If you happened to attend an England match at Wembley in recent times, you probably saw an unentertaining game unfold on the backdrop of a dull, lifeless atmosphere.
Last Wednesday’s friendly against Norway was the lowest attendance (40,181) for an England game since the new Wembley opened. Long gone are the days when the home of English football was an intimidating place to come for visiting teams.
Should games be played away from Wembley?
Many fans are now calling for England games to be played around the country at Premier League grounds such as Old Trafford, St. James’ Park and Villa Park. Of course, while Wembley was being renovated a number of England friendlies were played at Premier League grounds around with Old Trafford being the base for competitive fixtures.
Memories were certainly created at Old Trafford. Who could forget David Beckham’s 88th minute free-kick against Greece to send England to the 2002 World Cup? The atmosphere on that particular day was incredible and perhaps drove England, and David Beckham, over the line. The new Wembley has offered nothing in comparison atmosphere-wise – despite the stadium being specifically designed to enhance the noise.
The FA is now planning strategies to get England fans back to Wembley for friendly games, as well as competitive outings. They have recently cut ticket prices for friendlies, yet fans still refuse to turn up. One option would be to give a free allocation of tickets to school children throughout the country. This would not only encourage and promote sport in schools, but also give younger fans a positive Wembley experience with their friends.
Speaking to the BBC this week, Club England Managing Director Adrian Bevington said it would be “very difficult” to host England games at alternative venues.
“The reality is Wembley cost a lot of money to build, I believe we have somewhere in the region of a few hundred million pounds still to pay off. A significant contribution to that comes from our season ticket holders at Wembley – who are currently seven years into a ten year license,” Mr Bevington stated.
As part of season ticket holder’s contracts – it states that all friendly games must take place at Wembley. Unless Club England members would be willing to alter this contract, along with the FA, it will be impossible for England games to take place anywhere else.
With the rising cost of transport it is unlikely many fans will travel to the capital for future friendlies. Offering fans travel incentives is something the FA are looking into – particularly for those in northern cities.
Obviously the greatest encouragement for fans to turn up would be an improvement in terms of the football England are playing. With a lengthy period of transition predicted; it could be years before we see Wembley full for an international friendly.