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Top 10 non-football events at Wembley

ESPN staff
October 25, 2013
NFL matches have become a regular fixture at Wembley © Getty Images

Pele once said: "Wembley is the cathedral of football. It is the capital of football and it is the heart of football."

Hard to argue with the legendary Brazilian, but with the iconic stadium hosting its second NFL game of the season on Sunday - and with three announced for next year - ESPN delves into the history books to find 10 other non-football events hosted behind the twin towers-slash-under the arch.

10. Baseball

A full decade before American football came to town, North America's second most popular sport took to Wembley's hallowed turf.

Members of the American and Canadian armed forces met behind the towers for a game of glorified rounders in 1942, in aid of the British Red Cross.

Canada were victorious in front of nearly 10,000 people with Mrs Clementine Churchill greeting the teams before the game. Apparently her husband had other things to deal with…

9. Speedway

The original stadium had a track around the edge - so where better for the Wembley Lions speedway team to base themselves?

Wembley hosted the Speedway World Championship Final continuously from 1936 to 1960 - breaking only for the some guy called Adolf to make a nuisance of himself in the capital. It went on to hold a further eight finals, with the last one in 1981 in front of 90,000 spectators.

8. Hurling and Gaelic Football

A number of tournaments of Ireland's favourite pastime were held at Wembley from 1958 until the mid-1970s. Imaginatively known as the 'Wembley Tournaments', they were aimed at bringing Irish sports to expats in Britain. Most of the games were exhibition matches, the event peaked in 1972 with an attendance of 42,000.

The late Tony Grealish, the Republic of Ireland football captain who also led Brighton & Hove Albion in the 1983 FA Cup final against Manchester United, was a talented Gaelic footballer and represented London in the tournament.

On a completely unrelated note, Grealish's nephew is hip hop star Example.

7. Motor Racing

The sport may have been motor racing but the outcome was all too familiar as Germany defeated England en route to the 2007 Race of Champions title.

Wembley was unrecognisable as the pitch was turned into several miles of winding tarmac for the tournament which pits the best in the world from Formula One, World Rally Championship, NASCAR, sportscars and touring cars against each other, going head-to-head in identical cars to determine who really is the fastest of them all.

In the Driver's Cup, Michael Schumacher edged Jenson Button 1-0 in the quarter-finals, before going on to lose in the final to Sweden's Mattias Ekstrom.

But there was glory for Schumacher and team-mate Sebastian Vettel - whatever happened to him? - as Germany cruised to Nation's Cup glory with a 2-1 victory over Finland in the final.

6. Daredevil Entertainment

Evel Knievel takes flight © PA Photos

American stuntman Evel Knievel has a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records as the survivor of "most broken bones in a lifetime". 433, since you're asking.

But it wasn't all glitz and glamour.

In 1976, in front of a 90,000-strong crowd at Wembley, Knievel crash-landed in his attempt to jump over 13 of London's iconic double-decker buses.

Despite suffering a broken pelvis in the crash and announcing his impending retirement (which he would later go back on), Knievel refused to use a stretcher and uttered the famous words: "I came in walking, I went out walking."

5. Greyhound Racing

Sir Arthur Elvin backed a winner when he introduced 'the dogs' to Wembley.

The debut meeting, which took place in 1927, months after England's first dog track opened at Belle Vue in Manchester, attracted 50,000 people as dog racing quickly became a popular addition to the stadium's sporting calendar - as well as Wembley's main source of regular income.

So reliant on the finances that racing generated, Elvin even refused to cancel a meet during the 1966 World Cup - leaving France and Uruguay to play ball at nearby White City.

However, it would not last and the final meet was held in 1998, ending 71 years of greyhound racing at England's national stadium.

4. Boxing

In 1963, Wembley's foundations were shook to its very core as Muhammad Ali - or, as he was known back then, Cassius Clay - was sent crashing to the canvas by a steaming left-hook from Henry Cooper.

It was not just a punch that shook the world but, as Clay stated post-fight, more a punch that was "felt by my ancestors in Africa."

More than 40,000 people packed Wembley to witness Cooper unleash 'Enry's 'Ammer on Clay during a fascinating fourth round. The punch had Clay in so much trouble that Cooper thought he had won. After the fight, Cooper revealed both of Clay's eyes had rolled into the back of his head.

But, luckily for Clay, the bell rang as he lay against the ropes in his scarlet trunks. Angelo Dundee guided him back to his corner, reportedly revived him with smelling salts and even alerted the referee that Clay had cut his gloves and needed a change - all in an attempt to delay the start of the fifth round and the inevitable Cooper onslaught.

Clay recovered, before landing a fearsome right hand on the Brit, which opened a severe cut on his eye. The referee stopped the fight and Clay was awarded the win. But, minutes earlier, his eyes had told a different story as an entire world held its breath.

3. Wrestling

Wembley was host to the World Wrestling Federation's first ever pay-per-view event to be held outside of North America when SummerSlam came to town in August 1992.

In the main event, 'British Bulldog' Davey Boy Smith pinned real-life brother-in-law Bret 'Hitman' Hart to win the Intercontinental Championship.

SummerSlam '92 was originally scheduled to take place in Washington DC, but WWF wanted to capitalise on their growing popularity in Britain - the reason Smith was chosen to win the title.

The 80,355 crammed into the Home of Football was the third largest attendance in the WWF's history.

2. Olympic Games

When London hosted The Greatest Show on Earth in 1948, long before the Olympic Stadium, Wembley held a number of events, including the opening and closing ceremonies, athletics, show-jumping and the final of the hockey.

Dutch mother-of-two Francina Blankers-Koen, then 30, stole the show, winning four gold medals in the 100m, 200m, 80m hurdles and the 4x100m relay - earning her the nickname 'the Flying Housewife'.

Elsewhere, 17-year-old decathlete Bob Mathias became the youngest gold medallist in a track-and-field event - a record he still holds to this day.

1. Ski Jumping

If you're tasked with organising a ski jumping event, the obvious choice would, of course, be Wembley Stadium. In August.

But, one hot summer's day in 1961, workmen set about building a 45 metre-high jump and crushing 50 tonnes of ice into "snow" to cover it.

The event, a fundraiser for British Skiing, attracted competitors from Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Finland and Germany and was won with a jump of 113 feet (34.5m) by Finn Veikko Kankkonen, who went on to win gold at the 1964 Olympics.

Wembley's summer ski jump © PA Photos

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