Wednesday, 6 June 2018


When Ian Rush finally joined up with Juventus in the summer of 1987, after being loaned back to Liverpool for the previous season, Michel Platini informed the Welshman he’d arrived two, maybe three years too late and that the club was entering a period of transition. Most of the players Rush had played, and lost, against in the European Cup Final two years earlier had moved on – Zbigniew Boniek, Paolo Rossi, Maro Tardelli, etc. – while Platini himself had confirmed his retirement. Antonio Cabrini and club captain Gaetano Scirea were still present but well past their prime, Scirea having just turned 34. They did have Michael Laudrup, but he was not at this point anywhere near being the player he would later become at Barcelona.
What might also have frustrated Rush was the fact that his new shirt was a museum piece in comparison to the natty number he’d been wearing at Liverpool. Italian sportswear companies were slow to move on from cotton, and although the current shirt wasn’t unattractive, it would have seemed relatively heavy and overly long. Just to really rub it in, no sooner had Rush returned to Liverpool than Kappa got their act together and started utilising contemporary fabrics.

Schillaci and Baggio, 1990/91

The change in material did not have an immediate impact on Juventus’s form. Nor did the arrival of Portuguese Rui Barros or Ukrainian Oleksandr Zavarov. What did appear to signal an upward turn in the club’s fortune was the acquisition of Salvatore Schillaci from Messina, Pierluigi Casiraghi from Monza, and taking on department-store chain Upim as patron in place of home-appliance manufacturer Ariston. 1989/90 was a good season for the ‘Old Lady’ that saw them lift both the Coppa Italia, narrowly beating AC Milan, and the UEFA Cup, comfortably beating Fiorentina.
The jersey in which Juventus ended their three year barren spell incorporated hollow, inverted, micropatterned squares forming part of a larger matrix of hollow, inverted, micropatterned squares (it’s very hard to find pictures that do this motif justice). It was a nice shirt but suffered from a lack of visible colour. As much as black and white often works well together, especially when arranged in vertical stripes, the overall effect can border on the insipid. In Juventus’s case, this was compounded by their reluctance to bear their club crest. Instead, they satisfied themselves with displaying just two gold stars, signifying over 20 scudetti won. When the actual scudetto – or even the coccarda – adorned the shirt, then it became a thing of great beauty.
Despite winning two trophies, Juventus had come no nearer to landing the championship, finishing fourth, and manager Dino Zoff was shown the door. He was not the only one: Zavarov was out, as was Belarusian Sergei Aleinikov, who’d only lasted one season, and so too Rui Barros, who moved on to Monaco. The new coach, Luigi Maifredi, brought with him defender Marco Antonio De Marchi from Bologna, and was also provided with World Cup winning midfielder Thomas Häßler, Brazilian defender Júlio César, and attacking midfielder, and national hero, Roberto Baggio, who claimed his transfer from Fiorentina had been forced upon him.
1990/91 did not go as planned, for which Maifredi paid the ultimate price. However, as winners of the previous year’s Coppa Italia, Juventus bore the coccarda. Moreover, Kappa decided that their company’s logo – the silhouette of a man and woman sat back-to-back – should now be coloured green. This minor detail meant that when the coccarda was absent the following season the shirt maintained its visual interest. Indeed, it seemed to look better without the scudetto or the coccarda, the green Kappa logo on the right side singularly complementing the two gold stars on the left.
In the meantime Juventus had reappointed Giovanni Trapattoni as coach, the man who had previously guided the club to six titles within nine years (the period Platini was referring to when lecturing Rush). In his first season in charge Juventus finished second in the league behind champions AC Milan. In 1992, food producer Danone took over as sponsor and the shirt’s V-neck was trimmed, otherwise the kit remained very much the same. Trapattoni then guided Juventus to their second UEFA Cup victory in four years, beating Borussia Dortmund 6-1 on aggregate, and then in 1993/94 finished Serie A as runners up – again losing out to AC Milan – before ‘Trap’ left to take over at Bayern Munich.

Juventus line up ahead of the 1993 UEFA Cup final.

Depending on how you like your collars and fonts will determine which iteration of this kit you prefer. Personally, I think the Upim version edges it. In any case, the phlegmatic Frenchman was right: Juventus had been a team in transition. By the time they secured the title in 1995, under the stewardship of Marcello Lippi, Kappa had ditched their green insignia, reverting to black, and started doing terrible things to their shirts’ neckline. Lotto would soon take over as supplier, and later Nike, but neither would come close to offering the simplicity and purity of design Kappa provided during this transitory phase in the early 1990s.

[You can buy the Danone shirt here. Note this article first appeared, under my name, in The Gentleman Ultra.]

Thursday, 31 May 2018


The 2000 UEFA European Football Championship was jointly hosted by Belgium and The Netherlands. As one might expect, they contributed an equal number of venues – four apiece – with the final itself being played in The Netherlands: in Rotterdam’s De Kuip, rather than Amsterdam’s larger, more modern stadium. Only the Amsterdam Arena, opened in 1996, and Arnhem’s GelreDome, opened in 1998, could be described as new builds, although the King Baudouin Stadium in Brussels had been completely remodelled as recently as 1995, on the site of the old Heysel Stadium. Compare the situation to that at the 2004 UEFA European Championship, where not only did Portugal opt to use ten stadiums for the same number of matches, but of those ten only two were extant prior to tournament being awarded.
I have previously noted that by the time the new Wembley Stadium was completed in 2007 it was already aesthetically passé. On the other hand, maybe English football fans should be grateful they didn’t end up with something as vulgar as the Estádio José Alvalade, or as bonkers as the Estádio Municipal de Aveiro. Rather, England has a national stadium that is marginally more interesting than the Estádio da Luz in Lisbon – i.e. not very. And yet for Euro 2004, Portugal also built grounds as visually arresting as the Estádio do Dragão and Estádio do Bessa XXI in Porto, and the Estádio Municipal de Braga in Braga. Unfortunately, I’ve never been to Braga.

