“We wanted the whole thing to be football themed. We wanted it to be at 3pm, on a Saturday, on the centre spot — not just somewhere in the stadium. There was a red carpet out from the players’ tunnel. We had to get special permission from the registrar in Brent to sanction Wembley for weddings.”
Most people who get married are happy enough with a church or registry office ceremony, followed by a reception with a few canapes, Prosecco and a disco, all the while wondering why they’ve paid £500 ($606) for some chair covers.
Not Adrian and Wendy Steel, though. They are among the people who wanted something a little more for their special day: they are among the people who have got married in a football stadium.
And not just any stadium. The Steels were the first — and, we believe, to date only — people to get married on the centre spot of the new Wembley Stadium.
The big day was in 2007, the week before the first FA Cup final to be held there, when Chelsea beat Manchester United. It was a while in the planning, though.
Adrian and Wendy celebrate their nuptials at the home of English football (credit: Adrian and Wendy Steel)
Wendy Steel (credit: Adrian and Wendy Steel)
Adrian Steel (credit: Adrian and Wendy Steel)
“We decided (to get married) on Boxing Day, 2003,” says John. “We’re both huge football fans, particularly England. I’m a Mansfield fan through and through, so I was thinking Field Mill… but then Wembley came up.”
At the time, the stadium, in the process of being rebuilt, wasn’t due to open for another couple of years. “We thought, as long as we can be the first, we’re happy to wait,” John says. But there were delays and more delays, with various proposed opening dates coming and going. In fact, so much time elapsed between John and Wendy signing up for the wedding and actually getting married, that they had two children — Carter, born in 2005 and Regan the following year — in the interim.
But when the day came, they really went to town.
“Everyone was bussed down in football attire — everybody wore their own kits for the relevant teams. Wendy and the bridesmaids had England-themed dresses. I wore my England kit with Mansfield Town emblems on it, but also the embroidery with the date and place on it.
“We opened up the eateries on the concourse and people could get burgers and hotdogs and beers. About 200 people came and they sat either side of the tunnel as we came out to Three Lions.”
Football pitches have proved ripe venues for proposals too, for those willing to gamble their pride and dignity on a positive response. We’ve all witnessed a wide-eyed soul go down on one knee while assembled wits chant “You don’t know what you’re doing”. We’ve also all seen the odd viral social media clip of a negative response, and the combination of heartbreak and public humiliation is often too much to even watch, never mind what it must feel like to be involved.
Usually it works out, though. At half-time of a 2-0 defeat to Watford in 2000, Nottingham Forest’s German super fan Ebby Kleinrensing proposed to his partner Heike on the pitch. The stadium announcer introduced him to the crowd and Ebby grabbed the microphone and bellowed into it “BEFORE I SAY ANYTHING ELSE, I JUST WANT TO SAY: I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR NOTTINGHAM FOREST.” The pair remain married and attend Forest games together to this day.
And then there’s Romain Paillard, a French Roma fan who went to the Italian capital with his girlfriend Elodie for a romantic break in October 2018. He got in touch with the club ahead of time and made arrangements to pop the question at the Stadio Olimpico, before a game against Spal. She said yes, he screamed “FORZA ROMA!” Alas, his beloved giallorossi didn’t keep up their end of the bargain, losing the game 2-0.
But it’s the really committed ones who actually get married at a ground.
Diane and John Lowe had both been married before, so were looking for somewhere a little different for their wedding in 2009. “We had been looking at castles and places like that,” says Diane. “Then John said one day — I think he was half-kidding — ‘shall we get married at Spurs?’”
He was not kidding, but Diane didn’t need much persuading. Her first Christmas present from John was a Spurs season ticket — “He knew how to win me over.” She played for Tottenham in the late 1960s, in the days when the FA had effectively banned women’s football. “I was born too early! I still play walking football now.”
Diane and John Lowe got married at White Hart Lane in 2009 (credit: Diane and John Lowe)
They were married on the big Spurs logo in front of the dugouts at the old White Hart Lane. Diane walked up the “aisle’” (players’ tunnel) to the strains of Duel Of The Fates, the theme from Star Wars film The Phantom Menace that often greets Tottenham players as they emerge onto the pitch. The ceremony closed to McNamara’s Band, the song that is played at half-time of Spurs games.
The couple also had a freestyler perform tricks to keep the attendees entertained while the evening reception was being set up. “Everyone had a go,” says Diane, giddy with glee about the next bit, “and I did more keep-ups than John, even though I was in a wedding dress.”
Diane shows her skills, and bettered John’s kick-up tally on their wedding day (credit: Diane and John Lowe)
For some, the venue is a deal-breaker. Mark Bebbington is a lifelong Sheffield Wednesday fan, and when he met his wife Teresa (they are now separated) he was happy to get married, but on one condition.
“I would only get married at Hillsborough,” he says. “I started taking (Teresa) to Wednesday and then she became a season ticket holder.
“She didn’t need much persuading because in my mind going to games has always been a social thing. We had friends that lived on Winster Road which is right next to the ground by the car garage, so we’d either go to the pub or go there after. It was as much about that as it was about watching the football.”
Mark at Hillsborough, where he also got married (credit: Mark Bebbington)
Mark and Teresa got married in 2003, but things had changed between them booking the wedding and the game taking place. “When I booked the wedding we were in the Championship but when I got married we’d been relegated to League One (Divisions One and Two at the time). I asked for a discount. They said no!”
