Sunday 19 January 2020

UPDATED WITH COMMENT: (Some of) Wembley Park’s sporting heritage uncovered

Guest blog by Philip Grant in personal capacity

Quintain representatives remove barriers in front of the Ice Hockey mural, while Brent Communications team discuss plans for the photo shoot, ahead of the “reveal” of three tile mural scenes on 18 January.

It may be hard to believe, after the battle I was involved in with Quintain and Brent Council’s planners six months ago LINK , but last Saturday afternoon I was celebrating the “reveal” of three of the Bobby Moore Bridge tile mural scenes with Brent’s Mayor, Council Leader and Lead Member for Culture, and representatives from Quintain!

Back in November, I had written to Josh McNorton, of Quintain’s Wembley Park Arts organisation, to try to get at least some of the tile murals put back on public display during this London Borough of Culture year LINK. Now, the Council and Wembley Park are making it part of their LBOC 2020 offering.

I was one of two members of Wembley History Society invited by Brent to take part in the event, and we were warmly welcomed by Cllr. Ernest Ezeajughi and his Council colleagues. After lots of photographs (for both the Council and Wembley Park) short speeches were filmed from the Mayor, Julian Tollast of Quintain and W.H.S. Chair Jim Moher, to be used in Brent’s LBOC social media. 

I was then asked if I would be willing to “speak to camera” about why the murals were there and what they showed. It was an opportunity I felt that I had to take, but in case what was recorded does not make it beyond the editing stage, I will give some more information about the parts of Wembley’s sporting heritage shown by the three mural scenes which will be on show, but only until 24th February.

The Ice Hockey mural can be seen in the first image above. The Empire Pool (now Wembley Arena) opened in 1934, providing a large public swimming pool in summer which could be covered over for other events, especially ice hockey and public ice skating through the winter months. From October that year, two teams used the ice hockey rink, the Wembley Lions and the Wembley Monarchs (originally known as the Wembley Canadians, they retained the maple leaf as their badge). The Wembley Lions were national ice hockey league champions in 1936, 1937, 1952 and 1957, and played their last match in 1968.

Wembley Lions team photo, from a 1937 ice hockey programme.

The middle of the three mural scenes, on the east wall of Olympic Way just as you come out from the Bobby Moore Bridge subway, celebrates Rugby League. I can’t help wondering whether the large pillar, installed by Quintain for lighting and adverts, would have been moved somewhere else if the tile murals had not been covered with vinyl advertising sheets when it was put in place!

The Rugby League mural, as it is now.

The Rugby League Challenge Cup Final used to be played at one of a number of club grounds in the north of England, but by the late 1920’s a larger venue was needed for the event. Arthur Elvin, whose company had saved Wembley Stadium by buying it from the British Empire Exhibition’s liquidator, put on a good show for the 1928 F.A. Cup Final, with a marching band and community singing. Even though their team lost, the Huddersfield Town football fans went home very happy with their outing, which lead the Rugby League to give Wembley a try [no pun intended?] for their final in May 1929.

Crowds outside Wembley Stadium at the 1948 Challenge Cup Final.

Since then, apart from 1940-45 (because of the Second World War) and 2000-2006 (when the stadium was being rebuilt), the Challenge Cup Final has been played at Wembley every year, providing the sport's annual "big day out" at the National Stadium. The BBC first televised the match live in 1948, and that still continues as well, so that Rugby League has been part of our local sporting heritage for over 90 years.

The American Football mural.

American Football’s history at Wembley does not go back quite as far. The first NFL game at the Stadium was played in 1983, but the first American Football match there took place 40 years earlier, during the Second World War. It was probably between teams representing the U.S. Air Force and U.S. ground forces who were stationed in England, in preparation for the invasion of Europe in 1944. I wrote about this in a "guest blog" article in 2017 LINK .

Please go and see these tile mural scenes if you can, take photographs and share them on social media. These vivid mural pictures, made entirely from oblong ceramic tiles, are part of a public work of art that celebrates Wembley Park’s rich sporting heritage. In putting these mural scenes on show, as part of the Brent’s LBOC 2020 events, the Council has finally acknowledged their cultural importance. I hope that they won’t forget that, next time a decision has to be made about whether the murals should continue to be covered over with adverts.

