Aerial view of the entrance of Stadium showing two twin towers at the front. Two football teams can be seen lined up on the pitch before the match.
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100 Years of Wembley Stadium

Take a closer look at the history of this iconic sport and entertainment venue.

Although now principally thought of as a centrepiece for British sport, Wembley Stadium was originally envisaged as a centrepiece for the British Empire Exhibition of 1924.

Aerial view of the entrance of Stadium showing two twin towers at the front. Two football teams can be seen lined up on the pitch before the match.
Wembley Stadium on FA Cup Final day, 23 April 1927. © Historic England Archive. EPW017629.

The stadium was rebuilt completely, re-opening in 2007 with Norman Foster’s 133 metre arch providing an iconic replacement for the old building’s twin towers. It remains a focus of sporting and cultural activity.

Before the stadium

The original Wembley Park was a Humphry Repton designed parkland landscape.

Once chosen as the venue for the British Empire Exhibition, it was totally transformed.

Black and white image of markings on the ground as construction of the stadium begins.
Construction of the Empire Stadium for the British Empire Exhibition. Aerial photograph taken on 22 May 1922. © Historic England Archive. EPW007831.

The site of the stadium itself had been occupied by the abandoned base of Watkins Tower (a failed attempt to rival the Eiffel Tower), which was levelled before construction started.

The construction of Wembley Stadium, between 1922 and 1923

After the turf was cut by King George V, stadium construction began. Sir Robert McAlpine’s civil engineering firm worked to the designs of architects Sir John Simpson and Maxwell Ayrton.

Construction site showing progress of the stadium. The structure of the stadium is taking shape with seated area identified around the edge. The front entrance has been carved out.
Construction of the Empire Stadium for the British Empire Exhibition. Aerial photograph taken on 5 September 1922. © Historic England Archive. EPW008076.

The design took inspiration from the Imperial theme. For instance, the domes of the twin towers were inspired by Mughal Architecture but were built in concrete.

250,000 tons of earth were removed, and the new stadium was constructed with an official capacity of 127,000. It took 10 months and cost £750,000 to complete.

The White Horse Final, 1923

The stadium was completed on 24 April 1923. 4 days later, it hosted its first major sporting event: the 1923 FA Cup Final between Bolton Wanderers and West Ham United.

A black and white image of an aerial view of the stadium showing lots of people in the stands and on the pitch. Fields can be seen in the surrounding areas.
The first Wembley FA Cup Final, 1923. © Historic England Archive. EPW008545.

A massive crowd of more than 200,000 people had gathered. Turnstiles were overwhelmed, and chaotic scenes ensued as crowds burst onto the pitch.

Kick-off was delayed. Mounted police were deployed. PC George Scorey’s white horse (named Billy) is memorialised as the face of the challenge, as they and their colleagues patiently edge the crowds off the playing surface.

Bolton went on to win the match 2-0. Lessons learned, all subsequent events were ticketed.

The British Empire Exhibition, between 1924 and 1925

A year later, George V opened the British Empire Exhibition in a ceremony broadcast on BBC radio. While the stadium was a centrepiece, it was just one of many attractions the exhibition had to offer.

A black and white image showing an aerial view of the stadium with buildings and parks surrounding it.
Aerial view of the British Empire Exhibition site, June 1924. © Historic England Archive. EPW010737.

The stadium hosted various performances and events, including a Boy Scout jamboree, popular pageants, and concerts by massed marching bands. Edward Elgar’s ‘Empire March’ was written for performance at Wembley.

Other sporting events also took place during this time, including Rugby Union, boxing and another 2 FA Cup Finals.

A black and white close-up aerial view of the stadium showing people sat within the stands. A crowd of people are in the middle of a pitch facing a white square boxing ring.
The first ever boxing match at Wembley Stadium, London on 9th August 1924. © Historic England Archive. EPW011412.

After the Exhibition

The British Empire Exhibition had been a partial triumph. Despite attracting large numbers of visitors, it had not been a huge commercial success.

A black and white close up view of the stadium from above. There is an autogyro in the foreground flying around the stadium.
The FA Cup Final 1935. A Metropolitan Police Autogyro (Cierva C-30) monitors security at the match between Sheffield Wednesday and West Bromwich Albion. © Historic England Archive. EPW046905.

The site was sold to a property speculator. Much of the site was cleared, although some buildings were retained and given a new purpose. Demolition of the stadium remained a consideration until 1927, when it was purchased by the Wembley Stadium and Greyhound Racecourse Company.

