On this day in history : 28th April 1923 – The opening of the British Empire Exhibition Stadium – later to become known as Wembley Stadium, one of England’s main venues for sporting and entertainment events….
In 1920 it was decided to hold a major exhibition in London in order to promote trade throughout the whole of the British Empire…. Land was earmarked at Wembley Park pleasure gardens for an exhibition centre and a grand event was planned for 1924…. An organising committee was established with the Prince of Wales as President – who was keen to see a great national sports ground included – the ears of the Football Association pricked up….
£750k was raised, including a £175k contribution from the government and work began in 1922 with the first turf being cut by King George V…. Contractors Sir Robert McAlpine & Sons worked to a design by Sir John Simpson & Maxwell Anton, which was to include the Twin Towers – two domed towers which were to become the Stadium’s trademark landmark…. The construction took just 300 days, being completed by April 1923…. As a safety check 1,000 men sat, stood and marched on the stands, which were designed to accommodate 30,000 seated spectators whilst a further 100,000 could be housed standing….
Three days after the Stadium’s completion, on the 20th of April 1923, the FA Cup Final was held…. The event had received worldwide publicity – bringing fame to the Stadium, long before its main purpose, the planned British Empire Exhibition, had even taken place…. The official spectator capacity for the football match was 127,000 but more than 300,000 descended on the Stadium….
Crowds spilled on to the pitch and it looked as if the match was going to have to be cancelled…. The day was saved by mounted police constable George Scorey and his trusty white horse, Billy – who between them managed to clear the pitch…. The final score was Bolton 2 West Ham 0 – in a match that became known as ‘The White Horse Final’….
The official opening by King George V of the Empire Exhibition Stadium took place on the 23rd of April 1924…. It was to be the first time ever the King was heard on the radio…. Over 27 million visitors attended the exhibition over its duration….
In August 1927 the Stadium was bought by Arthur Elvin and it became a successful greyhound racing venue…. He also arranged for it to become the stadium used for the annual F.A. & Rugby League Challenge Cup – and 1928 saw the addition of motorcycle speedway….
The 1930s saw improvements to the terraces and seating facilities….and in 1948 the Stadium was loaned free of charge to allow the London Olympic Games to use it…. In 1963 a glass roof was added – and this was also the first year a European Cup Final was played there, when Milan beat Benfica 2-1…. Since then many large events have been held, from concerts to football matches, including the 1966 World Cup….and that final – England 4 West Germany 2….
In 1996 the spectator capacity was reduced to 76,000 and converted to all seating…. The last football match to be played was an international which saw England beaten by Germany 1-0…. In 2002 demolition began to make way for a new stadium – with the famous Twin Towers coming down in February 2003 – to be replaced by the now iconic arch in May 2004….