We arrived at Wembley Park Station at 6:00pm, early enough to avoid the throng on Wembley (nay Olympic) Way, but still close enough to rush hour to have spent the preceding journey talking line ups through other people’s armpits. Usually we’d stop for a drink at The Green Man but this time we’d decided to forego the ritual delight of warm Carling in a car park to soak up as much decadence as our complimentary evening in the The Bobby Moore Club could offer.
Club Wembley has become a bête noir for English fans since the stadium’s rebirth in 2007. Effectively a cash cow for the FA, it’s function as a high end season ticket for about eight games a year has, in many people’s eyes, come to embody the increasing corporatization of football and the pricing out of the regular fan. At the 2012 FA Cup Final between Liverpool and Chelsea for example, a whopping 40,000 seats were allocated to people not officially affiliated with either club. Only 16,500 of these go to Club Wembley, most of them in the stadium’s rhinestone belt of a middle tier, but it’s the smaller, central section that attracts the eye and the ire, with it’s big red blot of empty seats and unfortunate positioning directly in front of the TV Cameras. It’s here we’d be sitting.
Our entrance was located at the base of Lady Wembley, between the splayed legs of Olympic Way, which seemed like it deserved a lovely flowery metaphor on the welcoming love of her hospitality, or some kind of crass line about f***ing the average fan. I decided to go with both.
The inflated feeling of importance began instantly, as a tiny red carpet and a couple of short steel barricades had enticed a small crowd to gather, presumably in the hope of catching a glimpse of Noel Gallagher or Russell Brand. People will literally hang around anywhere if there’s a steel barricade and a red carpet. So much so I’m surprised the police haven’t thought of this as a stealth kettling technique. Sadly the Gallaghers and Brands were likely all absent, or in boxes, so the inquisitive spotters were instead treated to a fleeting glance of an accounts manager from Celsa Steel, or a senior co-ordinations executive from Gazprom. The glamour was palpable.
For anyone who’s never been to the new Wembley (are we still calling it the ‘new’ Wembley?) it’s hard to describe it with reference to any other football ground. It’s not like any other football ground. It seems to have been designed by someone with an extensive background in airports, and can occasionally resemble what I imagine a Scientology brainwashing center to look like. This is particularly true of the swanky bits. Once we’d swiped ourselves through what looked like an electronic customs barrier at Terminal 5, we were up an escalator and into our destination – A large glass walled dining room situated directly in front of a much larger and convenient entrance we were too important to go through.
The Bobby Moore Club is essentially a big restaurant with a huge amount of reserved tables. Running the floor were an army of purple suited women who all looked like department store cosmetic saleswomen and who’s job it was to marshal hundreds of college work experience waiters while asking people if everything was alright every minute and a half. There seemed to be slightly too many of these people, asking if everything was alright slightly too much, especially since my natural reaction to being asked if everything is alright more than once is to assume something is obviously horribly wrong, and they’re nervously trying to work out whether I’ve noticed.
More amusingly there was a live band playing contemporary hits in the style of easy listening lounge jazz. These included The Arctic Monkey’s Do I Wanna Know? And Plan B’s She Said, complete with rap. I was beginning to enjoy myself.
Immediately I noticed my premature celebrity naysaying was wrong, as out of the blue, sitting at the next, much larger table, was someone out of Blue. Not one of the two ones from Blue whose names I knew, but another one, who I decided to call Steve. Steve from Blue had gotten quite fat, and was busy having his photo taken with several of the purple women.
Also having his photo taken, though with punters not the purple women, who seemed to have no idea who he was, was Luther Blissett. Blissett was wearing a name tag and doing the rounds like a past-it boxer meeting and greeting at an off strip Vegas Casino. He didn’t stop at our table though, leading me to presume this was obviously some higher level of hospitality, beyond our pay grade. This was a shame as I’d always wanted to ask him about his life as a polymathic anarcho activist.
Despite having a rather small table, the club had piled absolutely everything it could onto it, from programmes to betting slips to glasses for every conceivable type of drink, to the point where putting anything down was becoming problematic. We were also treated to a choice of several ridiculous meals, all of which seemed to have been compiled from a list of things no one would ever think to eat at a football match. Luther Blissett was now talking to Steve from Blue who was gleefully tucking into a steak and chips. Since steak and chips wasn’t on our menu, and was far too sensible a thing to be there anyway, I began to wonder whether we were actually in a higher hosp level than Steve. If so, it would mean we were essentially paying (if we were paying) to not have to talk to Luther Blissett. I began to feel bad for Luther Blissett. I also wanted steak and chips.
Eventually a booming disembodied voice notified us that the teams were about to come out, so we turned down the complimentary coffee and croissant that were bafflingly offered to us and made our way onto the terraces. It soon became obvious that we’d been too eager, as, predictably, no one else from Chez Moore had done so. This quickly became awkward as Wembley had laid out cards for a National Anthem flag mosaic. With barely a third of the seats filled, the result resembled less a stirring display of national pride, and more the world’s most poorly attended protest.
After a typically frustrating half we returned inside and were immediately offered a cocktail called “A Grenade” by a grinning attractive woman with a tray. Sadly this turned out to be her confused pronunciation of Grenadine, and the sickly non-alcoholic neon monstrosity was quickly abandoned in favour of a beer. With no booming tannoy voice to remind us, and a steady flow of alcohol to distract us, we managed to just miss the start of the second half, undermining my plan to stand and tut smugly at people returning to their seats late.
I began to worry we’d been seduced by the dark side. Without knowing it becoming everything we hate, like the second act of a sh*t coming of age film where Zac Efron goes to the big city and neglects his small town friends in favour of coke and hookers. Only in a bad way. I’ve been here before too. This was me now.
Thankfully midway through the half we chuckled at the substitution of Andreas Bjelland because it looked a little bit like A. Bellend on the scoreboard, and I regained some satisfaction from the fact that no one else did.
A satisfactory second half and a relaxing après match bottle of (presumably good) red wine later and we left to join the hoard of plebs being kettled down Olympic Way. Without a word to each other, we tucked our hospitality passes under our jumpers sheepishly, like we’d just embarked on some exhilarating but illicit bathroom tryst. No one here needs to know, we thought. No one needs to know.