POSTED: June 3rd 2009

Time for Coe to walk the walk - for Wembley and so much more

Wembley Stadium: too important to take a risk /
Wembley Stadium: too important to take a risk /

KEIR RADNEDGE / Sports Features Communications

LONDON: Lord Coe of Ranmore - better known, informally, in the world of sport as Seb Coe - would be sensibly advised to focus his mind on The Torch. Not the Olympic torch; but the The Torch public house, just north of Wembley Stadium.

Coe is well-known as a Chelsea fan. He was, doubtless, in celebratory mood last Saturday evening after the west London club won the FA Cup for the fifth time.

But he might not have been celebrating quite as happily had he travelled in with the Everton fans; not because they lost but because of the inadequacies of the public's approach to Wembley from the direction of The Torch pub, to the north of the stadium . . . the stadium which would be the focus of a World Cup and which will be the focus of the 2012 Olympic football tournament.

Coe may not know this northerly route into the Wembley even though his visits must be frequent not only through Chelsea's success but because of his status as chairman (currently stood down) of the FIFA ethics committee and as a member of the England 2018 World Cup bid board.

Big occasions

Also, of course, Coe is leading London's preparations to host the 2012 Games.

In both capacities he will doubtless be present at most of the big Wembley football occasions over the next couple of years. One assumes he will travel privately: in his own car or someone else's.


If Coe cares about the face which London and Wembley show to the world he should put his best foot forward and walk down from The Torch pub which is always the northern "assembly point" for fans, as it was on Saturday for the Everton followers.

Zillions of pounds have been spent rebuilding Wembley; but nothing like enough money was invested in access infrastructure.

Hence . . . if Coe were to walk down from The Torch on the left hand side of the road he would find police barring him from stepping on the walkways and steps which lead down directly into the Empire Way stadium approach; the obvious route.

Instead he would be directed to cross the road (where no crossing exists), turn right and join the crowd exiting the Underground station to walk beneath the road.

Why? No-one knows. The police who bar the way have no idea. The suspicion remains that the walkways – nonsensically - were not built to withstand the number of fans likely to use them.

The other route

Very well, Seb. Now, try walking down from The Torch on the right-hand side of the road.

What would Coe have found on Saturday? That police diverted him off the pavement and in through the Underground station foyer before he emerged at the top of the dangerously steep steps which lead down beneath the road into Empire Way.

Ridiculous again. Pavements empty on one side of the road; more fans than is safe diverted onto the vertiginous stairways on the opposite side.

Now . . . fast forward to the end of the match. Coe, say, wants to walk out of the stadium and head north either to go home by underground train or walk up to The Torch for a drink to commiserate or to celebrate.

But can he? Not unless he waits for at least an hour or so. If he leaves the stadium directly after the presentations and laps of honour then he joins only a packed crowd edging slowly, inch by inch, shuffle by shuffle, into the black hole which is the only route into Wembley Park Underground station.

It’s not merely a shambles; it’s a disgrace.

So unpresidential

Sepp Blatter and Jacques Rogge, presidents of FIFA and the IOC, do not witness such scenes: they are too important, imprisoned in chauffeur-driven limousines; never exchanging their five-star experience for that of the crushed, delayed, sweating, impatient, irritated fans.

But if Lord Coe of Ranmore cares about his duties then it’s in his own best interests, in his sports’ best interests and in the fans’ best interests that he should do what he always did best, to gold-medal glory, and put one foot down in front of the other.

From The Torch to the stadium and then back again.

There is still time to get Wembley right.

Keywords · Coe · London 2012 · World Cup 2018 · FIFA · IOC · Wembley

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