The Wembley Archive

Launching on Twitter in 2022, the Wembley Archive (@wembleyarchive) channel sets about to record and highlight the rich heritage of Wembley Stadium, the nearby indoor Wembley Arena and the wider footprint of the former British Empire Exhibition grounds from their inception in the early 1920s.

The channel, followed Wembley Stadium, the OVO Arena Wembley, Wembley Park LDN (developers), a descendant of Sir Arthur Elvin (the man who saved Wembley from demolition in 1927) and many others, is based around a collection of Wembley memorabilia, owned and developed by a private collector (myself) over many years. The online presence came about after the completion of an Open University (UK based online University offering full or part-time study) degree course in Art History which opened up the world of artefacts, museums and curatorship but being of a certain age (55 at the time of writing this) realistically job opportunities in this sector have long passed by, but an online home for this collection was only a click away.

So why Wembley? I have no ties to the Wembley area as I am based 300 miles away in Plymouth, Devon where I was born. My local football team has only played at Wembley Stadium three times in their history but as a football and sport fan, the original twin towers of the old stadium (1923-2000), and the arch of the new stadium (opened 2007), have cast a long historic shadow over social and sporting history and when coupled with the collector / hoarder ‘gene’ meant anything of interest was saved and alongside the internet whole new avenues of research are opened.

Football has long been the dominant sport at Wembley, the F.A Cup final has been held there since 1923, England play their homes games in the stadium the old ground was the setting of the 1966 World Cup final, England’s only triumph to date. As a result, collecting football memorabilia from Wembley would have been easier, plentiful and probably more logical, and I do have a run of F.A Cup final programmes from 1946, but Wembley has hosted so much more than just football, and some pretty obscure events and sports as well as major international events like the 1948 Olympics and 1985’s Live Aid concert.

1933 Boys Brigade (Youth Organisation) Rally’s held at the stadium
PHOTOGRAPH BY Graham Cooksley
1954 Boys Brigade (Youth Organisation) Rally’s held at the stadium
PHOTOGRAPH BY Graham Cooksley

Built and opened in 1923 as the centrepiece of the 1924 British Empire Exhibition of 1924 and 1924 it was the introduction of regular Greyhound racing in 1927 followed by Speedway motor bikes in 1929 filled the old Wembley Stadium on a weekly basis and paid for its upkeep at a time when football held one or two games a year there. The old stadium has also held Youth Organisation displays, Boxing, Religious gatherings and political events and it is this diversity has long been the fascination and focus of the actual physical collection of our ‘Wembley Archive’.

1927 and 1998 First and Last Greyhound meets at the (Original) Stadium
PHOTOGRAPH BY Graham Cooksley

So how do we decide what to collect or archive? Well as mentioned the focus really is on non-football items, obviously the older the better but of course it is only a private collection, I do not have unlimited funds or sponsorship to fund the collection. Pre second world war football programmes come at a premium price, the 1923 FA Cup final programme, Wembley’s first ever event can cost £500-600 GBP but the stadium’s second event, an athletics meeting between Oxford and Cambridge University verses Harvard and Yale University (illustrated), also held in 1923, comes in at a fraction of the price at about £100 GBP and is arguably rarer as almost two hundred thousand attend that first Cup Final but a few hundred turned up for the athletics, its these sort of events which attract me and get hunted down and if possible added to the archive.

1923 University Athletics
PHOTOGRAPH BY Graham Cooksley

While our online channel steadily ticks over with new followers, recently I have been wrestling with what we are actually doing, why and to what goal. We are currently running an ‘on this day’ @wembley stadium series which of course highlights events that I do not own any relatable memorabilia, so is this the right course of action for coverage? I have concluded that the collection and online channel are two separate things but under the same title; from time to time to they merge when we feature items that we are fortunate enough to own, these items are tagged ‘from our archive’ so people know what is and isn’t ours but in highlighting events that we have no physical memorabilia helps develop interaction with others and subsequently develops our own subject knowledge, I don’t know it all or profess to, people who tag us in photographs of events or artefacts they own, all expand my own knowledge, they say every day is a school day or your never too old to learn with knowledge transfer a two way thing, so the online ‘Wembley Archive’ both a ‘museum space’ to display but also to space study in, an avenue of learning and knowledge transfer.

I mentioned that the Wembley Archive is followed by both Wembley Stadium and the OVO Arena Wembley, once they were one company, but since the early 2000’s they are two separate organisations but both historically intertwined, without the early success of the Stadium the other would not exist, as the indoor Arena (now sponsored by OVO Energy) in a former guise was known as the Empire Pool and Sports Arena, was created to cater for indoor sport, a swimming pool still exists under the floor boards but remains unused since 1948. I have had close interactions with both the Stadium and Arena since we started, when approaching their centenary year in 2023 I spoke with Stadium officials about involvement in helping them celebrate, unfortunately their invitation to keep in contact was not reciprocated when we did make contact, while in late 2023 Arena officials recommended me to a Disney Plus Production Team for advice on retro 1980 style Wembley branding for a forthcoming Disney production, this set us the goal of getting involved with both venues in some sort of voluntary heritage role, to be recognised as an official historian, in a fashion we are already in that capacity with their follows, likes and retweeting etc but that is our mission, to make it official with web links etc watch this space or better still give the @WembleyArchive on Twitter / X follow.

1933 Empire Pool Promotional Brochure
PHOTOGRAPH BY Graham Cooksley
Artist's rendering of the pool
PHOTOGRAPH BY Graham Cooksley
1934 Empire Pool opening
PHOTOGRAPH BY Graham Cooksley

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Graham Cooksley

Graham has been married to his wife Christine for 31 years and has two daughters Rachel and Lucy and they reside in Plymouth, Devon, UK.

He plays Table Tennis, goes antique hunting, enjoys gardening and collecting and researching Wembley Stadium, and of course watches Plymouth Argyle Football Club.

He also listens to David Bowie, the Beatles, U2, Nick Cave and too many others to mention.

@wembleyarchive on Twitter / X