There are few places more deserving of the words 'hallowed ground' to a football fan than Wembley Stadium. Demolished in 2002 to make way for a new state-of-the-art arena, it was a veritable museum of British sporting history and famous football moments. And, more than any other stadium in the world, to play at Wembley was understood to be something special - the pinnacle of being a footballer was to ply your trade beneath its majestic Twin Towers.
Now those much-loved towers have made way for a 133-metre arch, the symbol of the new Wembley, which opened in spring 2007 - seven years after English football said goodbye to the old stadium.
For the rest of the world, playing in the Empire Stadium, as it was originally known, symbolised being closer to where the game was created. For the English, an inordinate number of memories were made on that expansive Wembley pitch. It has witnessed the England team at their best and worst and was the stage on which they joined the ranks of the select few nations to have won the FIFA World Cup ™ in 1966.
The man who famously lifted the cup that celebrated 30th of July 1966 was Bobby Moore, who enjoyed more than his fair share of triumphs at the old ground. The great England defender also won the 1964 FA Cup and 1965 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup at Wembley, though in 1975 he was on the losing side for Fulham against his former side West Ham.
Fellow 1966 hero Bobby Charlton did at least as well as his captain, winning in addition the FA Cup in 1963 and the European Champion Clubs' Cup with the outstanding Manchester United team of 1968. Also in that side was Northern Ireland's greatest ever player George Best and famed Scottish marksman Dennis Law. On the other half of the pitch with Benfica was Eusebio, the legendary Portugal striker, who tasted defeat there not only in 1968 but also in the 1963 European Cup final and 1966 FIFA World Cup semi-final against the hosts.
Dutch legend Johan Cruyff thrilled and stunned over 90,000 supporters in Wembley at a 1977 friendly, which the Netherlands won 2-0. He also lifted a European Cup in the stadium as a player with Ajax in 1971 and a coach with Barcelona in 1992. That feat would be repeated by his midfield general in 1992, Pep Guardiola, who lifted the trophy as a player under Cruyff before leading the current Barça crop to a memorable UEFA Champions League victory in 2011 in the new arena.
Another fantastic foreigner to light up the Wembley pitch was 'The Galloping Major', Ferenc Puskas, who led Hungary in their 6-3 drubbing of England in what is surely one of the most celebrated and important friendly matches of all time. If you wanted to make a statement about football, Wembley was the best place to do it, and the 'Magical Magyars' of 1953 underlined both their greatness and England's naivety at the time.
The 'auld enemy' to the north, Scotland, were actually the first team to get the better of England at Wembley, which they did the second time the two sides met there in 1928. It was a rather notorious 5-1 hammering in fact, though England got their revenge two years later under the same towers with a 5-2 win of their own.
Wembley itself was almost as celebrated as the national team it housed, however, and domestic and European cups of all kinds were played out in the ground. The stadium hosted every FA Cup final from 1923 to 2000, every League Cup final from 1967 to 2000, as well as seven European finals (five in the European Cup and two in the Cup Winners' Cup). Since reopening in 2007, it has continued to host the FA and League Cup finals and hosted the UEFA Champions League final in 2011. European football’s showpiece match is to be held at Wembley again in 2013 to mark the FA’s 150th anniversary celebrations.
Of all the great and glorious FA Cup finals, two that stand out prominently are the first, the 'White Horse" final of 1923, and the 'Matthews' final of 1953. Built to accommodate 127,000 people, the first FA Cup final reportedly saw close to a quarter of a million cram into the ground. Kick-off was delayed for 45 minutes as the pitch had to be cleared of supporters there to see Bolton take on West Ham. Among those restoring order were a mounted police officer, Constable George Scorey, and his distinctive white horse, Billy, who stood out in the throng. Bolton's first goal in a 2-0 success was scored while a West Ham player was still getting through the crowd after retrieving the ball for a throw-in.
Three decades later, one of England's most respected footballers, Sir Stanley Matthews was the star of the show in another match featuring Bolton. Matthews, then 38, was seeking an FA Cup winners' medal at the third attempt but Bolton seemed to have ruined that hope when they went 3-1 ahead. However, the 'Wizard of the Dribble' proceeded to tear apart the opposition and those in Wembley on that historic day would never stop talking about the way that Matthews' Blackpool came back to win 4-3.
The first FA Cup final at the newly rebuilt Wembley Stadium was to be decided by a Chelsea player who now holds a place in Wembley folklore. Didier Drogba grabbed the only goal of that showpiece 2007 final against Manchester United, with the new Wembley waiting over two hours for its first FA Cup final goal. Drogba went on to grab a further seven strikes in major Wembley semi-finals and finals. He is the only player to have scored in four FA Cup finals, with Chelsea winning all four of them at Wembley.
Wembley has already seen some remarkable drama in its new guise. As well as the aforementioned Drogba quadruple of FA Cup final goals and wins and the Messi-inspired Barça Champions League win in 2011, Swansea City won the first major trophy in their history in February 2013 with a League Cup win over Bradford City, while Birmingham City overcame Arsenal with a late Obafemi Martins goal to stun the Gunners in the 2011 League Cup final.
Such recollections flood from Wembley unlike any other ground in the world, and because of England's significant place in the development of the beautiful game, their football memories have a collective magnetism for everyone else.