Many of the most celebrated clubs in football have had equally distinguished and hallowed stadia to match. The mere mention of iconic venues such as Camp Nou, San Siro, the Bernabéu, Old Trafford, Anfield or Highbury instantly evokes images of outstanding teams sending their thousands of followers into delirium with mesmerising football. However, unwritten rules can often have their exceptions, an argument to which Juventus can testify.
The ‘Old Lady of Italian football’ spent 57 years at the Stadio Comunale throughout the 20th century but, with Italy being granted hosting rights for the 1990 World Cup, Turin was set to be given a new venue named the Stadio delle Alpi, which – as its name suggests – references the city’s proximity to the Alps mountain range. Built by the city’s council and with prefabricated concrete used in its construction, the venue was completed in less than two years and inaugurated just weeks before FIFA’s showpiece event got underway.
Brazil played all four of their matches at the World Cup in Turin’s newest venue, the last of which saw them ousted by arch-rivals Argentina in the round of 16. The Stadio delle Alpi’s other match at the 1990 tournament was the memorable semi-final between West Germany and England, the night of Paul Gascoigne’s tears, Chris Waddle’s fateful skybound penalty and all that.
In theory, the Stadio delle Alpi was intended to be a futuristic venue capable of seating 67,229 paying spectators, a multi-faceted sports facility designed to host both football and athletics. Shared by Juventus and Torino, it spawned a dramatic increase of capacity for both clubs from the old Stadio Comunale. A giant, four-sided televisual screen perched above the centre circle further added to the futuristic vibe about the stadium. As we entered a decade of major progress in the 1990s, the venue was designed to give two of Italy’s most celebrated clubs a home of which they could be proud.
However, the Stadio delle Alpi soon developed a less than cerebral reputation. For starters, despite being built as a football and athletics venue due to being partially funded by the Italian Olympic Committee, it was never used for any major events in the latter sport. This was due to the rather negligible absence of a warm-up track at the stadium, which ultimately made the running track a superfluous feature.
That particular aspect of the venue was met with disdain by many match-goers, who frequently complained of poor visibility due to being seated a comparatively vast distance from the pitch. The running track was far from the only complaint mooted by spectators, either – many were aggrieved by the lack of visibility from the lower tier due to obstructive advertising hoardings, while the structure’s openness failed to shield fans adequately from the elements on particularly cold and/or rainy matchdays.
The whole cocktail made it increasingly difficult for fans to whip up a fervent atmosphere at the Stadio delle Alpi, with many supporters of both Juventus and Torino quickly taking a strong dislike to their new home. Nor did it help that the venue was built on the outskirts of the city, which made travelling to and from matches an inconvenience for spectators. Furthermore, as the venue was owned by Turin city council until Juventus bought it in 2002, the stadium’s exorbitant rental and running costs made it a horrendously expensive venture for both clubs.
Juventus enjoyed one of the most successful periods in their fabled history in the 1990s, reaching three successive Champions League finals and lifting the trophy in 1996, as well as winning the UEFA Cup and three Serie A titles during the decade. Legendary names such as Alessandro Del Piero, Gianluca Vialli, Didier Deschamps, Ciro Ferrara and Fabrizio Ravanelli made Marcello Lippi’s side one of the most awesome in world football.
And yet, despite supporters of the Bianconeri having the pleasure of watching this magnificent team every week, many chose to do so from the comfort of home rather than the soulless Stadio delle Alpi. During the 1996/97 season, when Juve were European champions and went on to win Serie A and reach another Champions League final, their average attendance at a 67,000+ capacity stadium fell below the 40,000 mark. Let me put it this way – could you imagine the same happening at Old Trafford in the early 2000s when it had a similar capacity and played host to an equally outstanding Manchester United team?
Indeed, so poor was the stadium’s reputation that, at the business end of the 1995 UEFA Cup campaign, Juventus’ home legs for both the semi-final and final (which was a two-legged affair at the time) were moved to the San Siro. Again, try to picture Liverpool being in a similar position and moving such games to Old Trafford just to fit in a few thousand more spectators? It certainly wasn’t a good image for the Turin venue.
