Have you ever wondered what various football grounds around Europe looked like towards the end of the 1980s? Hasn't everyone? Luckily for you, the great Simon Inglis has this covered with the excellent Football Grounds of Europe, published just before the 1990 World Cup which, may I remind you, was 22 (twenty-two) years ago!
As I have already confessed, I have an obsession with football stadiums (Stadia? Apparently both are acceptable) and as mentioned in that review, it's fascinating to see how much has changed in the intervening years. For example, 22 years ago, the Stadio Delle Alpi didn't exist, whereas now... oh right... bad example.
|The Delle Apli Roof...sadly, no longer with us|
As previously mentioned, as it was under construction at the time, there are no pictures of the completed roof, however that does mean we are treated to a view from inside the ground, several beams in place, but with a long way to go; the giant yellow cranes, later sold to a Japanese shipbuilder, looming over the extended third tier.
|Brutal Beauty in the making|
As with every stadium covered in detail in the book, the ground is given a comprehensive history and in the case of the 1990 World Cup venues, a lot of detail is presented on the trials and tribulations that went into their construction / redevelopment. The Luigi Ferraris stadium in Genoa (another of my favourites) seems to have gone through its fair share of hassle, ranging from over-reflective security screens that blinded spectators to having to purchase extra buildings in order to be able to build a second tier on one side.
|A stadium of two halves...sorry...|
A perfect example of this is that, as Genoa's ground was completed in two halves (split right down the length of the pitch), by the time the second half was completed, the first was already covered in graffiti - a situation lamented by the author as it meant the ground was never pristine. Again at Genoa, the second tier originally had holes in the floor to let light through, but the crowd assumed these were to dispose of litter, much to the chagrin of those in the tier below. The book is full of this kind of exhaustive research and is one of the many reasons reading it even now for what must be the 100th time, is still a joy.
I could spend all day on the grounds of Italy, however I shall move on after one last item of note. The magnificent, yet ultimately flawed Stadio Delle Alpi is never referred to as such in the book: at the time it was known merely as the Nuovo Comunale.
From Italy we move to Austria for a short stop off. The Weiner (Prater to the locals, Ernst-Happel to the modern world) stadium is covered in detail, however it's the home of SK Rapid Vienna that provides yet another Inglis ingot (sorry). While fans may currently be captivated / increasingly irritated by the 'Poznan' goal celebration (hey, welcome to 1961!), Simon treats us to the story of the Rapid Viertelstunde, a.k.a. the Rapid Quarter Hour, "a sustained period of handclapping the fans have traditionally used to stir the team's recovery from lost causes."
On the move again and next we pay a visit to Belgium and inevitably to Heysel. When the book was written, the ground had not yet been redeveloped into the current King Baudouin Stadium and looks exactly as it had done in 1985. The disaster and the aftermath is covered and Simon makes the point that, at the time, there seems to have been a desire to try and forget what happened there, with the infamous Block Z wall that collapsed rebuilt exactly as it was before and no form of memorial at the ground at all. It was only 20 years afterwards that a memorial was finally placed at the new stadium.
Soon after we've left Belgium we land in yet another reminder of a world from the past.. .a country known as Czechoslovakia. This is another reason this book is a true football classic as it contains football grounds from the aforementioned Czech Republic / Slovakia as well as Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union and East and West Germany. In the short space of time between this book being published and me buying it, all of these places had ceased to exist and had in fact created 23 new nations.
|Give it 30 years...|
|Camp Nou in 1989...or is it 2012?|
The final chapter covers the four main stadiums in the former Yugoslavia, one of which - the Maksimir, then known as Stadion Dinamo - was set to be the stage for a huge riot between the mostly Croat fans of Dinamo Zagreb and the mainly Serbian Red Star Belgrade, which left over 60 people injured. The larger ramifications of this day, however, played out over the next few years as the region fell into a bloody civil war and this riot is seen symbolically by some as the start of those hostilities.
Overall, The Football Grounds of Europe is a truly great publication and one which should be in every football fan's collection as, even if you have no particular interest in the grounds themselves, the stories and history encompassed within its pages are reason enough to buy a copy. One can only hope that one day, Mr. Inglis might recreate his journey for a FGOE 2 for, while info and pictures of any European stadium is now just a click away, the detail and love of the subject he brings is something not easily found elsewhere.
You know, going back to that fire thing... these days I could probably get most of these off eBay... in which case the kids can go fetch some more of my football shirts. Hurry children, the smoke is thickening!