This saved it for national sporting occasions, including FA Cup Finals from 1926 onwards.

As well as football and greyhound racing, Wembley went on to host many other sporting events, including the Rugby League Challenge Cup and sports like speedway and hockey.

The Austerity Games 1948

Amongst the most notable of Wembley’s many sporting honours was hosting athletic events for the 1948 Olympics.

The Austerity Games took place with very little preparation and on a shoestring budget. It started just 1000 days after the end of the Second World War, in a bomb-ravaged city where rationing was still in effect.

Two people standing on the pitch holding an Olympic flag which is large cream flag which has five coloured circles in the middle
The 1948 Olympic flag still preserved at the current Wembley Stadium. © Simon Inglis. PLA01/07/0013.

Among the stars of the show was ‘the flying housewife’, whose exploits inspired a generation of women in sport.

Fanny Blankers-Koen was a 30 year old multiple world record holder and mother of two when she wowed the Wembley crowds.

She won 4 sprint gold medals (100m, 200m, 4x100m and 80m hurdles), which was more medals than any other athlete at the games.

A tiled wall with writing detailing Olympic rolls of honour.
The 1948 Olympic Rolls of Honour on display at Wembley Stadium, April 2011. © Simon Inglis. PLA01/07/0014.

‘They think it’s all over…’

The 1966 World Cup Final is arguably the most historic sporting event in Wembley’s history.

A black and white aerial view of the stadium with cars and buildings in the background.
Aerial view of an international friendly match between England and Brazil. © Historic England Archive. EAW111009.

Having been awarded the hosting rights, improvements were made to the stadium, including a new electronic scoreboard and a roof covering all the stands.

Wembley hosted 9 matches throughout the tournament, as England reached the final. The host nation was well supported to victory over West Germany in a dramatic match, leading to Kenneth Wolstenholme’s now iconic BBC commentary in the closing moments: ‘They think it’s all over… it is now!’

Statue of the footballer Bobby Moore standing with arms crossed and left foot resting on top of a football. On the base that the statue sits on, there is mouldings of the English football team of the time. The English flag is in the background.
The statue outside Wembley Stadium of footballer and England captain Bobby Moore, by Philip Jackson. © Simon Inglis. PLA01/03/1183.

Bobby Moore, the captain that day, remains England’s youngest men’s captain and the only England football captain to have lifted the World Cup.

Live Aid

Wembley’s history goes beyond sport. It has hosted a variety of entertainment spectacles, including Evel Knievel’s motorcycle jump over 13 London buses.

It was also a popular music venue in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, and host to a roll call of popular chart acts.

Lots of people gathered in the crowd watching a performance on stage.
Crowd sat the Live Aid charity concert on 13 July 1985. © LMK / MediaPunch.

Live Aid in 1985 is perhaps the best remembered musical event. In response to the famine in Ethiopia between 1983 and 1985, a group of prominent musicians came together for a charity concert.

Performers included Bob Geldof, Elton John, David Bowie, Paul McCartney, Status Quo, U2 and Queen.

More than 72,000 people came to Wembley to see the acts perform. It was estimated to have reached a TV audience of 1.9 billion people: around 40% of the world’s population at the time.

An ending and new beginnings

Toward the end of the 1990s, Wembley Stadium was starting to feel its age. The old ground closed in October 2000 and demolition started in 2002, with the twin towers being dismantled in December.

Image of the stadium in the distance with a white wire arch which covers the length of the stadium. Houses can be seen around the stadium.
The new Wembley was completed in 2007 with a capacity of 90,000. © Historic England Archive. 24391/008.

Redevelopment started in 2003. After setbacks, the new Wembley Stadium was opened in 2007 on the same site as the old ground.

Designed by Populous and Foster and Partners, the new stadium cost £798 million to build. It is now owned by the Football Association, the governing body for English football.

It has an all-covered capacity of 90,000. The most notable feature of the design is the lattice arch, rising 133 metres high to provide support for the roof.

A partial view of the stadium and arch in the background visible between two buildings.
Looking east from the concourse of London Designer Outlet, towards Wembley Stadium, November 2013. © Simon Inglis. PLA01/03/1172.

The Wembley arch is now a prominent feature in the landscape of North London.

It is sometimes illuminated at night to mark special occasions, including an appreciation for NHS and front line workers during the Covid 19 pandemic. In 2022, it was lit up in rainbow colours to promote anti-discrimination.

