Sunday, 8 July 2018


Purple permeates the city – Florence in Tuscany – in tribute to the football team that represents it – ACF Fiorentina, aka La Viola. It is said that the colour has no actual connotation but came about fortuitously after the original red-and-white halved shirts of Fiorentina were washed, presumably at too high a temperature, and the colours ran. Most likely apocryphal, and cannot explain the switch from black to white shorts that followed. In any case, such a diffusion would have resulted in pink.
Conversely, the club's badge is informed by the city's heraldry. The roles are transposed, a fleur-de-lis does for both, typically in red mounted on a white background, certainly in the case of Fiorentina and often for the metropolis too. An ordinary state of affairs, except Florence is a UNESCO designated World Heritage Site – has been since 1982 – remarkable for its Renaissance architecture. Football is an irrelevance generally for those who visit here and few will make the connection, let alone be aware of it. But the effect is the same: purple seems to suit the environment, just as if some design agency had proposed it as an apposite hue (no doubt for an exorbitant fee).

Stadio Comunale Artemio Franchi is placed well away from the older material that draws in the tourists, probably with intent. Why locate something as utilitarian as a football stadium alongside buildings as venerable as the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, the Palazzo Vecchio? Yet the Artemio Franchi offers more than mere function and was perhaps as progressive in its day as the Il Duomo di Firenze was in its.
Pier Luigi Nervi was tasked with building the ground: a structural engineer and architect renowned for his pioneering appropriation of reinforced concrete, and a progenitor of Italian Modernism. Work began in 1930, was completed in 1932, and the stadium has changed little since. It might be said that Stadio Artemio Franchi kick started Nervi’s career. His portfolio is impressive: he designed the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris; the Torino Esposizioni in – you guessed it – Turin; the Palazzetto dello Sport in Rome; the ‘Hall of the Pontifical Audiences’, which bridges the border between Italy and the Vatican City; and he also had a hand in engineering the Pirelli Tower in Milan. [Built some 25 years later, Nervi’s more impressive contribution to stadium architecture is actually the Stadio Flaminio in Rome, which the Italian Rugby Federation is supposedly in the process of bastardising whilst their rugby team play out their international fixtures at the capital’s aesthetically flawed Stadio Olimpico.]

The slightly out-of-town location of the Artemio Franchi works to its advantage. It is a very low-rise structure, save for its svelte tower, and would be utterly overwhelmed amongst the grandeur of central Florence. Instead, we have residential tenements to the west, the modest Stadio Luigi Ridolfi to the south (a municipal athletics facility), and unabridged views towards the mountains north and east – the Florentine hills of Fiesole and Settignano. Trees dot the perimeter and a road encircles it. The stadium’s concrete framework can be viewed from all around.
From above, the s’s footprint traces a rather awkward ‘D’ shape. This is because the Artemio Franchi once accommodated a 220 metre sprint track – so long to cater for the completion of marathons. In preparation for the 1990 World Cup, the entire running track was removed to allow for a second, shallower tier, requiring that the pitch be lowered by 2.4 metres. This in turn facilitated the extraction of the temporary stands set behind each goal, which stood in isolation and probably didn’t hold that many spectators anyway, as well as freeing up the parterre to function once more as a parterre rather than the secondary viewing platform it had ineffectually become. Other changes included the replacement of some pretty awful roof extensions with ones more sympathetic – although still far from ideal – and the installation of individual seats in place of the existing wooden benches. The seats of the new lower tier were initially green, which worked, the rest a tasteful shade of grey. Now almost all are grey save for those in the tribuna centrale (grandstand) and the lower tier facing it, which are purple – as is the club’s name spelled out in seats in the tier above; this also works. Since the 1990 renovations, the concrete has been refinished a second time and the stairways have been painted yellow.
Despite the increased capacity, plastic chairs, and the removal of much of the clutter that afflicted the stadium prior to 1990, it is many of Artemio Franchi’s pre-existing features that make it interesting: three helicoid staircases that provide external access to the upper gallery; the tower – streamlined, glass-fronted, almost art-nouveau; the bare concrete underside of the terracing and its gentle curve; the outward facade of the tribuna; the roof. The tower might be considered extraneous, the stairs merely salutary, the façade functional, but the roof is to be greatly admired. It is cantilevered – or not, depending how you interpret the stresses placed on the bifurcating structure supporting it: 24 corbels, the tiers below serving as their counterweight. It is a shame the two (genuinely cantilevered) roof extensions weren’t done away with completely, but the original structure doesn’t provide much coverage.
It’s all very pleasing, yet Fiorentina has plans to construct a new home. Perhaps this is why, contrary to the attention lavished on Artemio Franchi’s interior in recent years, the exterior – the underside of the exposed terraces – is spalled, shabby, and neglected. The ground of arch-rivals Juventus has been cited as an inspiration and probable template, a stadium that was built on the site of the much maligned Stadio delle Alpi, which was too large, had a running track, lacked intimacy and atmosphere: built anew in 1990, things didn’t work out and Juventus ended up again sharing the Stadio Olimpico with Torino, before they knocked the Alpi down and put the Juventus Stadium in its place. Fiorentina does not share a ground, and theirs is listed, comfortable in its surroundings. Does it not seem absurd to move away from a unique and perfectly serviceable structure in Florence only to then mimic a building contrived to address a predicament that had arisen in Turin? Could Il Duomo di Firenze have once been torn down and the Mole Antonelliana replicated in its place?