Boavista Futebol Clube was founded in 1903 by a couple of English expats, which is why ‘Futebol Clube’ follows the name of the borough it represents instead of preceding it, as is the case with ‘Futebol Clube do Porto’. Boavista moved to the Campo do Bessa in 1910, although it didn’t really take any meaningful shape until 1967, whereupon the club set about turning their campo into an estadio. By 1972, actual turf had been laid and two stands had been constructed, one of which was undercover and equipped with rudimentary floodlights hanging from the roof’s edge. Specific information is scarce, but by 1982 the ground had roofs on three sides, an open terrace was built upon the fourth sometime after that, and by 1991 the southern terrace had been demolished and a covered, double-tiered structure assembled in its place.
Boavista are nowhere near as accomplished as city rivals Porto, but around the time that Portugal hosted the European Championship they’d met with a level of success, winning the Taça de Portugal in 1992 and 1997, and securing their first ever Primeira Liga in 2000/01, becoming only the second team outside of Portugal’s ‘Big Three’ to do so (the other being Clube de Futebol Os Belenenses in as far back as 1946). In the midst of all this – from 1998 through to 2003 – Estádio do Bessa was reconfigured where it stood, one stand at a time, allowing Boavista to continue playing there for the duration.
A similar method was employed when the Stadio Comunale Luigi Ferraris was redeveloped for the 1990 World Cup, a ground the Estádio do Bessa fairly resembles, likewise enveloped by residential buildings. Actually, the Luigi Ferraris is exposed on one side – the edge that abuts the Piazzale Atleti Azzurri d'Italia, which is basically a carpark spanning the Bisagno River – affording a perpendicular view of stadium’s western approach. Conversely, one cannot stand back and take in the Estádio do Bessa from any angle.
Would you even want to? Only the West Stand, which houses the club’s offices, is anything much to look at. As opposed to the sand-coloured stone that clads the rest of the ground, the rear wall of the West Stand has been masked, from top but not quite to bottom, in a cambered, horizontally-ribbed metal façade. At ground level we have beige brickwork, a café, various entry points guarded by grey metal doors, and a modest entrance hall framed by an oxidised, rectilinear open-porch adorned with two club crests, resplendent in silver, hung to either side of the entrance, and the club’s name writ large just above, also in silver. In front, occupying a triangular slither of land squeezed between the stand and the main road, there’s a large statue of a panther (the club’s nickname is As Panteras) and a curious rectangular arch, its thicker stanchion chequered in black and white to represent the club’s colours, with another panther climbing up the side. It makes for a pleasing introduction to any stadium, albeit a slightly odd one.
On seconds thoughts, the other three stands aren’t so bad. There’s obviously been an attempt to blend in the structure with its surroundings, to make it as unobtrusive as possible. Turning right off of Avenida da Boavista and up Rua de O Primeiro de Janeiro, the rear wall of Estádio do Bessa’s southern stand barely registers. If it weren’t for the two large blocks of flats in the way, one might pause to look more closely at the rear of the East Stand, whose vomitories have been left on display to reveal the underside of the upper tier. It’s the same from the northern perimeter, which overlooks a training facility that may or may not be affiliated. Rectangular concrete boxes protrude from the external walls of the northern and southern stands providing access to the upper levels, but they give no clearer indication as to what the building is about.
Inside it’s a very different story, and where the comparison with the Stadio Comunale Luigi Ferraris really shows. The touchlines are overlooked by three tiers, the goal-lines just two. The upper tiers of all four stands rise steeply to maximise the available space. The concrete sidewalls converge at right angles, enclosing the stadium completely. As at the Luigi Ferraris, square apertures have been cut into the vertical concrete, allowing any spectator climbing the internal stairwells to keep abreast of the action. Unlike at the Luigi Ferraris, the resulting apexes do not rise upwards to form towers; the stadium is not so big that the roof requires this extra support. Finally, whereas the walls of the Luigi Ferraris are painted a terracotta red, the reinforced concrete here has been left untreated. Essentially, Estádio do Bessa XXI is a smaller, simpler version of its Genovese cousin.

Up until 2004, Porto played their football at the Estádio das Antas, and did so for 52 years. Prior to this their home was the Campo da Constituição, and had been since 1912. Before that, Porto played at the Campo da Rainha, until the local council kicked them out because somebody wanted to build a factory there. The Campo da Constituição is now the site of the club’s training ground and retains portions of the old stadium in homage, whereas the Estádio das Antas has been completely demolished.
The Antas was an impressive structure, but you can understand why the club was keen to move on. Although large enough, it afforded very little protection, save for a striking cantilevered roof arching over the west side of the ground – Porto might not be particularly cold but it can be wet. In 1976 a large, open tier – an arquibancada – was erected above the eastern edge of the stadium. Then, in 1986, the athletics track was dug up and the terraces extended downwards, making room for another 20,000 seats, rendering the single, slender roof woefully inadequate. The Estádio das Antas had outgrown itself.
The 2004 UEFA European Championship afforded Porto the opportunity to build a brand new Category 4 stadium adjacent to their existing one. I do not know if this was by design or whether land nearby was fortuitously available, but it must have made the move that little bit easier for any fan who’d grown too attached to the Antas. And might the similarly circular footprint of the Estádio do Dragão have been another sop contrived to appease potential detractors? Or that both grounds were built on a gradient, their white-walled perimeters becoming deeper, seemingly taller, as one circumnavigated them. There is a subterranean look about both interiors, but whereas the Antas’s pitch really was below street level (after it had been lowered by six metres to provide extra capacity) at the Dragão the effect is illusory: a concourse surrounds the ground with access for vehicles below, and on the northern periphery the Alameda das Antas bypasses underneath.
There are also some significant disparities. For one, the lower tier of the Estádio do Dragão is rectangular and, in complete contrast to the circular segments that bordered the old pitch, almost contiguous with the field of play. Then there are the two identical upper tiers facing each other, rising in a curve towards their middle, like the cross section of an elliptical cylinder that’s been split down the middle. Finally the roof, which covers the entire ground. Shaped like a hyperbolic paraboloid, it appear to rest neatly atop the two upper tiers but is in fact supported by four concrete monoliths, two at each end, perpendicular to the goal-lines, almost level with the corner flags. In between, empty space. It is this space, with the surrounding concourse running behind, that opens the stadium up and lets it breath – literally, for it aerates the turf.

Estádio das Antas in the foreground, and the Dragão beyond.

