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 England's History at Empire Stadium

The Empire Stadium in Wembley, popularly known as Wembley Stadium, was the most famous football ground in the world.  Because England was the birthplace of the modern game and shared with Scotland the founding role in international football, Wembley, as it evolved into England's national stadium, gained worldwide regard as the citadel of football and as hallowed ground.  After England began playing teams other than Scotland at Wembley in 1951, the world's national sides considered an invitation to play there a great honour.

England played 223 matches at old Wembley.  They played the other home countries there every other year as part of the British Championship, Scotland since the 1920's and Wales and Northern Ireland since the 1950's.  For that reason, Scotland played the most matches against England at Wembley, 30, followed by Northern Ireland, 18, and Wales, 16.  Outside the home countries, Brazil and Germany/West Germany led the way with nine matches each.   

England played 51 representative teams at Wembley.  Two of those teams, the Rest of Europe and the Rest of the World, were not national selections, but representative sides consisting of players drawn from several nations.  England thus played 49 national teams at Wembley, although that number is smaller by two if predecessor and successor nations are lumped together (united Germany and West Germany, on the one hand, and Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic, on the other).  

Primarily because England played a comparatively large number of matches at Wembley against the other home countries, they had more wins against Scotland, 16 in 30 matches, Northern Ireland, 13 in 18 matches, and Wales, 10 in 16 matches, than against any other national team.  Of the teams from abroad, Hungary went down to defeat at Wembley more often than any other, six times in seven matches.  

England's most memorable victory at Wembley is, of course, the 4-2 extra-time win over West Germany in the 1966 World Cup final.  It is still constantly discussed in England since it remains the national side's only victory in a World Cup final.  But the continuing controversy over whether England's third goal--the first in extra-time--crossed the goal line has ensured the match also remains known throughout the footballing world more than 35 years later.  

Because England were widely regarded as the world's leading football power through the Second World War and had not been decisively dethroned as the second half of the 20th century began, it is more for famous England defeats than for celebrated England victories that Wembley is remembered in much of the world.  Thus, although Hungary lost six of their seven matches at Wembley, more than any other foreign team, it is the single match in seven that England did not win, the momentous 1953 match in which England fell, 6-3, that is recalled around the globe.

Scotland were the first of 17 countries to beat England at Wembley (16 if Germany and West Germany are considered as one).  Their first of nine Wembley wins came in 1928 in only the second international played at Wembley, when the side remembered as the "Wembley Wizards" tore apart England, 5-1.  In fact, since the first international the two old rivals played at Wembley ended in a 1-1 draw in 1924, Scotland were the first national side to win at Wembley.  England did not gain their first win there until 1930, when, in the third Wembley international, they beat the Auld Enemy, 5-2. 

By 1951, when Argentina became the second national team to play England at Wembley in an official international match, Scotland had gained three more victories there--1-0 in 1938, 3-1 in 1949 and 3-2 in 1951, just before the South American team's visit.  Thus, in 1953, when Hungary became the second national team to beat England at Wembley, thrashing them 6-3 with a side still hailed half a century later as the "Magical Magyars," Scotland already had accomplished the feat four times.

Still, it is Hungary's 1953 victory that is the most celebrated Wembley match outside the World Cup final of 1966, and to this day the football world fetes Hungary of 1953 as the conquerors of England, not only because their brilliant football decimated both the England team and England's claims to footballing supremacy, but also because they are regarded as the first foreign side to beat England on English soil.  In fact, four years earlier, in 1949, the Republic of Ireland had beaten England, 2-0, at Goodison Park in Liverpool.  Apparently because the Republic's side consisted of players who regularly turned out for Football League clubs in England, and perhaps because Ireland was once under British control, the English did not regard the Republic as a foreign side.  It is undeniable, however, that the Republic of Ireland were the first foreign team to beat England on English soil, and Hungary hold slightly lesser distinctions as the first team from outside the British Isles to achieve the feat and the first foreign side to do so at Wembley. 

Yet Hungary got all the glory, and deservedly so, for the manner in which they disposed of England was unforgettable, and they undoubtedly were the strongest national team in the world during the first half of the 1950's.  Their victory on that bleak November afternoon almost 50 years ago is a landmark in the history of English football.  It shattered forevermore the claim still prevalent in England that English football was superior to the rest of the world's, revealing it for what it was, an illusion that had long since lost any basis in reality.  At the same time, it forced examination of the English game and the beginning of its emergence from the stultifying rigidity--so cruelly exposed by Hungary's mobility, flexibility and skill--that the complacency of decades had bred.

Almost 50 years later, as old Wembley closed down for demolition and construction of a new national stadium meeting modern standards, defeating England there no longer conjured up images of wizards exercising magical powers, although it usually remained a difficult feat.  The dreary 1-0 loss to a decidedly ordinary German side in the World Cup 2002 qualification match played on a rainy Saturday afternoon on 7 October 2000 marked the end of the grand old stadium.  It was England's 30th defeat at Wembley over the 76 years the stadium served as England's main home ground.

Scotland won by far the most matches against England at Wembley, nine, followed by several countries with two wins, Brazil, Italy, Northern Ireland, united Germany and West Germany.  If the united Germany and West Germany totals are combined, the Germans are second to Scotland with four Wembley wins.

In addition to Hungary, whose dazzling display in 1953 was their sole Wembley victory against six losses, national teams that won a single match against England at Wembley were Austria, Chile, Denmark, France, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, the U.S.S.R., Uruguay and Wales.

Only two visiting teams, Chile and Italy, had winning records against England at Wembley, and their win/loss margin consisted of a single victory.  Chile played there only twice, winning one and drawing the other.  Italy visited Wembley five times, winning two, drawing two and losing one.  United Germany had a win/loss margin of two victories against England at Wembley on the basis of two wins and a  draw in three matches, but if West Germany's results are tacked on, the German record at Wembley was all even at four wins, four losses and a draw in nine matches.

Other sides achieving even records at Wembley were Brazil, Colombia, Croatia, the Rest of Europe, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Sweden and Uruguay, but only Brazil, Romania, Sweden and Uruguay played more than two matches there.  England managed to hold Brazil to two wins in nine Wembley matches while winning two themselves and drawing five.  All four Wembley matches with Romania ended in draws.  England won only one of four Wembley matches with Sweden, while losing one and drawing two.  And they had an identical one win, two draws, one loss record at Wembley against Uruguay.

Eighteen national teams that played England elsewhere never played at Wembley.  Two of those nations, Bohemia and united Ireland, ceased to exist before Wembley opened.  Bohemia became part of Czechoslovakia, which played at Wembley four times, and later part of the Czech Republic, which played there once.  Ireland, of course, was partitioned in 1921, the southern part becoming what is known today as the Republic of Ireland, which played at Wembley five times, and the northern part becoming Northern Ireland, which played at Wembley 18 times.  The other England opponents never to play at Wembley were Australia, C.I.S. (the Commonwealth of Independent States that succeeded the Soviet Union, which played at Wembley four times), Canada, China, Ecuador, Egypt, Iceland, Israel, Kuwait, Malaysia, Morocco, New Zealand, Paraguay, Peru, South Africa and Tunisia.  

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