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Past and Present Collide at Wembley, England’s Spiritual, and Spiritless, Home

Category: Football,Sports

That, to many, is what lies at the root of the discontent with England and with the stadium that had come to be seen as its avatar. Results were, for a long time, poor; major tournaments ended in disappointment. T he sight of so many empty seats, particularly in the corporate sections, went from being a source of embarrassment to a running joke.

But more than anything, the problem was that Wembley’s location smacked of centralization, of London’s domination of the rest of the country, of its absorption of investment and resources and opportunity.

That imbalance exists in culture and the arts, too, where government spending is heavily skewed toward London and the South East; the fracture between London — as represented by Westminster, England’s political center — and the rest of the country has only deepened in the two years since the Brexit referendum. The decision to rebuild Wembley on its original site — rather than build a new stadium somewhere more central, more accessible — brought the issue into soccer, too.

“We are a divided country, and there is a disconnect between London, this global megacity, and the rest of the country, which feels economically deprived,” said Simon Chadwick, a professor of sports enterprise at the University of Salford. “Football, like so many industries, tends toward industrial concentration: the conglomeration of power in the hands of a few. London, and Wembley, is emblematic of that corporatization of football.”

For now, wherever England plays, the nation is behind Southgate’s team; success in Russia ensured that. The afterglow will not last forever, though. The F.A. may have recognized that — England played in Leicester and Leeds this year — and Southgate, for one, has voiced his support for taking some home games on the road, strengthening the bond between the players and their people, keeping those paper airplanes at bay.

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