In a country where people don’t religiously attend live football matches and are often quite content to watch games on the telly, it could be said that Portugal had no business bidding for the 2004 UEFA European Championship, let alone electing to build so many new stadiums. Too many teams have been burdened with grounds they can never fill, despite their relatively modest capacities, and are expected to pay exorbitant rates to play in them. Take Boavista, who have recently averaged an attendance of just over 6,000 in a stadium that can hold 28,263. Even champions Porto have only occupied about 80% of their capacity, although that’s up from the ~60% they were bringing in two seasons ago.
It could be worse. The Estádio do Bessa XXI and the Estádio do Dragão could be dreadfully lacking in atmosphere, as I expect the Estádio Dr. Magalhães Pessoa is when União de Leiria host other teams in the Campeonato de Portugal (the Portuguese league’s third division). Instead, these grounds have been designed, maybe not deliberately, to accommodate lower turnouts. By building steeply and fencing itself in, the Estádio do Bessa generates intimacy by keeping the crowd, however spartan, as close together as possible and providing them with a shared perspective.
Those gaps either end of the Estádio do Dragão do likewise, creating a depth of field that focuses the eye on the stadium’s lower level, where the bulk of the capacity is catered for. Moreover, because the upper tiers taper away towards the corners, their actual size is diminished. The manner in which the roof swoops downward over either end augments this impression.

Concourse running around Estadio do Dragão. Note 'monolith' to the left.

Built into the side of a steep hill, the Estádio Municipal de Braga dispenses entirely with terracing behind either goalmouth. Nonetheless, the two large double-decker stands that there are can accommodate over 30,000 supporters between them. Sporting Clube de Braga averaged a respectable 12,629 spectators over the course of 2017/18, and with a football ground as beautiful as theirs, who cares if it’s only half full.

[This article first appeared in The Football Pink.]

Wednesday, 23 May 2018


It’s not feasible to write about Torino’s past without alluding to the Grande Torino and the terrible fate that befell them: the almost total annihilation of their squad in the Superga air disaster of 1949. At the time of the accident, Torino had won four scudettos on the bounce and were well on their way to adding a fifth. Moreover, the club comprised the backbone of Italy’s national team, contributing as many as ten players for a game against Hungary in May 1947. Torino went on to win the title in 1949 after it was agreed that all clubs involved would field their youth teams for the four remaining games of the season, which was a fitting gesture.
Unsurprisingly, a period of decline ensued, but by the middle of the 1960s Torino had re-established themselves as a force to be reckoned with, culminating in 1968’s Coppa Italia triumph (this, despite the tragic death of star-player Luigi Meroni in a bizarre motoring accident). A second Coppa Italia followed in 1971, and in 1976 Torino were crowned champions having wrestled the scudetto from the hands of city rivals Juventus. Indeed, I Granata had a good time of it throughout the 1970s: not once did they finish outside of Serie A’s top ten and every year but two qualified to play in Europe. Such consistency could not be sustained, and the 1980s represented a torrid time for Torino, although not without its highlights.

Luigi Meroni. Now, that's a real football jersey.

Torino have consistently worn maroon shirts, usually with white shorts and black socks but sometimes maroon. In the early 1980s they opted for maroon socks. From 1984 through to 1989 their kit was supplied by Adidas, who did a good job on it. Torino managed a second-place finish in 1985, four points behind champions Verona (bear in mind that this was when just two points were awarded for a win). Over the next three seasons they finished 5th, 11th and 7th consecutively, before being relegated to Serie B in 1989 after placing a lowly 16th. When the club gained promotion back to Serie A the following season, kit-making duties were taken over by ABM in an association that would last for the next three seasons.
The ABM manufactured Torino strip, worn between 1990 and 1993, is an exercise in minimalism. There’s no trim and no micro-patterning, just a plain burgundy-red shirt with traditional collars and a V-neck. Shorts were kept white but the socks reverted to black, giving the overall kit a better balance. The fit was loose, without being overly baggy, and the jersey looked as smart off the pitch as it did on it.
During Torino’s tenure playing in Serie B, white-goods manufacturer Indesit had been the club’s sponsor and remained so after their return to Serie A, whereupon they ended up a very respectable fifth. Thereafter, it was Beretta – purveyor of cured meats – who paid to have their name on the shirt, and they benefitted from the exposure when Torino made it into the 1991-92 UEFA Cup Final, only to lose to Ajax on the away goal rule. This was the season that saw Enzo Scifo joining the moustachioed Rafael Martín Vázquez in midfield. It’s been said that Vázquez never really settled at Torino, whereas Scifo – who had returned to Italy to redeem himself after failing to make much of an impact at Inter three years earlier – was more successful. The club finished third in the league, behind Juventus and champions AC Milan, thus qualifying for the UEFA Cup for a second year in succession.
Vázquez subsequently returned to Real Madrid, by way of Marseille, whereas Scifo went on to win the Coppa Italia with Torino in 1993, knocking out Juventus along the way. It was this iteration of ABM’s strip that was probably the best. Very little changed save for the addition of a rather tidy snap-fastened neck. Unfortunately, Torino clinched the Coppa Italia in Rome wearing their away kit, which was still nice but not great. In any case, it had been a very successful three years, and a testament to the managerial talent of the late Emiliano Mondonico.

In the summer of 1993, Enzo Scifo left for AS Monaco, goalkeeper Luca Marchegiani moved to Lazio, Walter Casagrande returned to Brazil, and Lotto took over as Torino’s kit supplier. Lotto’s shirts, as you may know, were made on the cheap and the badges and logos were often sublimated, rather than sewn on as separate, three-dimensional entities.
In 1996, Torino were relegated, wearing a kit manufactured by Lotto, and have been flitting between Series A and B ever since.

[You can buy this kit here. Note, this article first appeared, under my name, in The Gentleman Ultra.]