If only Robur Siena were faced with such a dilemma. Despite sharing a name, Siena’s Artemio Franchi – aka Montepaschi Arena – is shambolic by comparison. But then, Siena have not met with the same success as their more northern cousins – or much success at all.
Siena have been playing football since 1908, which is longer than Fiorentina who formed in 1926. Siena’s Artemio Franchi is a very low key affair. Little remains of the structure as it was in 1938 when the ground hosted its first game: a friendly against another Tuscan neighbour, Empoli. Initially consisting of just a single grandstand, it wasn’t until 1955 that the stadium grew in size with the construction of an additional stand directly opposite. These two stands remain, and stood alone for a long while, quietly overlooking the athletics’ track, and themselves quietly overlooked by the surrounding tenements and lines of trees. This wouldn’t do for Serie A, but AC Siena had never played in Serie A. Then, in 2003 AC Siena were promoted to Serie A, and would have to do something about their stadium.
I can find no definitive information as to whether the Artemio Franchi was expanded in stages or all at once. What I can tell you is that the ground as it looks now was pretty much how I came across it when I visited in 2005, so however they went about it, it took less than two years to complete. In any case, the result is a mess, quite frankly, but not without its charm, comprised of – count them – twelve distinct sections with a collective capacity of 15,373.
The Tribuna Danilo Nannini (the original, covered section of the ground) has aged remarkably well. The cantilevered roof resembles a smaller, slightly less daring version of the one seen at the Artemio Franchi in Florence. Its underside is even the same colour: a sort of pale yellow. To its rear, a private road providing access and the Fortezza Medicea obscured by trees; to its side, a small covered section with room enough for 40 wheelchair users. The Danilo Nannini itself holds 1,500 fans, despite not being be much more than 60 metres in length.
If you’ve come to Siena as a tourist, by car or by bus, chances are you’ve approached from its south-western aspect having disembarked along the western edge of the Fortezza Medicea and wandered through the Giardini Pubblici. There in front of you is the entrance to the Curva Ospiti (Guest Curve). Now would be a good time to point out that Siena’s Artemio Franchi is surrounded by higher ground, which means its barely discernible from any angle. If you tore down the fences, cut back the shrubs, chopped down the trees, and tilted your head downwards, then you’d behold a symmetry of steel. At the curve’s apex a fairly low-rise structure; either side, two sets of much larger terraces fan diagonally out; at each end, smaller sections. The Curva Ospiti takes up the smaller section closest to the tribuna, two of the larger sections next along, and the wider, shallower terracing directly behind the goal. Collectively, these stands can accommodate 3,000 away supporters. The south-easterly sections constitute the Curva Beneforti (also known as the Curva San Domenico in tribute to the Basilica of San Domenico that stands behind) and can house 2,000 fans.
Next the Gradinata De Luca – capacity: 4,081 – on the ground’s eastern edge facing the tribuna. The stand that was added in 1955 has been extended upon, probably about doubling its capacity. This seems natural, but the façade of the lower tier is now completely hidden. Because of the buildings that line Viale Curtatone it wasn’t particularly visible in the first place, and not everyone will consider that a bad thing. Still, the reinforced concrete supports are one of the few architectural details of interest here, so it is a bit of a shame.
Which leaves the Curva Robur and its little brother squeezed into the corner between the Robur and the Gradinata De Luca. The Curva Robur holds 4,700 and it’s from where the ultras offer their support. The other stands have followed the shape of the athletics track. Not the Robur, which has been built parallel to the goal-line on top of the defunct athletics’ track, almost as if it was never there. Behind, more trees, a large hotel, and the Regione Toscana Genio Civile, which I think is something related to civil engineering.
All these (relatively) recent additions are essentially temporary structures that have become permanent. They are supported by identical steel trusses and are equipped with identical green, plastic seats. Behind them all, either trees or buildings, or both. It is this backdrop, augmented by the fact that the stadium has been built into the ground to maintain a lower profile, that provides a cohesion that is structurally lacking. The ground is so beautifully hemmed in, that those coming to marvel at the Piazza del Campo will quite probably miss it.

