Wembley Stadium. England’s iconic arena. The pinnacle of footballing opportunity. A pitch where heroes have risen, tears have been shed and history has been shaped. ‘A day out at Wembley’ is the dream of all football fans at all levels. And the whole thing is ruined by an obnoxious meathead with a microphone and the freedom of the stadium.
I was fortunate enough to be at Wembley for Arsenal’s FA Cup semi-final and on a day where we should have been supporting the team we love with every fibre of our bodies, we were drowned out by the rasping hyperbole of the announcer and the sort of diabolical pop music that would have been better suited to a ten year-old’s birthday party at McDonald’s. Don’t even get me started on the fester skanking. (Ed’s Note: I had to look this up. It’s a sort of dance.)
I’m all for atmosphere. I watch embarrassing amounts of football on television and on dodgy streams and I am envious of how the likes of the Germans, the Greeks and the South Americans are able to create such a colourful and vibrant atmosphere no matter what the occasion. I’d love to be able to jump for 90 minutes to the beat of a drum in amongst a cluster of flags, getting that dry scratchy feeling in the back of my throat at the end of the day from singing at the top of my lungs regardless of being five goals ahead or three down. But there are ways to cultivate this sort of atmosphere and boy are the FA off the mark here.
The surprisingly long walk into Wembley Stadium is a unique experience on a day like this. Wembley Way was covered by seas of Arsenal red, contrasted by the blue and white stripes of Reading. Taking the creased ticket out of your pocket makes it official, and before you know it – the butterflies have set in. It’s a raw excitement that can rarely be replicated. With the evening sun glazing over half of the pitch, there was a real buzz around the place with both sets of fans preparing themselves for 90 minutes of intense football. A massive flag was unleashed in the Arsenal end, and despite it being such a simple idea, I couldn’t wait to pass it along! I felt like a kid again! I remember one specific ‘She Wore A Yellow Ribbon’ chant which was started by a single voice in the Arsenal end, before instantaneously catching on and being sung loud and proud by everybody within a matter of seconds. It felt like everybody grasped the magnitude of the occasion in that one moment, and it was amazing.
And then just as the teams were coming out, we were suddenly greeted by the Wembley PA announcing the starting elevens of both sides in a weirdly aggressive tone of voice. It was like we were being prepared for an unveiling of the WWE and X-Factor’s lovechild rolled into one. Katy Perry was then blared out of the crackliest speakers in history and suddenly a stadium full of people were made to feel redundant in a matter of minutes. Who needs atmosphere when you’ve got 2013’s most anodyne pop music piercing your ear drum?
You could tell that this had an effect on everybody, as the first half was pretty much 45 minutes of silence barring a late Alexis Sanchez goal. This was unbelievably frustrating as you could really sense the liveliness around the place pre-kick off, only for it to be zapped away.
But wait, there’s more! During the half time interval we were treated to some more crackly speaker goodness in the form of Bruno Mars and Lethal Bizzle, which couldn’t have been more out of place if they tried. These are songs you expect to hear being played at rooftop bars in Ibiza, not FA Cup semi-finals at Wembley. Just to add insult to injury, the pillock with the microphone was back shouting again as the players emerged after the half time break.
We were drowned out and discouraged. Once you’ve lost that buzz, that fire in your belly to get yourself up for the match – it’s one of the most difficult feelings to try and recover. There was a disheartening sense of lethargy clouding over the place, when it promised to be so different about ninety minutes beforehand. That instinctive tribalism you feel when in a large group, all rooting for the same cause had vanished.
We are eager to generate noise. We want to generate an atmosphere. We want to be able to support our team. Instead of creating a pantomime vibe in the ground, let the diversity and vigour of thousands of different people supporting one cause take centre stage. So no more aggressive PA, no more Now That’s What I Call Music! soundtrack, no more WWE or X-Factor dramatics. Just let us support our team.
Is the Wembley experience really this bad or is Phil just old before his time? Let us know your thoughts at: [email protected]
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