Monday, 30 April 2018


Despite the fact that not a single stadium, other than the Parc des Princes, met the capacity requirements for hosting World Cup football, the refurbishments bequeathed upon the stadia France elected to use for the 1998 FIFA World Cup were modest in comparison to those implemented in Germany before the 2006 tournament, where there were already more than enough stadia capable of housing the requisite 40,000 spectators. This is not a dig at the Fédération Française de Football but more a pat on the back for the Deutscher Fußball-Bund.
Or is it? I was actually quite taken with the renovations on display in 1998: the two new goalmouth stands at Lyon’s Stade de Gerland, the three banks of elliptical terracing at Marseille’s Stade Vélodrome, the addition of a disproportionately large three-tiered stand at Montpellier’s Stade de la Mosson (although I was disappointed that Strasbourg’s semi-brutalist Stade de la Meinau was not involved). Nonetheless, the Germans embraced the opportunity to upgrade their stadia, and the 2006 FIFA World Cup would come to serve as a template for ground building not just in Europe but across the globe (rendering the new Wembley Stadium, once it had been completed in 2007, anachronistic in comparison).
Architectural success is implied but does not necessarily follow. Nuremburg’s Max-Morlock-Stadion, Hannover’s Niedersachsenstadion, Kaiserslautern’s Fritz-Walter-Stadion and Schalke’s Veltins-Arena are not pretty stadia. Conversely, Cologne’s RheinEnergieStadion, Munich’s Allianz Arena, Dortmund’s Westfalenstadion and Berlin’s Olympiastadion are – or are buildings harmonious in aspect and capable of generating an atmosphere. Others bid indifference. Enter the Volksparkstadion in Hamburg, which wasn’t rebuilt in anticipation of World Cup football at all – although it was known a tender was in the offing – but because the existing structure was in a bit of a state.
If cultural stereotypes are your thing, it might be said that the Volksparkstadion is an exercise in Teutonic efficiency. It is a very simple structure: two continuous tiers with the corners squared off at angles tracing the shape of a stretched octagon, although the sides are cambered slightly. The seats are mostly blue and some are red – mostly notably those in the corners of the upper tier. An area behind one of the goals is unseated, contributing 10,000 to an overall capacity of 57,000. The roof consists of a light membrane supported by 40 poles, like a huge circus tent turned in on itself. Little effort has been made to beautify the functional exterior: there’s a couple of storeys worth of glass covering the main entrance, some verdant banking around the steeper sides of the ground, stairwells shrouded in concrete, and the exposed underside of the second tier and its supporting framework.
Hamburger SV attract a large following, so who am I to complain, but unless you live in Altona, the most westward borough of Hamburg, then a trip to the Volksparkstadion must seem like quite some journey. Moreover, the ground feels cut off from the rest of the city, with woodland, a cemetery, an industrial estate and the Barclaycard Arena for company. On top of all that, the stadium is barely accessible on foot, and those that come by train are obliged to transfer from the nearest station by shuttlebus. It’s like the Nürburgring of football, although I suppose this arboreous setting is preferable to the suburban forms that more normally afflict the peripheries of large cities. Speak again? The Volksparkstadion does what is expected of it, no more nor less.

If I lived in Hamburg I’d offer my support to FC St. Pauli. This isn’t only because I might be able to walk to the Millerntor-Stadion, or that the surroundings are socially alive and provide amply for pre- and/or post-match beverages, but also because of the culture the club has embraced: a sort of quasi-socialist, community-based spirit that values its fans.
It was not always thus, and one should also bear in mind that the Deutsche Fußball Liga runs a tighter ship than most. Up until 1998 football clubs were classified as not-for-profit organisations run by members’ associations, and private ownership was strictly verboten. Clubs have since been allowed to exist as private, limited companies, but under the proviso that they retain the majority of their shares – what’s been termed the 50+1 rule.
In any case, in and around the 1980s FC St. Pauli began to foment something approaching a cult, thriving on its reputation as a place for down-and-outs, immigrants, squatters, students, outsiders. You can make any connections you see fit, but the upshot of all this was that the denizens of St. Pauli contrived to react against the right-wing hooliganism that prevailed throughout Europe at the time, campaigning on progressive issues and fostering inclusivity. Admirable, but for a while it seemed they might pay a price for being so resolutely out of step. The 1990s saw the club yo-yoing between Bundesligas 1 and 2, and in 2003 they were relegated to the Regionalliga Nord, which was at the time the third tier of football in Germany. Almost bankrupt, the outlook was bleak.
Depending on who you ask or what you read, the club was saved either by the intervention of a ‘theatre impresario’ named Corny Littmann or the efforts of the local community who persuaded the local bars to donate to the club 50 cents from every bottle of Astra beer sold, in a campaign that became known as ‘drinking for St. Pauli’. Whatever the reason, the team’s fortunes were revived, and by 2007 they’d been promoted back into the 2 Bundesliga. Perhaps more crucially, that same year FC St. Pauli embarked on the stalled redevelopment of their ground.

The South Stand was developed initially, perhaps because it wasn’t much of a stand in the first place. At a quick glance it still doesn’t look like much: a single-tiered structure built from terracotta red bricks with a glazed façade, like the sort of modest office block you might find around the back of your local high street. But take a closer look. Those bricks form three arched atriums, the ones to the left and the right set back beneath a glass-fronted gantry framed in a material the colour of copper carbonate (more than likely aluminium panels painted pistachio green, perhaps in homage to the metal roofs of the old warehouses that occupy Hamburg’s Speicherstadt district). This gantry is actually a corridor providing access to a row of executive boxes to the rear of the stand – private suites that have been decorated to the tastes of their individual leaseholders. The middle arch intervenes, rising above the rest of the ground, displaying the club’s crest and hoisting flags. Darker brown brinks run horizontally to join with the cladded material that demarcates the various floors. These same brown bricks alternate with red ones around the semi-circles of all three arches. The quality of the build appears to be of a very high standard.
Next up was the Main Stand, which was to be similar in style to the South except with two rows of executive boxes stacked on top of each other. Indeed, the two stands are conjoined. This was not part of the original plan but was insisted upon to keep the crowd noise from disturbing the residents living diametrically opposite. Rather than just add to the ground’s capacity, this space has been set aside as a family area with seats reserved exclusively for children, an area of decking above for their parents, and rooms behind for entertaining even younger fry – what’s effectively a kindergarten. As opposed to the South Stand, which is comprised of seating in the upper tier and standing room in a paddock beneath, the Main Stand is all-seated, although there is space for wheelchair users at its base.
Work began on the Gegengerade (the ‘againststraight’) in January 2012, approximately a year and half after completion of the Main Stand. An alternate, more elaborate design, dubbed The Wave, was considered but ultimately rejected on the grounds of cost, the time required to build it, and its potential incongruity. This was the correct decision. The Gegengerade is built of the same red brick and repeats the green cladding around edges of the roof, with plexiglass panels in between to protect from the elements. The rear of the stadium is mostly exposed, revealing the underside of the terracing, except at ground level where there are bars. These bars have been sold on to the local supporters’ association who invite local (graffiti) artists to decorate them prior to the start of each season. The Gegengerade can hold 13,199; 10,126 spectators in the paddock and 3,030 seats in the upper tier.
Finally the North Stand, which looks much as it did prior to redevelopment, only bigger. Like the Gegengerade it accommodates both seating and standing, as well as visiting supporters. Despite its simplicity, building it was a bit tricky due to the public football pitches pressed up behind, but they managed it. The stand is again finished in red brick, and the same pistachio green fasciae run around the side and rear edges of the roof. The imposing Flak Tower IV looms in the middle distance.

