The packed tube ride up from Baker Street, the first glimpse of the stadium as you emerge from Wembley Park station, then the growing anticipation as you walk up Wembley Way. It feels like old times. England fans, though, were here to usher in a new era, the first witnesses to Wembley Stadium in its new incarnation.
The place is inseparable from its past. Most supporters on their way to the stadium had their own memories of the old ground and those that were too young to remember – it is after all nearly seven years since England last played here – had their parents to tell them about it. "Finals still meant something back then," mumbled one Tottenham Hotspur FC fan, as an Arsenal FC supporter next to him ran through the catalogue of games he had attended in Cardiff during Wembley's wilderness years.
Everyone seemed united, though, in thinking the stadium was worth the wait. "Fantastic," Matthew, a Chelsea FC fan, said. "Very impressive, worth every penny. It'll take time to get used to but it's a lot better than the previous stadium. Once the Twin Towers had gone, no one was that bothered anymore. Now this will bed in, especially with the arch. I've got memories of the old stadium, but this does it proud." Matthew's father, Alan, agreed: "It's quite breathtaking. I was here at the last FA Cup final and I hope I'll be back for the next one. The old stadium wasn't that hard to replace. It had had its day."
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Just as England fans said goodbye to the old Wembley depressed after another defeat by Germany, they welcomed in the new with dropped jaws as Italy Under-21 striker Gianpaolo Pazzini rifled in the first goal after only 28 seconds. The ball took a deflection off Anton Ferdinand as it flew past goalkeeper Lee Camp, but the defender declined the chance to become the first England player to get on the scoresheet.
That honour went to David Bentley. The midfielder was the pick of the home side and he brought the crowd to their feet with a free-kick 30 minutes in that curled out of the reach of Gianluca Curci. Finally the fans had something to cheer. The famous Wembley roar had failed to materialise when Nigel Pearson, standing in for Stuart Pearce for the day, became the first England coach to lead a side out at the new ground. Even the first rendition of the national anthem seemed surprisingly subdued.
'Ingerland, Ingerland, Ingerland'
It takes time to get used to a new ground and it was no different here. The crowd of 55,700 - a reduced capacity as final safety checks are completed on the 90,000-seat arena - were slow to settle. It was not until the eighth minute that we were given an indication of the sound the supposedly brilliant acoustics might produce. A spontaneous roar of "Ingerland, Ingerland, Ingerland," raised spirits, quashed as quickly by the sight of a Mexican wave. A Mexican wave at Wembley? Times have changed.
Ultimately England supporters may not have had a victory to cheer but football's return to the hallowed turf was no anti-climax. Pazzini scored twice more in the second half to become the first to claim a hat-trick on the new ground while England got two of their own from Wayne Routledge and Matt Derbyshire to ensure honours ended even at 3-3. It has been a long time coming, but as the player passed up through the stands to collect commemorative medals from the new Royal Box, it felt like football had finally come home.
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