Curva Robur, circa 2005

In 2009/2010, AC Siena were relegated to Serie B. They bounced straight back only to be relegated for a second time in 2013. Within a year the club was bankrupt and had to register under a different name – Robur Siena – and begin again in Serie D (although they have since been promoted to Serie C).
Siena had plans to build a new ground, but these have understandably been shelved. The concept looked strong but, as with Fiorentina, it involved moving away from the town centre, sacrificing views and vistas that imbue a sense of identity and create a unique atmosphere. Neither club should mind too much if such schemes never reach fruition.

Friday, 1 June 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.]

Monday, 23 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.]

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.

Saturday, 23 September 2017


The 1986 FIFA World Cup was supposed to be held in Colombia. In late 1982, the prospective host withdrew from its commitment, citing ‘economic difficulties’ (read as asymmetric internal armed conflict) and Mexico was awarded the privilege in their place. From the perspective of the sport, the tournament went on to be a great success – the collected images of Diego Maradona are some of the most iconic of the sport – but it’s been said that the physical infrastructure was found wanting. The fact of the matter is that Mexico wasn’t afforded the time to adequately prepare for the job – just three years. Most of the venues dated back to the 1960s; some were even older. Throw a major earthquake into the mix, a mere eight months before the competition was due to start, and one begins to think that maybe the Mexican Football Federation pulled off quite a coup. Moreover, despite their age, some of the stadia were actually very impressive: the Estadio Olímpico Universitario, completed in 1952, is an extraordinary building, while the mighty Estadio Azteca, opened in 1966, is one of the most imposing structures of its kind.
Such tribulations were unlikely to befall Italy’s preparations for hosting the world cup in 1990 (although it is a place vulnerable to seismic activity). Not only did the Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio (FIGC) have the more usual six years in which to prepare for the tournament, but Serie A was the preeminent league of its day. There was a sense that this might be the greatest world cup ever.
The Italians elected to use the same number of stadia as the Mexicans. Of those twelve, two were new-builds (the Stadio delle Alpi in Turin and Stadio San Nicola in Bari), another two may have well been (the Stadio Comunale Luigi Ferraris in Genoa and Rome’s Stadio Olimpico), while the remaining eight were enlarged, reconfigured and refurbished. This posed various problems, and architects came up with various solutions ranging from the ostentatious through to the very subtle, by way of the ingenious, with varying degrees of success. But it was never about volume: what the FIGC was paying for was architecture.
In the end, the quality of the actual football was disappointing. The tournament saw the lowest goals-per-game average for a world cup and what at the time was a record of 16 red cards. More to the point, it wasn’t always pretty. There was mention of the ball – the Adidas Etrusco Unico – being unfavourably light, harder to control. Such talk is de rigueur these days, but back then you felt there might be something in it. Try and find some match footage from Mexico ‘86 – Brazil v. France will do – and see how graceful the players look in possession of the ball. Then watch Brazil v. Argentina from Italia ’90 and count how many shots fly high and wide.
But I digress.
A number have problems have since arisen. For one, the quality of the original construction work was not always of a very high standard. Within just a few seasons, terracing that had been completely refinished for the world cup was crumbling underfoot, and reinforced concrete supports were starting to spall. Second, Serie A is no longer Europe’s wealthiest league: it’s the fourth behind England’s Premiership, Spain’s La Liga and the German Bundesliga. Less money to spend on players means less success means dwindling attendances means less revenue to spend on the upkeep of the stadium. Finally, the oval stadium format which permeates throughout much of Italy has slowly become redundant as European clubs have embraced the rectangular ‘English style’ of stadium, which deems a running track an encumbrance. (Italian football grounds have historically been built using public funds. For this reason, local authorities have quite reasonably insisted that they cater for athletics.)
In 1990, the Stadio delle Alpi and the Stadio San Nicola were admired for their architectural adventurousness. Today, the former has been demolished and the Juventus Stadium erected in its place, whilst the latter presents a sorry sight, many of its Teflon roof sections blowing in the wind or ripped from their fastenings entirely. To be fair, the grounds they replaced also had athletics tracks; however, the Stadio Comunale and the Stadio Della Vittoria were smaller stadiums. At full capacity, a running track isn’t so much of a problem. The Stadio delle Alpi and the Stadio San Nicola were/are never full to capacity.
It’s not so much that the Italian authorities made a mistake but missed an opportunity. It’s a moot point as far as Verona or Bologna or Napoli or Cagliari are concerned, because Verona and Bologna and Napoli and Cagliari didn’t have new grounds built for them. The only cities that really benefitted, in that they were left with stadiums that anticipated the emerging trend, were Milan and Genoa.