It became ironic that many of the greatest European memories at the Stadio delle Alpi were created by visiting teams, particularly those from England. Liverpool and Arsenal both achieved second leg draws at the venue in the mid-2000s to advance to Champions League semi-finals. A few years previously, Roy Keane gave a tour de force as Manchester United battled back from 2-0 down to win 3-2 in Turin and book their place in the final of that competition, the Irishman delivering a selfless performance as he knew the yellow card he received would put him out of contention to play in the final.
If the first 10 years of the Stadio delle Alpi’s existence were far from celebratory, the 2000s saw some downright embarrassing moments. Perhaps the nadir came during a Coppa Italia game during the 2001/02 season when Juventus played host to Sampdoria for the ever-delightful 6pm Wednesday evening slot in December. The first two digits in the official attendance for the match were 2 and 3. The sum of the remaining digits was seven. What, only 23,000 or so showed up? Oh, you’re way off. There were 237 paying spectators to witness this 5-2 victory for Juve.
If it was understandable that cup matches couldn’t draw large crowds to Juve’s home, it seemed downright baffling that Champions League knockout ties wouldn’t. Yet, when the Juventus of Del Piero, Pavel Nedvěd, Gianluigi Buffon, Fabio Cannavaro, David Trezeguet and Zlatan Ibrahimović hosted Werder Bremen in the last 16 of the competition in 2006, the Serie A champions were so desperate to entice people to attend that they gave away 26,000 tickets for free…and were still 30,000 short of a full house. I’ll say it again, could you seriously comprehend any English club in a similar position encountering the same scenario?
Despite Juventus winning four league titles in five years between the 2001/02 and 2005/06 seasons (prior to the effects of Calciopoli taking hold), their average home gate for all but the first of those campaigns failed to hit 40,000. The sum of their averages for the last two seasons was 52,416 – almost 15,000 less than the stadium’s capacity. It spoke volumes for how much the fan base hated the Stadio delle Alpi.
Let’s not forget, either, that Torino also called the venue home and their fans had to endure a team far removed from the level of their co-tenants. Il Toro bounced between the top two tiers of Italian football during the 1990s and first half of the 2000s, giving their followers a team which was hard to watch in a venue which was hard to abide. If Juve’s attendances seemed sparse, Torino’s were downright abysmal, albeit with multiple mitigating factors. Only once in the nine years from 1996 to 2005 did the latter have an average attendance above 20,000. Indeed, as a Serie B outfit in 2003/04, their average gate didn’t even reach the five-figure mark.
2006 will go down as one of the darkest years in Juventus’ history, for it was during that summer that the Calciopoli scandal saw them stripped of their two most recent Serie A titles and demoted to Serie B due to the nefarious, match-tampering misdeeds of then-general manager Luciano Moggi. The Bianconeri weren’t just undergoing a change of division, however.
In the same year, Turin hosted the Winter Olympics at a refurbished Stadio Comunale, which had been renamed Stadio Olimpico for the purposes of the aforementioned event. Juve moved back to their old home a mere 16 years after leaving and the detested Delle Alpi was demolished. Over the next five years, a new stadium was built in its place, opening in 2011 and giving Italy’s most successful football club a more appropriate, purpose-built venue to call their home. The Juventus Stadium (subsequently taking the name of Allianz for sponsorship reasons) has a modest capacity of 41,507 given the team it hosts, but the removal of the running track instantly gained favour with many of the Bianconeri faithful, who soon created the enviable blend of an atmospheric and modern football stadium.
The demolition of a club’s stadium can often be an emotional experience for supporters, especially those who had been attending the venue for decades. However, unlike when Highbury, the Vicente Calderón or White Hart Lane were consigned to history, there were few (if any) tears shed when the Stadio delle Alpi was torn down in the late 2000s. Its legacy is one of glitzy showmanship at the expense of comfort or consideration for the thousands who were envisaged to descend upon it every week. That the venue lasted for only 16 years and often failed to draw anywhere near a capacity crowd despite playing host to some of Juventus’ greatest-ever teams shows how it became a prime example of how not to build a football stadium.