The seats, where they are present, are a combination of brown, white and red. Along the walls that demarcate the various paddocks, we have text writ large: VORAN SANKT PAULI (ahead Saint Pauli) KEIN FUSSBALL DEN FASCHISTEN (no football the fascists) and KEIN MENSCH IST ILLEGAL (no one is illegal). This really is no ordinary club, and the Millerntor is far from being an ordinary stadium, despite its simplistic array. The terracotta red bricks compliment the pistachio green of those roof fasciae and provide the stadium with a sort of architectural motif, while the clear plexiglass panels that close off the open sides of the stands – as well as those that wrap around the rear of the Gegengerade and North Stand – let in just the right amount of light. Random murals adorn many of the bricked walls. You wouldn’t know from looking at it that the ground had been redeveloped in phases over a 10 year period, yet each side of the Millerntor possesses its own identity, immune to the bland uniformity that so often blights contemporary stadia.
It goes to show that stadium architecture needn’t rely on costly gimmicks to make an impact, nor subscribe to the idea that a ground needs to be completely demolished and remodelled as a cohesive unit. The physical hinderances and limited budget have worked to the Millerntor’s advantage and have left St. Pauli with a stadium that they can be proud of and that still very much feels like home. British football clubs on a budget would do well to take note.

[This article first appeared in The Football Pink.]

Sunday, 11 February 2018


It all went wrong in 1989. Strange detail started to permeate the shirts of England’s old First Division: white triangular Expressionistic flecks on Liverpool’s Candy sponsored jersey, a terrible zigzag effect making a mess of Manchester City’s, and a similar geometric mash-up staining Chelsea’s and Everton’s. At least the shirts still fitted.
Meanwhile, on the continent the football kit was reaching its zenith, Italy at the epicentre of it all. AC Milan and Internazionale were exploiting stripes in a manner rarely bettered, with away kits that were possibly even smarter still. In Spain, Barcelona were strutting around in a contender for the best football shirt of all time, an almost skin-tight affair that Gary Lineker was lucky enough to sport for the entire three years he spent playing for the Catalan giants. Anderlecht, Auxerre, Ajax… You should see the jerseys they were wearing in Brazil.
In fairness, English clubs too had contributed to this wealth of taste. Adidas and Umbro dominated the market, refining a classic template that would flatter the most incongruous of club colours: simple collars, minimal trim, subtle micro-patterning, pared down club crests adorning sensibly sized kits that flattered the physique. Back then it was not unusual for teams to wear the same kit for as many as three consecutive seasons, and so any changes came gradually. Tottenham and Arsenal, for example, were assured sartorial clemency until the summer of 1990, protected from those bizarre experiments introduced a year earlier.
It was during Italia 90 that it became evident that those strange goings-on in England were more than a mere aberration. Ironically, Umbro did quite a good job with England’s jersey. Sure, there was a spot of striped, buttoned-up tomfoolery playing about the collar, but it fitted okay and the colour scheme remained as it should (we’ll forget the third kit ever happened). Indeed, the better teams that qualified for that World Cup got off lightly, a slight loosening of fit being the worst crime committed against the shirts of Argentina, Brazil, Holland, West Germany, and the hosts, Italy. Instead, it was in the strips of nations like Romania, Columbia, the USA, Cameroon and Czechoslovakia (all manufactured by Adidas, incidentally) that one could see sewn the prophecy of the football shirt gone mad – excessively silky fabrics, ultra-wide V-neck collars, misplaced stripes, a looser fit.

Timothy Winter, Dean at Cambridge Muslim College – aka Sheikh Abdul-Hakim Murad – once said of football that it, “has everything that is important to religion: solidarity, skill, ritual, the outward form of what looks like a sacred congregation. Except it's not about anything."
The Dean is right: football – all sport – is inherently absurd and cannot therefore really be about anything. But then life is absurd, and religion is the absurdist thing of all, because it denies the absurdity of existence and considers itself profound. In a practical sense, its remit is political – join our club – but where religion does pretend to ask ontological questions, we’re led to believe the answers are there waiting for us, bound up in sacraments and holy rites – a state of denial if there ever was one. At least sport revels in its own absurdity, existing merely for its own sake.
Or does it? It goes without saying that there’s a lot of money tied up in sport – especially football – but that doesn’t necessarily make it any less self-aware of how ridiculous it is. [If I’ve already lost you, please take a moment to ponder what actually goes on in a game of football: two teams of eleven try to deposit a spherical object into separate rectangular spaces using only their feet. One player on each side is entitled to use their hands to prevent this from happening, but only in restricted zones. Technically, you’re only supposed to make contact with the ball. After 90 minutes, the team that has made more deposits is afforded privileges.] For the absurdist philosopher Albert Camus, it was the beauty one encountered in life that did for meaning, and there is surely beauty in football. This is why sport fans should care less about results and more about the aesthetic accoutrements it drags along behind it, for to take sporting outcomes seriously is an act of elusion, just as credulously taking somebody’s word that they know what god’s will is – should such a thing even exist.

Back to Serie A. What was it about those shirts that resonates to this day? We need to start in the early 1980s, where, like in cycling, football kits were beholden to their material: heavy acrylic with a tendency to stretch and hang. They looked pretty good actually, but on closer inspection, a little cheap. Take Michel Platini decked out in Juventus colours: a flimsy excuse for a collar, plunging neck-line and, except when Juve were reigning champions and wore the scudetto, no shield to speak of. (This does seem to be a Juventus thing: other clubs more normally attached their badge to the upper arm.)
Then, for the 1986/87 season, S.S.C. Napoli introduced a real gamechanger. Manufactured by newly conceived sports’ brand Ennerre, it was the jersey in which Napoli won their first Italian Championship, Diego Maradona at the helm. There was nothing particularly technical about this jersey – it appears to be made of cotton – but it featured the club’s crest on the chest, a classic V-neck collar, was sympathetically proportioned and a pleasing shade of blue.

