Rugby league snubbed in graphic celebrating 100 years of Wembley Stadium

James Gordon
Wembley Stadium

Photo: Mark Cosgrove/News Images

Rugby league is a glaring omission from a graphic featuring a raft of sports and entertainment stars shared by Wembley Stadium to celebrate its 100th birthday.

The ‘world’s most iconic stadium’ has reached the century milestone and understandably used a large number of footballers, ranging from Alan Shearer and Lionel Messi, to Bobby Moore and the Morpeth Town FA vase winning captain.

There was a place for New Zealand All Blacks star Dan Carter, having played there on one occasion during the 2015 Rugby (Union) World Cup.

Artists like Paul McCartney, Freddie Mercury and Cliff Richard made it, as did boxer Tommy Fury and England women’s manager Sarina Wiegman.

Rugby league wasn’t the only surprising omission – there was no place for the NFL, despite its successful stint there over the past few decades, or speedway which enjoyed some great times at the national stadium in previous eras.

It’s all the more surprising, given there is a statue of five rugby league immortals, situated all but 50 yards away from the statue of England World Cup football winning captain Bobby Moore.

Eric Ashton, Billy Boston, Martin Offiah, Alex Murphy and Gus Risman feature in the bronze statue, which was unveiled outside Wembley in 2016.

The first Challenge Cup final at Wembley was Wigan’s win over Dewsbury in 1928/29, and the final has almost always been held their ever since – with the exception of the Second World War era and when the stadium was knocked down and re-built at the start of this century.

There have been no fewer than 95 games of rugby league at the stadium, the last of which being St Helens’ Challenge Cup win over Castleford in 2021.

Last season, the Challenge Cup final was moved to Tottenham Hotspur Stadium for one season due to a busy schedule at the national stadium.

Other notable rugby league games it has hosted includes the infamous 2013 World Cup semi-final, where New Zealand’s Shaun Johnson broke England hearts with a late try, and the double header that opened the 2011 Four Nations.

The 1995 World Cup final, won 16-8 by Australia against England, was held at the old Wembley.

Despite the snub, the RFL tweeted: “Rugby League is proud of our special relationship with the national stadium – and we can’t wait to return to make more memories this summer!”

Should rugby league move on from Wembley?

The snub has not gone unnoticed by fans on social media.

Wembley later referenced the statue but only after the damage had been done by the earlier omission.

Lewis Wiltshire, CEO of IMG’s sports digital agency 7League: “That’s a nice graphic but Rugby League and NFL should be reflected here. Huge contributions to that stadium’s history and its iconic status in the UK and globally.”

BBC Radio Manchester’s Trevor Hunt: “So Wembley Stadium – where is at least one rugby league player to respect the 95 year association with the RFL? Should RL finals ever be held there again after this affront? Or do we just let it drift by?”

Respected writer Rich dela Riviere: “There’l have been over 100 rugby league games at Wembley and you completely ignore it!”

Neil Godliman: “Only been playing challenge cup finals at Wembley for 90 odd years… time for a change of venue methinks.”

Chris Holme: “Rugby leagues most iconic try not even mentioned even though we’ve played there for 94 years and Martin Offiah statue is outside the ground, Cheers!”

Andy Gilder: “The exclusion of rugby league – first played at the stadium in 1929 – but the inclusion of Dan Carter on the basis of one pool game at the 2015 Rugby World Cup feels like a massive slap in the face to a sport whose fans have put so much money into your pockets.”

Featherstone tweeted their own celebration of Wembley100, the hashtag being used for the day.

Rugby league returns to Wembley on Saturday August 12, when the national stadium hosts both the men’s and women’s Challenge Cup finals, the 1895 Cup final and the Champions Schools final.

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