8 October 2000

Brough Scott finds the `Venue of Legends’ in mourning as the lights go out on Wembley and Keegan’s England reign

A wet day for a funeral. The send-off was flag-waveingly joyous at first but, after all the years, it was like laying an old relative to rest. When we finally left after the fireworks last night, it was, in every sense, a corpse and Kevin’s reign had also gone to dust.

Funny how age takes the looks off things – off people too. No doubt the Empire Stadium was the most glamorous place in the world on that mad, overcrowded opening day in 1923. Still was when Fanny Blankers-Koen broke all those Olympic records in 1948. And 1966? Yes, but that was 34 years ago.

Bobby Charlton, Franz Beckenbauer and Keegan are older too. Far from corpses, thank heaven. Sir Bobby, plumper now as he and “The Kaiser” lead out the teams, no lanks of hair to try to wisp across that famous skull, but gold-rimmed glasses, fine double-breasted grey suit and all, still unmistakably Charlton R. Beckenbauer was still magnificent, his long raincoat impeccably elegant compared to Bobby’s more functional use of blue England puffa jacket. But both of them are coming to fireside time. This Wembley must have a bonfire of its own. Because the structural side is no match for its equivalents around the world.

Just to think of the Stade de France is to almost wince in recognition of how much our over-lauded “Venue of Legends” has been overtaken by the rest. Time for us as well as the stadium to face the challenge of the future rather than all those faded glories of the past.

Would that we could put even the simplest of modern-day excesses behind us. Twenty minutes to kick-off, both sets of players are on the pitch, the public address making appropriate appeals for everyone to enjoy and respect the occasion. Then they announce the teams. Supportive cheers as our boys are called. But the moment the first German name is called, all the rest is lost in a crescendo of booing. Not everything has moved for the better since 1923.

But this is still our premier sporting temple and the mood soon caught home, first with the wistful nostalgia of You’ll Never Walk Alone and then with upbeat tempo of The Great Escape. We were beginning to yearn for the football now, but not before opera singer Russell Watson had given us a powerful rendering of Jerusalem while some fountains played behind the puddled goal in what must have been one of the most inappropriate displays in all Wembley history.

When the teams finally marched on there was a nice touch of symbolism England in 1966 red, each player leading a child in a German white shirt, while their opponents did the opposite. Despite mass booing, “The Kaiser” sang Deutschland Uber Alles with typecast dignity. Sir Bobby gives God Save the Queen a good bawling. Southgate and Adams are singers, Neville and Campbell are just scowls of concentrations. Play time is very near now.

Ten past three, Rule Britannia. Fat lot of good it did us, when Germany scored shortly afterwards. From up here it looked like Seaman slipped but imagine what the pitch would have been like in the old days. With those big studs and toe caps the penalty boxes would have been like those bits of plough they used to have in the Grand National.

Wembley has always been a place of moods and emotions and it was sad how they were swinging now. A bit of hope with Beckham’s free-kick but then it was the old story of German efficiency against England’s hit-and-hope. The TV showed a shot of Keegan, his hair quite white. Poor, doomed Kevin was reaping a harvest full of thorns.

It was only 3.40pm but the floodlights were full on. Gloom for England, there has been plenty of that along the way. The turf is so slipperyy that desperate England players slither like skaters on the first day of a freeze-up. Wet day for a funeral.

There was a brief flurry of hope when we started brightly in the second half but the confidence soon weakened. Kevin stood out next to Rudi Voller by the touchline, both their heads soaked dark with the rain, which is sluicing now. Beckham is limping and has to come off. For Kevin, it is resigning time.

The announcer tells us the crowd figure, 76,377, a lot of mourners at the church. The final whistle goes. Keegan takes his own final exit line. In what must have seemed like a good idea at the time, a cloud of golden strips of paper is loosed off into the stands while the silly fountains play. A few fireworks fizzle and bang. Yes, a wet day for a funeral.

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