Napoli and Juventus

1987/88: Kappa was the next company to raise their game, tidying up Juventus’s kit (still no badge though) and making a good go of AC Milan’s: a thin, traditional collar with no trim, a good width of stripe, the sponsor’s name MEDIOLANUM, replete with minimally obscure symbol, and the Kappa emblem – the silhouette of a man and a woman sat back-to-back – in white. AC Milan won the league that season, and the shirt looked even better the next with the scudetto sewn into it.

AC Milan

1988/89: Kappa took over Sampdoria from Ennerre, who hadn’t done a bad job. Sampdoria had won the Coppa Italia the previous season and thus bore the coccarda (a roundel in, as with the scudetto, the colours of the Italian flag) upon their breast. Sampdoria’s strip never fails to please. Comprised of blue shirts with a red, black and two white horizontal stripes wrapped around the trunk, with a crossed shield in the middle, it’s one of the most distinctive shirts of any league. Moreover, the club’s crest (now attached to the sleeve to make room for the coccarda) displays the silhouette of a shabby looking sailor smoking a pipe; the club colours bend sinister behind. Shorts and socks are white so as not to detract (a jersey should never be judged in isolation but appreciated within the context of the entire kit).


At the same time, German firm Uhlsport were providing for Internazionale and Bologna. These shirts were notable for their lack of give, which may or may not have been a deliberate ploy to prevent players from tugging at them. Back then, Inter were using their short-lived ‘serpent’ logo, which is a bit more interesting that the montage of letters they’ve used since. The hue of blue was slightly lighter than now, and the sponsor – Misura, a health food manufacturer – brought with it red dots that, along with the gold star denoting 10 title triumphs, added some welcome colour to the otherwise exclusively blue and black mix. The away strip was better still: same black socks, same black shorts, but a white shirt with alternative blue and black diagonal stripes in a line across the chest.

Internazionale (away)

1989/90: When Italian sportswear company ABM took on Fiorentina’s kit the previous season, they’d provided a decent enough shirt [65% Polyester; 35% Cotton], but there was a problem: they matched  this with purple shorts. Moreover, these shorts, as is often the case, were made from a different material than the jersey. The effect was that Fiorentina weren’t actually playing in the same colour, but in two shades of the same colour, and two shades of a colour as vivid as purple. Perhaps sensing their error (although they’d return to playing in all-purple the season after), Fiorentina were now issued with white shorts.
ABM’s trademark is a comprised of two red parallelograms separated by four thin diagonal red lines, all on a white background with a red border. Fiorentina’s badge incorporates a red fleur-de-lis. In 1989, local rag La Nazione took over as sponsor, their uppercase, serif font emblazoned in yellow. Yellow is the complimentary colour of purple and purple is a derivative of the colour red (mixed with blue). Adding white with a little bit of yellow and red to this otherwise violet strip was astute, and the sight of Roberto Baggio battling against Juventus in that year’s UEFA Cup final is one of the era’s iconic images.
Ennerre also made good work of Roma’s kit, perhaps the first to exploit micro-patterning technology. This meant they must have been using polyester, creating subtle shifts in the fabric’s texture to make a pattern out of the manufacturer’s logo. Inter still had the same kit but as reigning champions wore the scudetto in place of that serpent on a shield, with the circular montage of letters present on the upper arm.


1990/91: Had the World Cup not been held in Italy, might things have remained as they were? Probably not, but if there’s a high watermark for kit design it can be found here. Torino had bounced back from relegation two seasons prior, and were rewarded with a contract with ABM, which brought with it a shirt similar to Fiorentina’s but without the micro-patterned branding. Torino wore a maroon shirt and white shorts with black socks, and were sponsored by white goods manufacturer Indesit.
Sampdoria were now supplied by ASICS, but the kit looked very much the same. AC Milan had gone over to Adidas but the kit looked very much the same – a rare triumph for Adidas in this context. Juventus’s were still with Kappa, but the kit looked very much the same, except they were now sponsored by UPIM and the Kappa emblem was set in green. The best shirt of the year probably goes to Bologna, away: white with maroon and navy equilateral triangles falling down the front.


Unlike many of my generation, it wasn’t Channel Four’s Football Italia on a Sunday that provoked my interest in Italian football, but a VHS tape entitled 110 Goals Italia Style – 1988-89 (quickly followed by 110 Goals Italia Style 2 – 1989-90). I was certainly grateful for Channel 4’s effort when it came but was a more faithful viewer of Gazzetta Football Italia on a Saturday morning. The reasons were threefold. First, I preferred playing football to watching it, so on a Sunday I was normally kicking a ball about a park wearing either my Internazionale away top, circa 1989/90, or my Fiorentina home shirt, circa 1990/91. Second, there was James Richardson, who had much more to do hosting Gazzetta than he did introducing Sunday’s games, sitting in front of cafes waving La Gazzeta dello Sport in our faces, bringing us up-to-date with recent events. Third, all of this started off the back of Paul Gascoigne’s move to Lazio in 1992, by which time I was taking my A-levels, shortly to leave for university, which distracted me.
But aside from all that, I’d also become disillusioned with what I perceived to be a waning aesthetic. What had begun in the English First Division in the late 1980s was spilling over onto Italian shores in the early-to-mid 1990s. Umbro, who had hitherto made kits for Cagliari, Lazio and Parma, got their hands on Napoli and Inter’s, absolutely destroying them in the process. Italian brand Lotto muscled in on Torino, Fiorentina, AC Milan and Atalanta, dressing them in shirts that resembled fake replicas sold down weekend markets. ASICS started getting inventive with Sampdoria’s jersey, adding drawstrings around the collar. Football shirts would never be the same, and probably never will be.

Wednesday, 24 January 2018


Stadiums appear smaller when empty than they do full. Which perspective is more definitive? Are they bigger than they look when they’re not in use, or smaller than they look when they are? A binary equation, perhaps it comes down to one’s perspective: whether you’re a half-full or a half-empty sort of person. I would also contend that the time of day has an effect: a game played by night, against an obsidian sky, possess a dimensional grandeur that a midday kick-off cannot equal. In my youth, a match down at Home Park on a Tuesday evening was always more exhilarating than the same on a Saturday afternoon.