Most people keep photos to remember their weddings. Maybe you’ll have a video, or keep the seating plan or invites. If you get married at a football stadium though, you’ll need something a little more. And while Mark has now lost his photos on an old computer following the couple’s separation, his father still has a keepsake.
“My dad stole a Wednesday salt and pepper shaker. I’ve got a plate as well, an oval-shaped plate that bread went on. He was a bit of a one, my dad.”
With all of the couples we spoke to, getting married at a football ground seemed to be a relatively mutual decision, but that’s not always the case.
If you’re not familiar with Don’t Tell The Bride, it’s a British TV show where a couple are given a budget to pay for their nuptials, the caveat being that the groom has to do all the arranging in three weeks, and the bride is told nothing. Sometimes the groom puts on a tasteful, thoughtful occasion and everyone is happy. Sometimes he blows the entire budget on a Las Vegas stag do and there are tears.
And sometimes, the Stoke City-supporting groom arranges the wedding to take place at half-time of a game at the (as was then) Britannia Stadium. Well, actually that only happened once, when Levi Stone fixed it for him and his wife-to-be Jade to wed by the side of the pitch as the Potters faced Tottenham in 2013.
“I didn’t want to get married in a church,” Jade said on the show. “Or Stoke’s stadium. They were off limits.” But she started to wonder/worry when she found out what colours her bridesmaids were wearing. “Red and white…I wonder why he’s gone with that… hope it’s not Stoke…”
“She’s going to divorce me before we got married,” said Levi, as he awaited her arrival.
Despite her trepidation (and the fact that she had to change out of her heels and into football boots so as not to damage the hallowed turf), everyone seemed happy enough afterwards, and the couple are still together. “I wouldn’t change it for the world,” Jade told the Stoke Sentinel.
That particular corner of the world seems like a surprisingly romantic place, because Stoke’s home is where Susan and Keith Locke got married in October 2004.
“It was Keith’s idea,” says Susan. “I’m Catholic, and the priest said there was no way he could marry us in church because Keith had been married before. We were going to just have a little wedding in a registry office, but because I hadn’t been married before and I’m an only child, we decided we wanted to have a proper wedding for my mum and dad.”
Susan and Keith cut the cake at the Britannia Stadium (credit: Susan and Keith Locke)
The Lockes pose in the dugout at Stoke City (credit: Susan and Keith Locke)
Susan and Keith met while travelling to Stoke away games, and the day before the wedding were at the Potters’ 1-1 draw at Leicester (Carl Asaba, ’37). “We had an affinity with the place anyway. We were both lifelong season ticket holders, so no persuading had to be done. It meant more to me than getting married in a church.”
One problem with a wedding at a football ground is negotiating the allegiances of the wedding party.
“I wore blue,” says Mark. “I had a nephew who wasn’t part of the wedding party and was a bit upset, so I promised that he could wear his Sheffield United kit to make up for that. He was about 12 and in his element being able to wear his United kit around Hillsborough with nobody being able to give him any grief. He still talks about it now and he’s in his thirties.”
There was a similar issue at John and Diane’s wedding. The bridesmaids and pageboys — “Eleven of them — we had to have 11” — all wore Spurs kits. Diane’s 12-year-old daughter, Lucy (in yellow, below), wore Heurelho Gomes’s goalkeeper shirt, “begrudgingly,” says John, but perhaps not as begrudgingly as the couple of Arsenal fans among them.
The 11 bridesmaids and pageboys at John and Diane’s wedding (credit: Diane and John Lowe)
Another common theme was initial scepticism from friends and family, with fears ultimately allayed.
“Some people thought it wasn’t very ‘classy’ to get married at a football stadium,” says Susan. I think the word that was used was ‘tacky’. But it wasn’t — Stoke did an absolutely fabulous job.”
“A lot of our guests were apprehensive,” says Diane, “but whenever we go out with them now, it always gets brought up. They all say it’s the best wedding they have ever been to.”
Mark adds: “I’m a primary school teacher and every year the kids ask if I’m married… they always love it that I got married at the ground.”
A frequent issue when weddings are held at weekends is guests sneaking off to watch whatever game is on at the time. Susan and Keith had that more so than others, because they got married on the day in 2004 when Manchester United ended Arsenal’s 49-game unbeaten league run, so many of their congregation disappeared to watch Gary Neville hoof Jose Antonio Reyes into the air for the majority of the game. But when you hold your wedding at a football ground, it’s difficult to complain.
One thing that came up with all the couples we spoke to is the chance to be reminded of their big day in a way that most of us aren’t. Unless you got married in your local church and you’re a regular Sunday attendee, in all likelihood you won’t go back to your venue very often.
“We looked at lots of venues, but we thought: “we met at the football, it means something to us, let’s get married there,” says Susan.
“Every time we go now, they still come out to the same music, and I always say to John “Oh look, they are playing our wedding song,” says Diane.
Mark adds: “I go in the Wednesday Tap (the room in which the wedding was held) after every match. So it does make me laugh to think that’s where we got married.”
“Because we’re both big England fans,” says Adrian, “we knew we’d go back quite a lot — like when Mansfield got to the play-off final last season. When we sit in that stadium, it’s incredibly emotive for us.
“We’ve got tiles on the concourse that celebrate us being married. It’s ‘our place’. It’s very dear to us. We knew it would invoke a whole lifetime of memories.”
(Top Photo: courtesy of Adrian and Wendy Steel; graphic: Eamonn Dalton)