When the Giuseppe Meazza – or plain ‘San Siro’ as it was called up until 1980, whereupon it was renamed after the former AC and Inter player, who died the previous year – was built in 1925, it was unusual for not encompassing a running track. The reason why is because the San Siro was privately funded by a consortium headed by A.C. Milan’s president Piero Pirelli – of the homonymous tyre company – enabling them to build in any style they pleased. They opted for the ‘Anglo-Saxon model’ comprising of four rectilinear stands, including a covered main stand, and space for 35,000 spectators, 20,000 on seats (the remaining 10,000 stood upon parterres situated in front of the three uncovered tribuna). Possibly because of its configuration, the ground proved very popular and, up until the inauguration of Rome’s Stadio Olimpico in 1937, was the venue of choice for the national football team. Realising its financial potential, in 1935 the local council purchased the ground and set about increasing its size still further. By 1937, the smaller goal-end terraces had been extended and all four stands connected by way of four curved corner sections, allowing for a capacity approaching 65,000. In 1947 local rivals Internazionale became tenants, ushering in a period of Milanese semi-domination with four of next available eight scudettos ending up in the city, honours even. (The 1949 Superga air disaster certainly had something to do with this, wiping out the Grande Torino who’d dominated Serie A since the end of the war, and to an extent before it).
The next phase of development happened in 1955 and would come to define the stadium. The plan initially was to raise the capacity to 150,000 by way of two additional tiers. Perhaps realising the sheer ambition of the scheme – or the cost – the plans were retrenched. Instead, a single, continuous freestanding tier was built around the existing structure, completely enveloping it, making enough room for a mere 82,000 spectators. Nothing particularly innovative going on here – Real Madrid had put together something similar eight years earlier at what was then known as the Nuevo Estadio Chamartín – except architect Armando Ronca had carefully considered the question of access, the economy of space, and aesthetics. Nineteen 200 metre long helical ramps were attached to the stadium’s exterior, each rising gradually to a height of nearly 20 metres. These parallel walkways led directly to individual vomitories providing access to the second tier at equidistant points, thus displacing the crowds that would otherwise have gathered outside. More than that, it gave the stadium a visual identify to set it apart from other football grounds; it became a thing of architectural interest in its own right. Ronca’s most recognised work is probably the Eurotel in Marano (1958-1960) which appears to have taken its inspiration from Le Corbusier’s Unité d'habitation. It should be appreciated that in Italy the difference between architetto (architect) and ingegnere edile (building engineer) is often indistinct. The San Siro is at once modernist and utilitarian, which often amounts to the same thing anyway.
Italy’s winning bid for the 1990 world cup brought with it terms and conditions. If the Guiseppe Meazza, as it was now called, was to host the opening game (restitution for the final being played in Rome) then it would need an all-seated capacity of at least 80,000, two thirds of which would have to be under cover.The Milan Municipal Administration decided against building something bespoke and they awarded the architects Ragazzi, Hoffer and Finzi the task of surmounting these obstacles by way of refurbishment.
The issue of space was dealt with in the same way it was 30-odd years earlier: a single freestanding tier was built around the existing structure, completely enveloping it. Ostensibly, this upper gallery is a continuation of the one already in place, but it rests upon eleven cylindrical, reinforced-concrete pillars aligned to the stadium’s curved rectangular perimeter. These colossal towers have their own ramps, spiralling upwards in accord with the existing architecture. It should be noted that this third tier is incomplete: the stadium is hampered on one side due to the presence of the racecourse – hence the odd number of supporting pillars – and so the east side of the ground remains as it was. An all-seated capacity of 85,700 is achieved nonetheless.
As well as propping up the third tier, the four (larger) corner towers support four perpendicular steel girders, their ends protruding horizontally beyond the polycarbonate fabric of the roof itself, which hangs above the stadium like an open-sided pavilion. The burgundy-matt finish of the steel complements the pale grey patina of the reinforced concrete, the effect accentuated against the backdrop of a cloudless azure sky. It’s a readily attainable perspective: San Siro – the area from whence the stadium first got its name – is suburban, low-rise, remote, and to the west of the ground lies a vast expanse of concrete. You don’t need a wide angle lens to take in the view, although the sheer scale of the building is still apparent.