It was in 2005 that I took a tour of Barcelona’s Camp Nou, and I haven’t the impression it’s changed much since. According to Simon Inglis in The Football Grounds of Europe, published in 1990, “There are stadiums great by reputation and association which, when first encountered, disappoint. The Nou Camp… is not among them.” He goes on to say that, “…when full it is indubitably one of the world’s most breathtaking sporting arenas.” I’m assuming, then, that Mr Inglis is heaping his lavish praise upon the ground’s interior, principally in its occupied state, although he later stipulates that: “Entry to the Nou Camp is no disappointment, full or empty.”
I labour this point because when I approached it back in 2005 I found Camp Nou’s presentation mildly disappointing. Don’t read too much into that – I was aware that the grander spectacle lay within – but as you advance from a westerly direction, which you are obliged to do, the scene that presents itself is comparable to the main entrance of an airport terminal. Two overheard walkways lead at angles from the ‘FC Botiga Megastore’ to the stadium itself, its curved façade swathed in glass. In front, tarmac, amenable to the arrival of taxis, shuttle buses and bloated suitcases. The building’s profile is fairly low from this perspective – Camp Nou’s pitch rests 8 metres below ground level – but rises as one traces the perimeter. At the same time the building takes on the bearing of a multi-storey car park. This is not to disparage it – multi-storey car parks can be imposing structures, entirely worthy of our attention – but in terms of relating to the stadium’s interior, the impression is misleading.
The Camp Nou began life in 1957 as a two-tiered manifestation, typical of other Spanish manifestations built from the 1950s onwards such as Athletic Madrid’s Vicente Calderón, the Estadio Martínez Valero in Elche, Malaga’s Estadio La Rosaleda. The common denominator is a reinforced concrete framework upon which the terraces are supported, as I pointed out when writing similarly about Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán in Seville. Before that, FC Barcelona played at Camp de Les Corts, which for its time was impressively modern and suitably large. Opened in 1922, with an initial capacity of 22,000, by 1944, Les Corts could hold 60,000 and had been furnished with a low-slung cantilevered roof ribbed with metal strips, its contour serpentine in aspect. Floodlights were installed in 1954, but by now the demand for tickets was such that the stadium was deemed too small. There wasn’t the available space to expand any further, so the club acquired land a few miles west and set about building their new stadium there.
And a very handsome stadium it was, larger than many of its contemporaries, and costing more. The reason for the greater expenditure, apart from its size, may have had to do with the ground’s shape: a rounded polygon, rather than a rounded rectangle, with elliptical sides. In contrast, Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán has curved sides but straight ends, whereas Estadio La Rosaleda has four straight sides with circular corners. In any case, the ground as it was held 90,000 spectators, second only at that time to Madrid’s Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, which had recently been expanded to hold 125,000. Of course, only something approaching a quarter of these capacities were ever seated.
So far, so typical – the stadia of southern Spain are remarkably uniform – but then came the 1982 World Cup and Barcelona set about expanding once more. What happened next was what gave the Camp Nou its visual identity. A third tier was added to the three sides of the stadium that could accommodate it, the cantilevered roof of the tribuna being too low slung to allow for complete encirclement. Actually, a shallow third tier already existed above the two tiers of the tribuna, wedged in beneath the base of the roof, and so was extended outward, rising gracefully and gradually before culminating along the opposing rim. The shape traced is something approximating a truncated elliptic cylinder, as if the structure has been tipped slightly but with its sides remaining perpendicular to the horizon. More pertinently, the stadium’s capacity rose to over 120,000.
A quick word before we go inside. Camp Nou does not domineer it’s environment. It’s slanted profile softens the structure’s silhouette, and it sprawls more than anything else. Moreover, the surrounding utilities, parks and high-rise tenements – as well as the adjoining ‘Mini Estadi’, home to FC Barcelona’s reserve team and a decent enough ground in its own right – aid to uphold the stadium’s physical presence in a way that Barcelona’s gridded inner city would be incapable of doing.
Awash with the club’s colours of red and blue, Camp Nou’s interior is a neat and tidy affair. There’s something of the American football stadium about it – of New York Giants’ old home (although some of the more recently built American football stadia are the barmiest of them all.) Despite the steep rake of the upper tiers, it doesn’t look as big as you expect, but it still makes for a very impressive sight – Simon Inglis was right. The roof is particularly imposing, and I’d want to be under it on a hot, sunny day and not stranded atop that ascending third tier. I guess that’s why La Liga games kick off at 16:00.
Camp Nou’s current capacity rests at an all seated 99,354, which makes it the largest football stadium in Europe and the largest club ground in the world. Nevertheless, plans are afoot to expand still further. I can understand this. Barcelona have a huge fan base, and it’s unusual for a stadium of such magnitude not to be covered. The video on FC Barcelona’s website talks about such things as ‘urban integration’ (building a new metro station, improved pedestrian access, expanding the car park), ‘urban acoustic comfort’ (an all-encompassing roof that will keep the crowd noise from disturbing the neighbours, although if I were them I’d quite miss it), ‘thermal and visual comfort’ (again, the roof will protect fans from the elements; what ‘visual’ comfort might entail is not explained), and a number of other dubious concepts that I’ll generously assume have been mutilated in translation. I doubt anyone will miss Camp Nou’s functional exterior – except for maybe aviation and car park enthusiasts – but wonder whether the ground’s internal identity will be diminished? The intent is predictable: the old roof will be done away with and the top tier will be levelled off, enforcing a symmetry that is the plight of many a modern arena.

