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The Camden Cad
Aug 24, 2004
North London
90,000 seats, 2618 toilets, 26 lifts, 98 kitchens and 34 bars. Was it too much to ask for Wembley to provide just one decent playing surface? Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final was like watching naughty ten year olds playing football indoors on an untacked carpet. Every change of direction brought a skid and a howl of frustration, followed by the now traditional examination of the boots. But it’s not the boots that are to blame.

The owners of Wembley Stadium have brought this one themselves. Every summer, they throw metal sheets down on the turf like a layer of pasta in a lasagne, build a pile of speakers as high as the moon and invite 70,000 estate agents to bounce around to Bon Jovi. And then they wonder why the playing surface slides about like a bad toupee on a greased-up head. Now I’m no horticulturalist, but even I can tell that something’s wrong when a football pitch cuts up so much that it looks less like a snooker table and more like Tommy Lee Jones’ face.

How have we managed to get this wrong? Surely when you start planning a new stadium, you begin with the pitch and work your way up to the floodlights? It is, after all, the pitch that hosts the action, isn’t it? I bet they didn’t though. I bet in this brave new world of spin, fluff and media-glitter, the donut-munching, Blackberry-wielding goons in charge started with the arch and then skipped out for raspberry lattes.

There is something quintessentially English about all of this. Building ambitious stuff that doesn’t quite work is what we do now that the Empire has fallen. Hundreds of years of building bridges in some of the most inhospitable terrains on the planet, bridges that still stand today, and yet by the dawn of the 21st century, we’re incapable of spanning the Thames without terrifying the tourists with the wobbles. The Millennium Dome, Heathrow Terminal Five, Oasis. All fundamentally useless without dramatic augmentation. And now Wembley. You wouldn’t even want to play rugby at the home of football now and yet a quick glance at the upcoming events board tells you that that’s exactly what’s next on the agenda. It can be fixed. It must be fixed. Until then, however, it might be best to stage the semi-finals somewhere with a better surface. Like Mars, perhaps. Or, if we’re really desperate, Wigan.