope John Paul II, a former goalkeeper, was a star attraction whose international tours drew tens of thousands of fans everywhere. Though England is not a majority Catholic country, the Holy Father still drew huge numbers including 80,000 at Wembley to celebrate the first mass of Pentecost.
18: Freddie Mercury entertains the world… Live Aid raises millions for Africa (1985)
The world’s biggest music stars took a back seat to Freddie Mercury and Queen as they stole the show at the Live Aid concert which raised £100million (now £280million) for famine relief. Mercury whipped up the vast crowd into a frenzy in a mesmerising display of showmanship.
Queen’s Freddie Mercury entertained the world with a mesmerising Live Aid display in 1985
19: Beasant stops a penalty… Wimbledon’s Crazy Gang shock Liverpool (1988)
John Motson’s immortal line ‘The Crazy Gang have beaten the Culture Club’ described the shock of Wimbledon upsetting mighty Liverpool 1-0 in the FA Cup final. Lawrie Sanchez headed the only goal but the key moment came when Dave Beasant saved John Aldridge’s spot-kick.
20: Barcelona kings of Europe for the first time (1992)
For a club of Barcelona’s stature, it was embarrassing they’d never won the European Cup but that changed when Ronald Koeman’s free-kick in extra-time beat Sampdoria 1-0. Joining in the trophy lift was midfielder Pep Guardiola, with Roberto Mancini and Gianluca Vialli in the Italian’s team.
21: Frank achieves lifetime ambition… Bruno becomes world champion (1995)
Frank Bruno was national treasure as much as heavyweight boxer and there was despair when he fought, and lost, for the world title three times before having a fourth crack against Oliver McCall. The tension was palpable as Bruno built up an early lead before clinging on for a win on points.
22: Gazza’s dentist chair… England beat Scotland to spark Euro ’96 fever (1996)
Paul Gascoigne had been through big Wembley moments with Spurs but nothing matched the excitement of his flick over Colin Hendry’s head and volley in the 2-0 win against Scotland. He celebrated by re-enacting a drinking game that had got the squad into trouble before the tournament.
While Lioness Chloe Kelly (right) brought it home in extra time against the old enemy Germany
23: Magic Messi puts on a show against Fergie (2011)
Even Sir Alex Ferguson was powerless to stop prime Lionel Messi as Barcelona beat Manchester United 3-1 to win the Champions League. Regarded as the best team performance at the national stadium since Hungary in ’53, Messi scored twice with Wayne Rooney getting the consolation.
24: Heartbreaker Donnarumma – Italian ‘keeper denies England (2021)
England were a penalty shoot-out away from ending 55 years of hurt at Covid-delayed Euro 2020 – but the giant frame of Gianluigi Donnarumma saved from Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka while Marcus Rashford hit the post, leaving Italy as winners following a 1-1 draw in the final.
25: Lioness Chloe Kelly brings it home in extra time (2022)
England women went one better than the men by beating Germany 2-1 to lift Euro 2022, with Prince William helping present the trophy to captain Leah Williamson. Chloe Kelly marked her winning goal with a joyous celebration and post-match burst of Sweet Caroline with team-mates.