The Construction of the New Wembley Stadium

Wembley Stadium Construction

New Wembley Stadium Project


For the freelance quantity surveyor that is also a football fan, no job quite mixes business with pleasure like being involved in the construction of the new Wembley football stadium. At the top of that particular wish-list must be working on something prestigious as the new Wembley Stadium in London – replacing the original 1923 structure, which hosted events including the 1948 Summer Olympics,the 1966 World Cup Final, Live Aid in 1985 and every major cup final or play off matches.


However, by the mid 1990s, it was clear that the Stadium either needed to be put out to pasture for anything except for music events, or rebuilt altogether. The process was far from plain-sailing and beset by an extraordinary series of delays, mostly resulting from the bidding process.


The contract was awarded to one of the lowest bids; without any suggestion of “you get what you pay for”, it was immediately obvious that the aggressively low estimate of the cost of materials and construction was unworkable. For example, between the bid being awarded and the signing of the contract, the costs rose by over a third (this can of course be put down to design development also). Additionally, the project was simply too innovative for the initial design; the arch was particularly problematic. The load-bearing structure was untested in that precise form for any other stadium or similar build, and bringing in a landmark venue on time and on budget is no place to be trying something completely new. The sub-contractor, Cleveland Bridge & Engineering, warned the main contractor about the rising costs, and withdrew.


The complications didn’t end there – demolition was supposed to start towards the end of 2000, with the new completed stadium opening at some point during 2003, but a combination of legal hold-ups meant that site clearing didn’t begin until 2002, with the famous twin towers finally being dismantled in December of that year. Bringing in the new arch sub-contractor – Hollandia – caused the following year’s delays, and in 2004, a tragic fatal accident which saw carpenter Patrick O’Sullivan lose his life led to a £150,000 fine for PC Harrington Contractors, who had been in breach of necessary health and safety regulations.


2005 wasn’t without difficulties either; the then Sports Minister, Richard Caborn, was adamant that the 2006 Cup Final would be held at the new Wembley Stadium on 13th May, “barring six feet of snow”. The handover date for the completed stadium was supposed to be at the end of March, but worries that it wouldn’t be possible were confirmed by the end of February, and the FA were obliged to move the Cup Final to the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. Multiplex had now overrun their contract period and were incurring liquidated damages of £120,000 for every day the project was delayed beyond the original handover date. The cap for the liquidated damages was £14m; it was reached.


But the stadium wasn’t just going to be late, it was going to be very late – on 20th March 2006, just 11 days before the stadium was to have been handed over as ready, 3000 workers had to evacuate the site as a steel rafter fell by 18 inches. Three days later, the sewers buckled as the ground shifted – rumours abounded that the pipes had been filled with concrete as revenge by contractors that Multiplex had failed to pay on time. They didn’t admit defeat until the 30th March, a mere 24 hours before scheduled handover. All fixtures and concerts planned for 2006 had to be moved elsewhere, as the stadium wouldn’t be ready until the following year. Additionally, it had been possible to place bets on completion delays, and ‘men in hard hats’ had been seen at bookmakers in the Wembley area, probably making this the first time the venue rather than the fixture had caused them to pay out. 


The turf was finally laid in July 2006, and ironically, would still be seen as a poor pitch because of the number of non-footballing events that would take place at the new stadium. It was re-laid ten times in the three year period 2007-2010, and still draws criticism. There was one final sting in the tail – the 1891 concrete foundations of Watkin’s Tower, the abandoned rival to the Eiffel Tower which was to have been built on the original Wembley Stadium site caused further engineering delays.  


The final handover to the FA was on 9th March 2007, with the official opening on Saturday 19th May – the date of the 2007 FA Cup Final. Muse sold out the venue for two consecutive nights the following month; the new Wembley Stadium was finally up and running.


Few jobs would be quite this complex or nightmarish for a freelance quantity surveyor, but it’s worth remembering one valuable lesson from the new Wembley Stadium build – if a bid looks too good to be true, it probably is.