Saturday, 11 August 2012

The Football Grounds of Europe

Most people have a list of things they'd save in the event of a fire. I have three books on my list (which kind of suggests it's a long list...I mean, I have a cat and three kids, but then again, the kids aren't on the list, they're old enough to save themselves... and doing the maths, that means each child can carry one of the books! Result!). Anyway, the books...the first of these is 'Mexico 86 - A Pictorial Review' by Phil Soar and John Bone, a glorious hardback book covering the whole of that tournament in great detail. The 2nd is 'True Colours' by John Devlin and the third is the subject of this article.

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
The book starts with a brief introduction, before covering in depth, the stadia that were to be used for Italia 90. As it was written whilst most of these were mid (re)construction, it's somewhat a shame none of the pictures are of the completed venues, though given the ease with which one could find such info on the internet, it's perhaps a blessing that we instead get to see them before they became what they are today (or in the case of the Delle Alpi, what they were up until a few years ago). One point of note in the intro is FIFA's criteria for World Cup stadia - a minimum capacity of 80,000 (3/4 covered) for the opening and final games and at least 40,000 with the main stand covered for all other matches. I purchased this book in October 1994 which meant the World Cup had just been staged in the US where the rules about covered seating seem to have been put aside.

Stadium Porn...
On to the stadiums and up first is the stadium that started my obsession, the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza - more commonly known as Milan's San Siro. This beast of a place, the ultimate in brutalist and modernist architecture, the Lloyds building of football stadia first captured my attention during the opening match of the 1990 World Cup. Just home from school on that friday, ITV's fantastic opening titles, 'Tutti Al Mondo' (suck it, Pavarotti!) make way for my first ever glimpse of this marvel. Gigantic red beams suspending a massive roof over a sheer maze of lines, it remains to this day, in one's humble opinion, one of the most striking sights, not only in modern stadium design but in architecture as a whole.

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...
I do think the timing of this book was perfect as Italia 90 was perhaps the first tournament to see such modern, inspiring designs used so widely and had it been written at any other point in time I feel such interesting stories would perhaps have never seen the light of day. You can read about them all on Wikipedia, but the little details aren't there and it's these gems of info that truly make this a great book.

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.

Questionable murals...
Another ground that is no longer around greets us as we land in Denmark at the Idrætsparken, now completely rebuilt and known more simply as the Parken. The most stunning feature of the old ground was the roof of the main stand, or rather the underside of it. A painting competition was held by the Hydro Oil Company in 1985 and the prize was to have the winner's submitted artwork re-created on a gigantic scale, covering the underside of the main stand roof. The winner was 9-year-old Michael Jorgensens and his piece was indeed enlarged several hundred times and adorned the roof. From the picture, you can see it didn't exactly show up very well and, frankly, it makes you wonder what the quality of the entries (over 13,000 of them!) was like if that was the winner. Sorry Michael.

Give it 30 years...
Moving through the rest of Europe, it becomes very apparent just how many stadiums have either been redeveloped, rebuilt or consigned to history and it's probably easier to count those which haven't changed at all compared with those that have. While this may sound like an obvious point given the sweeping changes that have taken place at football grounds in this country since the Taylor Report, when you look at how many grounds had changed much in the 20 year period prior to the book's publication, the rate of change in the last two decades has been unprecedented. One point that is repeatedly made throughout the book is how far behind Britain had been in stadium design. While concrete cantilevers made their debut in the 1930's in places such as Florence's Stadio Comunale, Britain remained hopelessly in love with the column for a good 30 years. Can you imagine a situation now whereby Britain's grounds were only just beginning to adopt design ideas seen abroad in 1980?

Camp Nou in 1989...or is it 2012?
Large sections are granted to France, Spain, West Germany and the Soviet Union and even in those countries which had only recently held tournaments (Spain in '82, West Germany in '74) and had therefore only just had large redevelopment programmes, most of the grounds shown have still changed significantly.  One notable exception to this is Barca's Camp Nou, which, aside from additional seating replacing standing areas, looks exactly the same in 1989 as it does today.

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!


  1. As you say, one of the most fascinating aspects of Inglis’s book looking back on it was that it was of course published in the teeth of momentous events in eastern Europe – I remember looking with some fearfulness upon the picture of Warsaw’s forbidding Dziesięciolecia as well as the elaborate gantries perched atop the terraces of stadia in Romania and East Germany for the likes of comrades Ceauşescu and Honecker to peer down from upon.

    I was also a fan of the stadium at Genoa as well as that at Nîmes and seem to remember Inglis being effusive in his praise of both – his influence on stadium design has been enormous although many would have done well to have followed his advice to deploy flourishes in the way of gables and clever colour schemes – we might then have avoided the proliferation of identikit boxes we see today.

    Like you, I’d welcome a second edition but perhaps even more so a ‘world’ version – achieving such comprehensiveness would be impossible but perhaps a ‘Top 50’ that might include stadia from other sports such as The Bird’s Nest and Boston’s Fenway Park would be a good idea? I should also mention that Inglis’s ‘Football Grounds of Great Britain’ is also marvellous although the forerunner to that, ‘Football Grounds of England and Wales’ was perhaps even better as its appendices seem to bite the dust to make way for coverage of Scotland.

    1. The Eastern Bloc stadiums certainly did seem to have a common look, being, as you say, mostly designed as platforms for the resident dictator to 'grandstand' from.

      I would also love to see a world version in publication, though I can't help but feel that stadium design, while still producing grounds of note (the Bird's Nest and Allianz Arena), has tended to produce on the whole, more conservative designs, almost as a reaction to the excesses of the 90s - a theme mirrored in football kit design. Stadiums seem to aim more for a mix of practicality, design and longer lasting impact, which is of course a good thing, however it does mean we tend to end up with a raft of mediocre, yet useful stadiums, rather than a large number of staggering white elephants. The last few large tournaments seem to have gone down the road of creating stadiums as a work of art with the building created as one giant whole (Allianz Arena, Soccer City), which makes for interesting designs, but rarely anything so brutal and mind warping.

      That said, every tournament that passes ends up leaving behind a host of grounds that serve no useful purpose as their capacities far outweigh the needs of the resident team, the stadia built for the 2002 World Cup being prime examples. It seems insane that 20 different grounds were used for that tournament, most of them new builds.

      Thinking about the 2002 World Cup, that produced a range of grounds with some impressive designs, but none of them really blew me away in the same way that Milan and Bari did in 1990, but maybe that's down to me...the San Siro had a huge impact as I had never seen anything like it, but by the time of Japan / South Korea, I'd got used to super-stadiums with fantastical designs, so I guess I just need a bigger fix for my stadium addiction :)