If 25-odd years ago you’d asked what my favourite book was, with complete sincerity I would have told you this: The Football Grounds of Europe by Simon Inglis. My reading then was more usually a means to an end – school work, which bored me – but this book was something else: it satisfied both my appetite for sport (football in the main) and a passing interest in architecture. A substantial hard-backed tome, it covers in great detail the stadia selected, built or modified for the 1990 World Cup, held in Italy, and many more besides (but not British football grounds – Mr Ingles had written a separate book on that subject a few years before). No mere glossary, the history, architectural detail, and cultural and social relevance – where it applies – are all explored, and there is substantial photographic coverage too. It really is a wonderful thing, and its author invoked great jealously in me. As research I do believe Mr Inglis toured Europe extensively, making notes, taking pictures, asking questions. He would go on to write a column for World Soccer magazine, and now stewards a website called Played in Britain that concerns itself with chronicling, and where possible preserving, sporting sites of historical and cultural significance and interest – these aren't the sort of jobs you’ll find advertised anywhere much.
My interest in stadium architecture persists and I make a point of journeying to them when I travel abroad: am often thwarted by geographical limitations, time constraints, and the lack of interest on the part of whoever has accompanied me. I should try harder, but many a ground can be found on the periphery of its host, involving convoluted and time consuming journeys to reach them, although I have travelled farther for less. Other, more normative and diminutive stadia have been chanced upon: the Stadio Artemio Franchi in Siena, and Prague’s FK Viktoria Stadion for instance. Where I have made the effort I’ve only sometimes gained entrance, normally at football grounds deemed worthy of being granted entrance: Barcelona’s Nou Camp, Madrid’s Santiago Bernabéu, Valencia’s Estadio Mestalla. (Does this say more about the nature of Spanish football or my personal touristic habits?). With others, I’ve had to make do with inspecting their exterior, with varying degrees of satisfaction: Bulgaria’s Vasil Levski National Stadium is barely discernible as being such; the San Siro in Milan could be little else; Istanbul’s Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium appears like an industrial building of the sort found near motorways and airports. The fact of the matter is that a lot of football grounds aren't very pretty, were never intended to be. That is not to say they don’t have character or charm, but sometimes it can be hard to tell from the outside. Like I said, I've not often gained entrance to find out either way.
The Estadio La Rosaleda, home of Málaga CF. I recollect the football ground from Inglis’ great work, but it is much altered since that was published. You might come at it from a southerly direction, along either side of the Rio Guadalmedina. If it is summer this river will be dry, dusty, dormant. The area around the stadium itself is residential in nature, but the watercourse allows a clear view of the mountains to the north. La Rosaleda occupies its own space, contrary to the dense and moderately high-rise surroundings; because of its riparian setting, you may regard it from a variety of angles.
The structure itself is fairly typical of many a Spanish stadium (although this may not hold true for those constructed over the past decade). It possesses a Modernist aesthetic: the rectilinear concrete struts attached to the two main stands support the roofs in the same way many mid-twentieth century buildings employ a series of reinforced concrete columns to bear their loads. Such a retrospective approach towards architecture – if you choose to see it that way – has precedence elsewhere. I am considering in particular Valencia's Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias, a concrete extravaganza, albeit one mantled in white paint. Valencia's City of Arts and Sciences is considered something of an architectural indulgence. Conceived of and built in the 1990s it should not be tied too neatly to the strain of thinking that elected to work so prominently with reinforced concrete in Malaga: José Segui Pérez, if it was indeed him who was responsible, did not opt to have La Rosaleda painted white – or painted at all.
It must be emphasised that these concrete abutments are primarily functional – they support the roofs and partition the executive boxes that run along underneath. We know this because prior to them being built between 2000 and 2005 the upper tiers adjacent to the touch-lines were set lower than those fronting the goal-lines. Initially they weren't. Instead, the curves of the second tier rose upward away from the main stands only to stop abruptly at the point where they might be expected to join the lower, shallower rake of the upper tiers overlooking the goal-lines. Were the curves culminating in anticipation that these banked terraces would be steepened later, thus completing the bowl effect that eventually became it? The ground was developed in tranches so we cannot be sure of what long-term vision the architects had in mind. In any case, they were. The upper tiers of the main stands could not be raised to the same height because of the road behind one of them and the river to the rear of the other. This is where these more solid concrete columns come in. The roofs could have been set at the lower height of these opposing tiers but would have then been subordinate in aspect to the rest of the stadium – you should be able to imagine why this was undesirable. To allow, then, for the height of the new roofs to correspond with the uncovered upper tiers behind each goal, the struts were angled outward to overcome the spatial restraints on the ground. Furthermore, this permitted the inclusion of the executive boxes in the newly created space between.
You sense these days that architects are a little bit funny about exposed concrete, embarrassed even. Perhaps they think it looks cheap – cheaper than the rough paint or cladding commonly used to cover over it. The point can be taken on board within a climate harsh upon the patina of this material, but Spain generally doesn't have to worry about such precipitous scarring. The 38 concrete columns – 19 either side – at Estadio La Rosaleda have been left proudly exposed. The opportunity has been taken to build a concourse around the stadium using similar techniques, although the concrete supports in this instance have no reason to be anything other than perpendicular and are much more slender, conveying a sort of lattice-like quality to the surrounding colonnade.
I looked for a way in along Camino la Palmilla, couldn't find one. I tried again along the towpath that traces the river but turned back on account of a vagrant with a large dog that saw me approaching. Málaga CF doesn't offer tours. I might have been more disappointed were it not for my conviction that the parallel lines of Estadio La Rosaleda’s exterior are probably the most impressive thing about it. I had also found a pretty good view from Malaga’s Castillo de Gibralfaro a few days earlier.