Nou Camp's iconic third tier being built (Courtesy FC Barcelona)

Prior to 1947, Real Madrid played their football at the Estadio Chamartín, replete with English-style gabled grandstand and room enough for approximately 25,000 spectators (4,000 seated beneath that gabled grandstand). When wealthy lawyer and ex-striker Santiago Bernabéu de Yeste assumed the club’s presidency in 1943, he set about acquiring neighbouring land upon which to build a bigger, more modern stadium, which he subsequently did. Foundations for the new Nuevo Estadio Chamartín (the ground would not be renamed in its benefactor’s honour until 1955) were laid in 1944. However, the footprint of the new ground impinged on the old, which meant the eastern side could not be completed until the old Chamartín was vacated and demolished. There followed, so I have read, a ‘shortage of construction materials’. For this reason, the newly constructed two-tiered structure was left unfinished, leaving a section of uncovered terracing along the ground’s eastern perimeter, and a tower above it maybe by way of an apology. The capacity at this point was around 90,000 and would remain so for the next six years.
In 1953, just as Barcelona were about to begin work on what would become their new home, Real Madrid finally resumed development of their ground’s eastern quarter. Rather than simply joining up the existing structure, an anfiteatro (amphitheatre), flanked by two monolithic towers, was built above the east side’s additional second tier (the original plan and been to do the same thing on the opposite side of the ground, but it never materialised). On its inauguration in June 1954, capacity had risen to an incredible 125,000. More than that, architects Manuel Muñoz Monasterio and Luis Alemany Soler delivered something that was both contemporary and practical, and in the façade of the stadium’s eastern wing a thing of concrete beauty.
Like at Camp Nou, Estadio Santiago Bernabéu depended upon the coming of the 1982 World Cup for the next significant stage of its development. Unlike Camp Nou, Santiago Bernabéu had no roof to speak of, which it needed if it was host a world cup final. Indeed, half of the Bernabéu’s budget would go towards the roof, amounting to somewhere in the region of 350 million pesetas, the rest being spent on extra seating, which pegged the capacity back to 90,200, new changing rooms and press facilities, and an overhaul of the ground’s facade, which was required to support the new roof.
The stadium’s concrete framework was finished in the same material used to assemble the roof – according to Simon Inglis, a light, fibre based cement called Cemfil. Mr Inglis also comes up trumps describing the overall effect: “Like a clean white plastic lid snapped tightly onto a bowl.” That would be a rectangular bowl with curved edges. A black lines runs around the inside fascia of the roof, like the filling in a neatly cut sandwich, giving way to video screens above each goal. Where the ends of the roof finish, contiguous to the two towers either side of the anfiteatro, it becomes apparent that the roof is concave in profile. Inglis offers us this delightful simile: “It is as if (a) liquorice sweet had been neatly sliced at each end, then squashed in the middle.”
Yet whereas Barcelona had increased their stadium’s capacity, Real Madrid had reduced theirs and could only offer something like 30,000 seats – just one third of the ground’s capacity. It’s also worth noting that, despite his enthusiasm for the roof, Inglis laments the general condition of the Bernabéu, and in particular its physical discomfort. It’s little surprise, then, that Real already had plans to add another tier to the south, west and north sides of the ground, making room for a total of 110,000 spectators.
By the time work began in 1992, UEFA had taken note of what happened at Hillsborough and the recommendations of the Taylor Report, which would culminate in the ruling that from 1998 all games played under its patronage would have to take place in an all-seated environment. (UEFA has since has broken down its ‘Stadium Infrastructure Regulations’ into four separate categories. A ground awarded Category 1 status permits standing. However, UEFA will not consent to the use of anything less than a Category 4 stadium in any of their competitions. Weirdly, UEFA  has not published a list of which stadia pass as Category 4.) Whether this legislative development was taken into account is moot: the Bernabéu’s new tier was to come with 20,200 actual seats, as well as four cylindrical stairwells providing access, which will have satisfied the most stringent of requirements.
Completed in May 1994, the Bernabéu was visually transformed. The original roof had been raised by 23 metres to allow for the addition of the steeply raked top tier – technically two tiers stacked on top of each other – which was a feat of engineering that doubled the height of the existing structure, diminishing the anfiteatro in the process. The previously subdued exterior took on an almost post-modern character. In between every other supporting stanchion, there appeared protruding semi-cylinders, which I assume serve some sort of substrative purpose. Below these, rectilinear concrete struts lean outwards, connecting the newer supporting stanchions to the older ones. Glass fills the space between. The stadium’s facade has changed little since.
In 1998, Real Madrid installed seats throughout, reducing the capacity of the Bernabéu from 110,000 down to just over 75,000. Come 2001 and they were at it again and by 2004 the east side of the stadium had been expanded, covered and re-finished, raising the capacity to what it currently stands at: 81,044. It’s this most recent development that is the most interesting. For one, it cleaned up the area behind the east stand, along Calle de Padre Damian (to an extent: there are commercial premises built adjacent to the stadium that obscure the view). Its rear has been clad entirely in what I assume is aluminium meshing, as have the towers, and the roof itself appears to be made from the same material but without the holes. It should be a little incongruous, but rather the modernity and clean lines of the east stand have allowed it once more to take centre stage, as it did prior to the redevelopments undertaken in 1992-94.

Santiago Bernabeu, 1982 - note the 'liquorice' roof.

Stadiums are not structures that need equilibrium. I’m not sure any structures generally do. Symmetry is ornamental, and buildings are not normally supposed to be ornamental. Buildings that are we call follies, which in their disingenuously ruined state will be asymmetrical. The only structure that might demand a symmetry of sorts could be a fort built upon a perfectly circular hill. Even then, one would probably want to take into account the position of the sun and the surrounding topography.
Football is a game that concerns itself with geometry and space. But it is a game and is thus improvised, reactive in nature. Players need to orientate themselves accordingly, both physically and mentally. Quite aside from the benefit of having actual points of reference by which to gauge one’s ever changing position, there’s also the added intrigue of exploring areas of space that possess their own character: “Just kick towards the Gwladys Street end, the fans will suck it into the goal,” said Howard Kendall to his Everton players in 1985 before the second half of their match against Bayern Munich during the second leg of European Cup Winner’s Cup semi-final, which they subsequently won. The Gwladys Street end does not resemble the Walton Lane end and cannot be confused for it. Nor can the three tiers that make up the Goodison Road Stand be mistaken for the two that comprise Bullens Road directly opposite. Liverpool were right to expand their Main Stand rather than move elsewhere (although a grandstand’s lowest tier should never be its deepest). If at all possible, I advise that Everton follow their neighbour’s example.
Real Madrid are planning to embark on a project that will alter the exterior of the ground while leaving the interior relatively untouched: a retractable roof, restaurants, a hotel, landscaping outside, a radically different façade. Regardless of whether this goes ahead – funding permitting – fans of Real Madrid probably won’t feel any less at home than they do now. For the hordes that follow Barcelona, familiarity is not part of the plan.