If ever gullibility can be wholly excused it is during the genesis of a global pandemic and it’s easy now to forget just how crazy a time March 2020 was for each and every one of us.
Airports were shutting, save for essential travel, and football as we knew it simply and suddenly ceased to be.
One minute we were discussing Liverpool’s Premier League odds and the probability of the Reds winning their first title in thirty years. The next, there was nothing. The stadiums closed and the fixtures ground to a standstill.
On our televisions screens meanwhile England’s Chief Medical Officer held up graphs that we tried to make sense of, while out in the streets people walked around in makeshift masks.
On March 23rd, the Prime Minister announced that the UK was in full lockdown. We were permitted to take one form of exercise outside per day. That aside, the world was shut.
It was amidst this paranoia-inducing, unprecedented tableau that a rumour began to circulate, one that originated from an audio-clip on Whatsapp, sent by a prankster to a group of his football mates.
🚨 It has been a whole year since confidential information relating to a large-scale food production project being undertaken at the Stadium was leaked. After numerous requests for comment we now in a position to confirm that it is, in fact, crispy. #WembleyLasagne pic.twitter.com/QOBjdaPDoZ— Wembley Stadium (@wembleystadium) March 24, 2021
It was claimed that the Ministry of Defence planned to requisition Wembley Stadium and in effect turn it into one enormous oven, making the largest lasagne known to mankind.
Once cooked, the lasagne was to be cut into hundreds of thousands of portions, to be distributed across the country to assist with a food crisis that was said to be forthcoming.
Now of course, in more reasoned times, we hear this and laugh, and it should be said that the vast majority of us did precisely that, recognising the silly joke for what it was.
Some however bought it, hook, line and stinker. Indeed, it fell upon the FA to release an official statement, insisting the story was a spoof. That it was all the result of an over-active imagination.
The imagination in question belonged to Billy McLean, a 29-year-old Londoner who one evening, bored and by his own admission ‘sitting in my pants’ composed the following message to his buddies - “My sister, her boyfriend’s brother works for the Ministry of Defence and one of the things that they’re doing to prepare … is building a massive lasagne. At the moment, as we speak, they’re building the massive lasagne sheets.”
He went on to elaborate that the undersoil heating in the stadium was going to bake the popular pasta dish while the roof was to be closed, to keep in the heat.
Within hours of sending the message, McLean was receiving the message back, from other friends unaware he was the source of it. On Facebook and Twitter it was rife. Soon, it was everywhere and all anyone was talking about.
Looking back now, it is exactly such examples of daftness that we need in desperate times, to help uplift us and unite us. In 1966, the national stadium showcased England’s greatest ever sporting moment.
Two generations later a fake story involving the famous ground gave us the giggles, when we really, really needed a fit of the giggles.
In due course life returned to semi-normal, as too did football. We began to talk about the top scorer Premier League odds and whether Aston Villa and West Ham can avoid the drop instead of apocalyptic scenarios.
We should never forget though the Wembley lasagne farce. It was a tonic when all around us was so remorselessly grim.
*Credit for all of the photos in this article belongs to AP Photo*
FIRST PUBLISHED: 27th February 2023