Jim Souhan: History, but no diamond standard, at Wembley

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 11, 2012 - 11:50 PM

London's box-shaped facilities are bland when compared to U.S. baseball parks, but rabid fan support is a tradition worth keeping.


Brazil’s Lucas walked away as Mexico players began to celebrate their Olympic gold medal victory Saturday at London’s historic Wembley Stadium, one of the most revered soccer venues in Europe.

Photo: Hassan Ammar, Associated Press

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LONDON - When you're young and you read about the Alamo, you imagine a castle-like fortress on a sand-strewn Texas plain, with blood-marked rocks from Davy Crockett's last stand still punctuating the landscape.

Then you get there, and it takes less time to tour than a Jimmy John's.

Imagine the great British sporting venues, and you envision them crammed shoulder to shoulder with Buckingham Palace, or on the heath that inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "Hound of the Baskervilles."

You know how you find Wembley Stadium? You take a left at the Ikea.

Saturday, I covered Mexico's 2-1 victory over Brazil in the Olympic gold medal men's soccer match at Wembley, fulfilling a personal goal. During the Olympics, I wanted to see four storied venues: Old Trafford, home of Manchester United; Wembley, the world-famous 80,000-seat stadium; Wimbledon; and the O2 Arena, which during the Games is being called the North Greenwich Arena.

Wimbledon is as one would hope, a beautiful, manicured succession of grass courts surrounding fabled Centre Court. Even the strawberries and cream don't disappoint.

Old Trafford is the British football version of Soldier Field. Old and storied and layered with modern enhancements and accoutrements that make it an awkward blend of worn brick and bright plastic. Interesting place, but not quite what I wanted to see.

The O2 Arena is your standard basketball arena. The best thing about it is the spacious lobby featuring good restaurants and bars.

And Wembley is an impressive structure, but no more impressive than Arrowhead Stadium, with its similar bowl of red seats. In fact, I prefer Arrowhead.

London is filled with gorgeous architecture. Its sporting venues aren't bad. It's just that they don't have baseball.

What you learn from storied venues that play host to other sports is this: It's hard to do anything interesting with a rectangle.

That's why baseball parks are the best venues in all of sports, with the possible exception of great golf courses. Baseball is the only major sport (that Americans care about) that doesn't impose, or even recommend, exact dimensions.

Target Field would have been a good ballpark under any circumstances. One of the things that makes it great is the way Populous wedged everything the Twins wanted into a small footprint downtown, forcing the architect to cantilever the stands and encouraging him to create a walkway that connects the Target Center plaza to the right field bleachers.

Fenway Park is the baseball version of Wimbledon, a green kaleidoscope, but Fenway is better because its unique footprint created a short left field wall, and the architects offset those tight dimensions by creating the Green Monster.

Rectangular fields create lazy, static architecture.

Wembley did have one advantage over your average ballpark on Saturday, though. It was filled with soccer fans. And soccer fans pretending to be journalists.

I sat in the back row of what they call the "press tribunes." I was surrounded by Mexican journalists.

They screamed and cheered when Mexico scored. They held their heads when Brazil tightened the match with a late goal. To our right sat an entire section of Mexican fans. They blew on horns and sang a remarkable variety of songs, and what differentiated them from many American sports fans is that they didn't merely react to the action; they implored.

They held out their hands, recommending specific passes. They pleaded with their players. And they never seemed angry, only momentarily sad or ecstatic.

Mexico took home the gold medal. The journalists on either side of me were quite satisfied with the result.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2 p.m. on 1500-AM. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com


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