On 7 October 2000, England played their final match at the old Wembley Stadium.
The iconic stadium, with its famous Twin Towers acting as a welcoming visage at the top of Wembley Way, was built in 1923 at a cost of £750,000 and served as the home of English football for nearly eight decades.
The FA Cup final stood as the centrepiece of the English game throughout the twentieth century, and Wembley Stadium was the stage on which the grand spectacle was played.
It was also home to the Three Lions greatest ever triumph: the 1966 World Cup final victory over Germany. As well as the entirety of England’s invigorating, yet ultimately disappointing, Euro ’96 campaign.
But, after 77 years of service, Wembley Stadium was deemed no longer fit for purpose. A relic of a bygone era, Wembley was to be demolished and replaced by a state of the art 90,000 capacity stadium to take England, and English football, into the new millennium.
Geoff Hurst’s World Cup winning hat-trick; “They think it’s all over …”; Paul Gascoigne’s agonising miss; Gareth Southgate’s penalty – there was no more fitting opponent for England’s final match at Wembley than Germany.
And it just so happened that the draw for the 2002 World Cup Qualifiers meant that Rudi Völler’s Mannschaft were the final visitors to the “Hallowed Turf”.
The two sides had met just a few months earlier at the European Championships, with England gaining modicum of revenge for their Euro ’96 semi-final shootout defeat by defeating the Germans 1-0 thanks to an Alan Shearer header.
It wasn’t enough to prevent Kevin Keegan’s men from exiting the competition at the group stage, though, following defeats to Portugal and Romania. So the pressure was on England, and Keegan, to overcome their Euro 2000 embarrassment and set themselves up for a place at the upcoming World Cup in Japan and South Korea.
Keegan’s selection for the game was one that straddled two generations of Three Lions regulars. The old guard of Tony Adams, Martin Keown and David Seaman all started alongside the likes of David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Michael Owen, the men who would lead England into the 2000s.
The presence on the bench of 21-year-old Kieron Dyer, 22-year-old Emile Heskey and 18-year-old Gareth Barry hinted at a bright future for the men in white, as the nation bade farewell to Wembley in its original incarnation.
Völler’s side, lining up in a 3-5-2 formation, was one which contained the precociously talented 20-year-old midfielder Sebastian Deisler, whose career would never reach the heights expected due to injury and depression. At the time, however, Deisler was considered one of the hottest prospects on the Continent.
They also had Michael Ballack in midfield. The 24-year-old Bayer Leverkusen player was an unknown quantity outside of the Bundesliga at the time, but two years later he would lead Bayer to a Champions League final before guiding Germany to the final of the World Cup.
After just 14 minutes, Germany were awarded a free-kick 30 yards from goal after Scholes brought down Ballack. Liverpool midfielder Dietmar Hamann struck the dead ball hard and true towards England’s goal. Seaman, who was still busy trying to line up his wall while the kick was being taken, was unable to react quickly enough to prevent the ball nestling into the bottom corner.
Germany had an early lead and now the emphasis was on the home side to prevent Wembley’s farewell party from ending in disaster.
Adams, Beckham and Andy Cole all brought saves out of Oliver Kahn in the Germany goal, and Dyer, Barry and Ray Parlour were brought on in the second half as Keegan desperately sought a solution. But England were unable to muster an equaliser.
It was a drizzly, grey October afternoon in London and after the game the clouds over Wembley took on new meaning. Keegan immediately announced his resignation, feeling his position had become untenable having failed to right what felt like a sinking ship after an abysmal summer at Euro 2000.
Hamann, whose goal acted as the final nail in Keegan’s coffin, expressed a degree of regret after the match. The former Newcastle United midfielder grew up supporting Hamburg and Keegan, who starred for HSV between 1977 and 1980, was one of his childhood idols. He was happy to have helped his national team earn a vital victory but simultaneously saddened to have dealt a blow to one of his heroes.
Howard Wilkinson and Peter Taylor both spent time as caretaker managers before the FA appointed Lazio coach Sven-Göran Eriksson as the full-time England boss in 2001.
Although the final Wembley defeat to Germany was a hard pill to swallow for England fans, the revenge enacted in the return fixture couldn’t have been sweeter. A Michael Owen hat-trick inspired the Three Lions to a historic 5-1 victory at the Olympiastadion in Munich in September 2001.
And Eriksson’s men would seal qualification for the 2002 World Cup thanks to a dramatic 2-2 draw with Greece at Old Trafford. Beckham, who had since assumed the captain’s armband, netted a stoppage time free-kick to ensure that England topped their qualification group.
After the doors closed at the old Wembley Stadium for the final time, demolition began in 2002. As England waited for the new Wembley to be constructed, the national team spent nearly seven years hopping from ground to ground, playing at a variety of stadia around the country, while the FA Cup and League Cup finals found a temporary home at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.
The new Wembley Stadium, with its eye-catching arch and vast all-seater capacity, might well have all the mod cons. But the old stadium – the Twin Towers, the 39 steps up to the Royal box – will always have a special place in the hearts of football fans old enough, and lucky enough, to have experienced its majesty.