(No doubt someone will remind them, should it slip their memory.)

"The Mayor with representatives of Brent Council, Quintain and Wembley History Society at the "reveal" of the tile murals on 18 January"
Photograph by Francis Waddington of Wembley History Society


Martin Francis said...

Comment received by email from Elizabath Bratlie:

I love the Booby Moore murals and I’m very happy hat some of them are on display
again. They should have never been covered up with ridiculous adverts in he first place. It’s evident that there is damage on them as well.
These murals are one of the most important cultural things left in Wembley and should be on permanent display. Wembley as we all know are renowned all over the world for the football, not for the high raised flats and the outlet shops!

Would you please consider starting another on line petition and maybe a paper one as well?

It will be a crime to cover them up again after February 24th!

Philip Grant said...

Thank you, Elisabeth, for your comment (via Martin). It has prompted me to send the following email to Josh McNorton (Cultural Director of Wembley Park Arts) and Brent Council's Chief Executive, Carolyn Downs (with copies to the other people who took part in the "reveal" event, seen in the group photo above):

[Heading] Extending the display of the Bobby Moore Bridge tile murals.

Dear Josh and Ms Downs,

Further to the "reveal" of three tile mural scenes on Saturday 18 January, I had an illustrated "guest blog" published on the "Wembley Matters" website, to publicise the fact that they were on display, and to share some of the Wembley history that the scenes represent:

An unsolicited comment has recently been added to my article, from a lady I do not know, and she makes several points which I hope you will consider seriously:

1. 'I love the Booby Moore murals and I’m very happy that some of them are on display again. They should have never been covered up with ridiculous adverts in the first place.'

Elisabeth makes a very good point. From 2013 until 2018 inclusive, not one of the decisions made by Brent Council about allowing advertisements to be placed on these walls even mentioned the existence of the tile murals on them, let alone considered whether the "benefits" of covering the walls with adverts outweighed the cultural and heritage importance of the murals. The senior officers and councillors, who made the decisions, may well have concluded that it would be ridiculous to cover the murals with adverts, if the reports before them had given them the full facts.

2. 'These murals are one of the most important cultural things left in Wembley and should be on permanent display.'

I don't think that there is any disagreement with Elisabeth's assessment of the cultural importance of the murals.

In his remarks at the "reveal" event, Julian Tollast of Quintain / Wembley Park said: 'The iconic cultural and sporting events at Wembley are celebrated in these heritage murals behind us, and we are really proud to work with Brent and with Wembley History Society to make the reveal on a periodic basis of these murals possible.'

Brent's press release of 22 January 2020, "See more of the heritage tiles at Wembley Park’s Bobby Moore Bridge", said: 'The tiles, which show scenes from famous sports and entertainment events at Wembley Stadium and the SSE Arena, Wembley, are part of Brent’s rich heritage and date back to September 1993 when they were originally dedicated to the legendary footballer.'

Wembley History Society's motion, calling on Brent Council and Quintain to return the tile murals to permanent public view, as far back as April 2018, said: 'The Society’s members feel strongly that these murals, depicting scenes from famous sports and entertainment events at Wembley Stadium and Arena, are an important part of the heritage of Wembley Park, and add to its sense of place.'

3. 'It will be a crime to cover them up again after February 24th!'

Covering the three mural scenes with adverts again, after only five weeks on display (for the first time since 2013!) may not literally be a criminal activity, but does it really make sense, when we are supposed to be celebrating the whole of 2020 as Brent's London Borough of Culture year?

Philip Grant said...

Continued (final part of my email to Josh McNorton and Carolyn Downs):-

One final point - during a conversation at the "reveal" event, one of Brent's Communications team said to me that the murals looked much nicer than the Boxpark advertisement, which had covered them for the previous few months. I agreed! These ceramic tile murals are a public artwork, specially commissioned by Brent Council for this location.

I hope that Quintain / Wembley Park and Brent Council will reconsider plans to put adverts over the revealed tile mural scenes again after 24 February. Please leave them uncovered for at least the remainder of 2020, or if that is not considered possible, please announce future dates during LBOC 2020 when these tile murals will be on public display again. Thank you. Best wishes,

Philip Grant.