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A huge part of many of England's historic moments in entertainment, Wembley Stadium is a world-famous venue full of iconic performances and nail-biting sports Let's reflect back on some of the venue’s most spectacular events.
1923 White Horse Final
Did you know that a famous white horse policed the first-ever Cup Final at Wembley? As the inaugural event at the then called Empire Stadium, tickets were hard to obtain. A crowd of more than 300,000 surged into the venue, despite the maximum capacity of 125,000. Even King George V was in attendance!
Mounted police kept the crowds at bay and off the pitch so that the match could go on. A photographer snapped an iconic image of a horse called Billie and his rider Constable Scorey. Billie became known as the ‘White Horse,’ and he was celebrated as a hero for helping the game to go on. In fact, The White Horse pub in Wembley Park pub is named after this heroic horse. Never mind that Billie was actually grey…
1948 Summer Olympics
The 1948 Summer Olympics were a milestone event for Wembley Stadium, but also for the entire world – these were the first Games held after a 12-year hiatus during World War II.
The breakout star of the ’48 Olympics was undoubtedly Dutch athlete Fanny Blankers-Koen, nicknamed ‘the Flying Housewife.’ She won gold medals in the 100 and 200m, the 80m high hurdles and the 4×100 metre relay. There’s little doubt she would have won even more, but women were only allowed to compete in three individual events. She was the first Dutch athlete to win a medal and became an international superstar as a result.
1966 England World Cup Win
Of course we have to start with England's 1966 world cup win. Wembley Stadium is no stranger to nail-biting football matches. The 1966 World Cup final looms large as one of the most legendary events ever to take place in English sport. To this day, this is England’s only major tournament success. The team, led by Bobby Moore, beat West Germany for a controversial win.
After an early 1-0 for West Germany, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters put England in the lead. Late in the game, Wolfgang Weber snagged a tiebreaker, and the game headed into extra time. Hurst scored twice to the rapturous cheers of the crowd, and Kenneth Wolstenholme cried, “Some people are on the pitch, they think it’s all over... it is now!”
1975 Evel Knievel takes flight
While he may no longer be a household name, Evel Knievel was one of the most famous men in the world in the 1970s. The motorcycle stuntman was legendary - kids had Evel Knievel lunch boxes, he was on all the late-night chat shows, and he dazzled massive crowds with daring stunts. In 1975, Knievel chose Wembley Stadium as the site to attempt his biggest feat yet.
He attempted to jump the length of 13 double-decker buses, shattering world records. In reality, all he shattered was his pelvis – he came incredibly close to succeeding but landed in hospital instead. That didn’t deter the crowd, who were just as awestruck as if he had made it.
1985 Live Aid
In 1985, Sir Bob Geldof was horrified by the famine unfolding in Ethiopia. He organised massive fundraising concerts, one of which was held at Wembley Stadium. Some of the legendary performers that day included David Bowie, U2, The Who, Paul McCartney, Sting and Phil Collins.
But there’s no denying that Queen, led by legendary frontman Freddie Mercury, stole the show.
During their six-song, twenty-two-minute set, Mercury had the crowd in the palm of his hand, belting out “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Radio Ga Ga,” “Hammer to Fall,” “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” “We Will Rock You,” and “We Are The Champions.”
To this day, Mercury’s performance continues to set a high bar for other lead singers. As Dave Grohl says, “Every band should study Queen at Live Aid. If you really feel like that barrier (between audience and performer) is gone, you become Freddie Mercury. I consider him the greatest frontman of all time.”
While we tend to associate professional wrestling with the USA, Wembley Stadium hosted a massive pay-per-view event in 1992. Summerslam remains their fourth highest attended show to this day, as 80,355 fans flooded into Wembley to watch the British Bulldog, Davey Boy Smith, take on – and beat – his actual brother-in-law Bret the Hitman Hart. Davey Boy won the Intercontinental Heavyweight Championship – and the hearts of the UK.
1996 EUROS Semi-Final
The 1996 EUROS were also held at Wembley Stadium, and the semi-final was a heartbreaker for fans of England, as Germany beat them on penalties. The game was tied at 1 – 1 and was constantly close through 100 more agonising minutes. During the sudden death penalty shootout, Andreas Kopke managed to deny Gareth Southgate’s 10 perfect spot-kicks. Minutes later, Andreas Moller succeeded from 12 yards, causing many English tears.
Carrying on the tradition of hosting Olympic events, Wembley was once again the international centre of attention in 2012. Now home to the second-largest Olympic venue (a change from 1948), all eyes were on Wembley Stadium during the men’s and women’s football matches, including the gold medal matches. For men’s football, Mexico took gold, followed by Brazil with silver and South Korea with bronze. For women’s football, the United States earned the gold, followed by Japan with silver and Canada with bronze.
2019 Spice Girls reunion
Seven years after their reunited at the 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony, the Spice Girls (minus Posh) took to the stage to belt out their greatest hits to an adoring crowd. They packed out Wembley Stadium in June 2019 for three nights in a row with a wild show that pulled out all the stops. Baby, Ginger, Sporty, and Scary did what they do best – British pop perfection. Girl Power!
With the upcoming UEFA EURO 2021 set to begin shortly at Wembley Stadium, we’re sure to have even more iconic moments to add to the list. Will you be there?