The parallels between A.C. Milan and Genoa C.F.C. are manifold. Both clubs began life as sort of English expatriate associations with a side-line in cricket. In each instance, the English orthography would prevail: Milan rather than Milano, Genoa instead of Genova. Milan Cricket and Football Club proceeded to privately build an exclusively football orientated ground, and so too did Genoa Cricket and Football Club. These same grounds were subsequently sold to their respective local authorities and were also renamed after bygone players. And just as A.C. Milan would end up sharing grounds with their local rivals F.C. Internazionale Milano, in 1946 Genoa C.F.C. invited the newly formed U.C. Sampdoria to play at theirs.
The Stadio Comunale Luigi Ferraris began life in 1911 as the Campo di Via del Piano (also known as the Campo Marassi) and was then little more than a green surrounded by a horseracing track overlooked by a single stand with a gable in the middle. In 1928, the pitch was rotated by 90 degrees and work began on what would become the Stadio Comunale. By the time Brazil and Spain faced off in the first round of the 1934 World Cup, the ground’s capacity had risen from a notional 28,000 to a substantial 51,000 and had been entitled in honour of former player (and engineer) Luigi Ferraris, killed in action during the Great War. At this point, the stadium wasn’t too dissimilar in aspect to the San Siro in Milan – rectilinear terracing with a vaguely neo-classical façade – but whereas the stands at the San Siro were being joined up to form a coherent hole, the work at Comunale Luigi Ferraris displayed no overarching strategy. Cantilevered roof extensions were later added to each end of the main stand and spiral walkways providing access to the goal-end terraces, achieving a symmetry of sorts. In 1951 an open double-decker stand was erected along the stadium’s east side, facing the covered single-tiered stand opposite. The ground as it then was could accommodate 55,773 spectators, 40,000 of them seated, which is quite impressive given the physical impediments that surround the site: housing tenements, the Villa Mussi Piantelli, the Bisagno River, even a prison.
If the Luigi Ferraris had been a stadium in Mexico in 1983, it would have been left very much alone and may even have gone on to host a quarter final. Had it been located anywhere else in Italy but the undulating and beset city of Genoa, they’d have probably knocked it down and replaced it with something on the edge of town. In the event, the Luigi Ferraris was knocked down but then rebuilt where it had formerly stood, and because there was nowhere else for Genoa and Sampdoria to play in the interim, it was literally done one half at a time. At no point did it not exist, but by the time it was finished the ground was completely transformed.
But why was the Luigi Ferraris rebuilt at all? It was already large enough to host international football (just) and granted no less protection from the elements than the Stadio Artemio Franchi in Florence or the Stadio Renato Dall'Ara in Bologna. Did its piecemeal design finally catch up with it? Was the stadium just a little too ‘English’ for its own good? Whatever the reasons, the FIGC got their money’s worth. The architect Vittorio Gregotti was given the job of sorting it out and went about imposing his trademark rectangular prisms upon the limited space available (see the University of Milano-Bicocca).
