Football: What It's like to Play (Badly) at Greatest Stadium on Earth; BACK HOME England's Young Pretenders Usher in the New Era
Byline: Oliver HOLT Chief Sports Writer
SEVEN YEARS of delays, controversies and farce came to an end last Saturday when a stadium that had become a national embarrassment was transformed at last into an object of pride.
Now England can gaze on a place where Wayne Rooney may grow into the best player in the world and where 40 years of hurt and winning nothing may one day come to an end.
Down on the touchline, FA chief executive Brian Barwick wore a dreamy grin as a happy rabble of journalists, actors, pop stars and ex-pros played in the first match at the stadium in front of 30,000 fans.
"It's just lovely to see people in it," Barwick said. "It has brought it alive. It's not a building project any more. It's a football stadium now.
"Even with you lot struggling to play, the atmosphere is good so imagine what it's going to be like when it's full and there are decent teams playing. And there's not a bad seat in the house."
It is impossible not to be impressed by the magnificence of the new theatre for English football where the FA Cup Final now looks certain to be played in May. It combines the vastness of the Nou Camp in Barcelona with the steep-sided grandeur and intimacy of the Bernabeu in Madrid.
Even former stars like Graeme Le Saux, John Barnes, Neville Southall and Mark Bright were awe-struck by its scale. Former England defender Le Saux had the first shot at the new Wembley and ex-Crystal Palace star Bright scored the first goal in a match between a Geoff Thomas Foundation XI and a Wembley Sponsors Allstar XI.
The inaugural tournament was won by a Soccer AM team led by presenter Tim Lovejoy and featuring former England star Luther Blissett.
There were plenty of teething problems like turnstiles opening late and catering facilities appearing overwhelmed but the whole point of Saturday's Community Day for the people of Brent was to learn lessons from the staging of an event.
I played at right back in the first and second matches for the Geoff Thomas Foundation XI and was privileged to be roasted by pop star Bryan McFadden in one and actor Ralf Little in the other.
When I say roasted, of course, I mean humiliated in a football sense. But it was hardly a day for worrying about the result on the pitch. …