The fast metropolitan line train from central London soon draws near, then they see it. The football fans, who've so often come from all corners of the UK, proudly wearing their team colours, now turn and rise from their seats as that iconic arch makes a brief appearance in between grubby north London factory sheds. Then it comes into glorious full view. Wembley Stadium, the home of British football, like some great temple sitting proudly waiting for the next influx of disciples to enter and pay homage to the wonderful game.
Though I'd worked in the New Wembley Stadium since 2007, I'd never made the short trip out of London to look at the old one before it was torn down in 2003. It's a regret I now have as you can't work at Wembley for a long time and simply not feel that sense of history; to imagine all the great sporting moments that have occurred on the hallowed turf. Sadly unlike the old London Bridge, that was painstakingly moved brick by brick to a lake in the USA, the Twin Towers were ignominiously ripped down by a JCB and moved nowhere but to a landfill site. The ground cleared and a new stadium built opening its doors again in 2007.
I was reliably informed by fellow medical staff who had worked in the old Stadium that the big improvement of the new one was a large increase in toilet facilities. Previously, seeing long lines of men standing by a wall after they had drunk too much was something they simply never go used to. What's more the stadium now had a cover - well a cover part of the way at least, just enough to cover the some of the spectator terraces. The reason given by the architects was that the grass needed constant sunlight to grow effectively and thus having a complete cover of the stadium would impede this. Sounds very logical but then when one considers how many music concerts take place at Wembley, where the grass is covered over with plastic matting for the public to stand on - leads me to the conclusion that it was really all about saving money with a full cover of the stadium taking the price considerably over the 700 million spent. (That said when considering the 02 (formerly known as the Millennium Dome) also cost 700 million (and that for a mere large tent) the Stadium then did come in at quite a good price)
For the General public and indeed most of the staff, getting to Wembley is best achieved by public transport from Central London. As a national stadium it would actually have been fairer if it was originally constructed in the middle of country, say near Manchester and then in an area that allowed easy access. (Well it's too late for being sensible now and what's more, I'd be out of a job!) Wembley Park on the Jubilee line and quicker Metropolitan line underground are the cheapest way to get there, or if you want to spend a few more pennies, catch a train from Marylebone Station to Wembley Stadium. Wembley Central Station on the Bakerloo line is central to nowhere for fans but a generic town centre. It takes for ever to get there and then a 25 minute walk to the stadium. Just don't do it
Upon departure at Wembley Park Underground a long broad boulevard is there before you, where the two opposing team supporters mingle and take photos of one another and the stadium backdrop. Then when the time draws near, they shuffle in, waving flags to the now all seated spectator areas that are situated on 5 levels.
The fifth of which being the cheapest is not such a good idea if you are someone who suffers from vertigo. Though the stadium staff do mention this when people purchase tickets, I have personally lost count of the number of people during numerous music concerts that I have treated who have come from their seat in a state of extreme distress after seeing the intimidating drop before them. They then ask for anther seat further down. Sadly, all too often it's a sold out gig, and they go home in yet more distress at not seeing what they had paid so much, and come so far to see. Solution - if you suffer from vertigo, don't by a Level 5 ticket.
Level 3 and 4 are corporate boxes that wealthy private individuals or corporations purchase to then entertain guests in. With seats looking out over the pitch and then behind having access to their own private kitchen, dining area and the use of their own waiter doesn't come cheap 250 000 pound for a year's hire was one such figure I heard (though don't quote me on it).
Further down is Level 2 and Club Wembley. Being a member gives you access to bars and restaurants within the stadium, one of which is the largest in Europe. Finally on Level 1, you have a further fully seated area that is like Level 5, but being nearer the action more expensive. Total capacity for the stadium is 90 000 on a standard football day though this can increase to around 100 000 for a music concert, when the pitch is covered over for fans to stand on.
Personally having seen numerous concerts at Wembley, it seems a waste of money to ever buy a ticket for Level 5. At that height you can just see a football game but you can't see a band play. To watch them on big screens is the same as watching them on TV, so you might as well just do that and stay at home and watch it on a TV screen and save the ticket money for a pizza!
The name Wembley is known internationally, while the borough of Brent in which it resides, is hardly known at all. Some years ago the local council put forward a clever proposal to change the name of the borough to Wembley to thus draw in tourists, however the half a million pound expense of changing all the street signs etc could not be justified, so the idea was dropped.
Such a famous venue means it's also a prime target for terrorism and as such, security is tight. Be prepared to be searched and be prepared not be let in if you are too drunk. On one game I remember where Glasgow were playing, 30 fans weren't even allowed in because they were barely able to stand and that is not including the large numbers who were evicted by the security team in the stadium. At the end of the day, it's simply best not to drink. If you aren't able to enjoy a game of football without alcohol touching your lips then who has the problem, you or the stadium?
Though I don't support any particular team, I'm lucky enough to regularly find myself sitting by the side of the pitch as part of the pitch medical team who go out whenever a player goes down. I don't think I will ever forget my first time on the pitch when we were called to assist a player with a suspected fractured leg. In the middle of Wembley pitch surrounded by 90 000 people watching you, you feel small but at the same time you feel like a god. Thousands of people cheering chanting playing drums. On big match days like the FA Cup Final, the atmosphere is just simply awesome.