If the Giuseppe Meazza reflects a moderately Brutalist, post-war impression of modernism, then the Luigi Ferraris is pure pre-war Bauhaus functionalism; where the Giuseppe Meazza embraces curves and oblique lines, the Luigi Ferraris is bound by right angles. The structure appears as rectangles as the sum of squares, and the motif is repeated throughout: four square gaps in the external wall behind each goal-end terrace; six protruding square shaped stairwells above the stadium’s main entrance; large square apertures in the sidewalls revealing ramped walkways behind; fifteen smaller quadratic openings in the walls diagonally opposite; rectilinear lines etched into the concrete itself. Holding this diffuse geometry together are four rectangular towers, which support the roof by way of white steel trusses and allow the building to prevail upon the skyline. The roofs themselves are formed of an indistinguishable metal framework but are countersunk and not visible from street level.
Unlike the Giuseppe Meazza, which depends on distance to be appreciated, this assemblage of terracotta red boxes would look adrift upon the wastelands of San Siro. In amongst the compact, quadrate edifices of Marassi, the order of the Luigi Ferraris makes perfect sense. It can be viewed in sections; it is to be viewed in sections. It is not the sum of its parts but a collection of perpendicular vignettes comprised of linear planes. Under the same conditions, the Giuseppe Meazza would have an intimating effect, and might itself be confused with something like a multi-storey car park.

Over recent years, AC Milan and Inter have entertained the possibility of abandoning their home in favour of a brand new build, more than likely on the periphery of a motorway somewhere. The fashion for constructing stadia in the most insalubrious of surroundings aside, the problem with the Giuseppe Meazza is that it’s too big. Over the course 2016-17, Internazionale and AC Milan averaged an attendance of 46,620 and 40,294 respectively (although when they played each other approximately 78,000 fans turned up). There’s also the sense of neglect. I had the privilege of beholding this sporting icon in 1993, and it was in good shape. I have no idea what sort of condition it’s currently in. Regardless, the intimation that the building could have run its course is an alarming one. Not for a moment would anybody entertain tearing down the Duomo di Milano, no matter what its condition, so why is the thinking different here?
The same goes for the Luigi Ferraris.Genoa’s terrain limits either club’s options, but I’ve read of plans to install strange viewing galleries upon the roofs, amounting to what would be an act of architectural vandalism. Such schemes are indicative of a trend that regards modern architecture as something ephemeral, to be disposed of in accordance with the vagaries of fashion. Everybody wants to build a ‘Veltins-Arena’ all of a sudden, despite the fact that the Veltins-Arena could be easily mistaken for an electrical wholesalers’ superstore on an industrial estate. Armando Ronca and Vittorio Gregotti’s efforts deserve more.