UEFA European Women’s Football Championship 2022

After having been banned from playing for half a century between 1921 and 1971, England’s women footballers finally roared back in 2022.

A group of female footballers posing for a photograph in football kits with medals around their necks and a trophy held at the front.
England women’s football players celebrate after winning UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 championship. © Steffan Bowen/Andrew Orchard Sports Photography/Alamy Live News.

England hosted the UEFA European Women’s Football Championship, packing out stadiums up and down the country.

Wembley Stadium hosted the final with 87,000 people in attendance, setting a European record for women’s football. And, of course, the Lionesses won!

Further reading

I work in Historic England's Archive, based in Swindon. Originally from Bedfordshire, I studied ancient history and then went into archaeology. I eventually wound up here, surrounded by millions of fantastic old photos and documents.

9 comments on “100 Years of Wembley Stadium

  1. Andrew C. More

    The autogyro was being trialled by the Metropolitan Police – it was not owned by them. The caption is misleading.

  2. Andrew S

    It does seem wrong that none of the buildings from the British Empire Exhibition was listed. The last one survived until around 10 years ago, having been used most recently as a warehouse; a real missed opportunity.

  3. “and sports like speedway!” If it were not for speedway along side Dog racing, there would have been no Wembley stadium. When the Wembley Lions first started riding there in 1928. They were getting crowds of 50,000 plus for league meetings. From 1946–1951 the crowds increased to 60,000 a week as well as hosting 26 World individual Speedway Championships. Where a crowds of between 80,000 to 90,000 was not unusual. Having seen Wembley’s 100 Years celebration poster, which did not include one reference to speedway, was at best insulting to say the very least. Whoever designed that poster, should of least checked their history. quite ironic!! Maybe he/she only went back a few years! Next time maybe they should use Google! It wouldn’t haven take long to see how speedway was such a big part of Wembley ‘s history

    Thank you for your time.

    Kind regards


    My grandmother Idina visited the British Empire exhibition in 1924 with her parents and brothers. They had returned from many decades in Simla India, and this was very exciting. The Flying Scotsman was on display there, as a newly built Doncaster locomotive. Sir John Betjeman explores the remaining buildings in the 1973 film Metroland – there was a church design pavilion, later used for Holiday on Ice. I went to the old stadium, the twins towers should never have been lost, a crime.

  5. It’s nice to see that some of the old Wembley was preserved when it was demolished. Both concrete flagpoles topped with crowns were carefully removed from the domes of the twin towers and sent to the Fawley Hill Estate. This was the home of the late Sir William Mcalpine, great grandson of Sir Robert Mcalpine, who’s building firm constructed the stadium in 1923. They specialised in concrete and the stadium walls were designed to look like Roman arches. Round windows plus cast iron lion details from the towers survived and were bought by architectural historian Charles Brooking. He also bought many other fixtures and fittings that would otherwise have been disposed of e.g. wooden doors, window and section of the royal staircase from the Royal box, fanlight window from the restaurant. The huge timber gates, designed in a Medieval style which provided access to the players tunnel were also saved.

    A bust of the old owner of the ground Arthur Elvin is also on display inside the new stadium. Both concrete tops of the towers which the flagpoles were attached survive, one of which is at Toykington recreation ground, not far from the existing stadium. It would be nice to see this being given protection by listing in the future.

    Thank you for the excellent article,


  6. Utilizing a digital scoreboard at Wembley Stadium offers numerous advantages, such as enhanced visibility and flexibility in displaying real-time match information, graphics, and advertisements. The dynamic nature of a digital scoreboard allows for engaging visual presentations that captivate spectators and add to the overall immersive experience of sporting events. Additionally, digital scoreboards can be easily updated and customized, ensuring accurate and up-to-date information for both on-site attendees and viewers watching the events remotely. It’s a modern addition that complements the iconic status and cultural significance of Wembley Stadium.


    Hello, it was good to see the new stadium at Wembley, my Husband & Son had hands on making the ROPES for it. It was very exiting in our home to no they had the job in making them. My husband was the Rope planner, my son had the job in operation the machines to make them. Bridon British Ropes Doncaster. Is the place of work. They also had the pleasure of coming down to Wembley for the opening of the NEW STADIUM. And have been often to many a football match, in the NEW Stadium as well as the old one in the past. So hope everyone reading this post, hands as much pleasure about the stadium, as my family did making the ropes for it. Memory’s for life in my family, History for us. Thank you. Enjoy.

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