In the latest edition of our series in which our writers discuss their greatest elements from the history of football, this week they were charged with discussing their greatest stadium of all time. Some are certainly more niche than others, but they are nine respectable selections that we hope assists you in finding your daily football fix.
Rodney McCain – Old Trafford (Manchester United)
The media call it “The Theatre of Dreams”. However, I don’t know a single time-served Manchester United fan who would ever call Old Trafford by that name, despite the term first being attributed to one of our greatest ever players, Sir Bobby Charlton, whose name now adorns the former South Stand.
The ground has been home to United since 1910 when the club relocated from Bank Street in Clayton, where the fumes and smoke from neighbouring factories had been so bad at times that many attribute the club’s nickname of the “Red Devils” to have been coined by supporters who tried to watch the team playing on that pitch, and felt like they were standing in Hell to do so!
My first trip to ‘mecca’ was in 1983, when I sat in the then South Stand to watch Ron Atkinson’s side beat Liverpool 1-0 thanks to a goal from Irish hitman Frank Stapleton in front of the famous Stretford End.
The stadium has an official capacity just shy of 75,000, making it the largest club ground in the U.K. It hosted the 2003 Champions League Final between A.C. Milan and Juventus, but has not had any substantial renovations in over 20 years, and is now considered “dated” by many pundits and fans alike. Alas, our current owners don’t have enough interest in football to change that scenario any time soon, though there are rumours of a “safe standing” section being constructed once COVID-19 is dealt with; that would be very welcome indeed!
Matthew Gibbs – Estádio Municipal de Braga (Sporting Clube de Braga)
You can keep your San Siros and your Old Traffords, the Estadio Municipal de Braga in Portugal must go down as one of the greatest stadiums in football, as well as being a bit of an architectural delight.
It was built for the 2004 European Championships to the tune of €83 million and acts as a home for Primeira Liga side Sporting Clube de Braga. The stadium is made up of two enormous stands, connected by steel strings, with each having a capacity of 15,000, making it to the seventh biggest stadium in the country.
What makes A Pedreira (The Quarry), so special though is exactly that, it’s built into the side of a quarry and was in fact carved out of the Monte do Castro quarry that overlooks the city of Braga. It is a stunning stadium and equally incredible feat of engineering that saw the architect, Eduardo Souto de Moura, win numerous awards including the Chicago Athenaeum International Architecture Award for the best new global design.
One end of the pitch has a backdrop formed from the rock walls of the quarry the stadium is built from, while the opposite goal has the gorgeous city of Braga as scenery.
It is a breath-taking stage for football to take place.
James Bolam – La Bombonera (Boca Juniors)
Situated in the La Boca barrio of Buenos Aires, the birthplace of Tango, La Bombonera is one of world football’s true temples.
The barrio became home to immigrants from Italy which gave Boca Juniors their nickname – The Genoese and La Bombonera is their home.
The stadium towers over the pitch with three tiers on three sides and terracing behind both goals. On the fourth side are executive boxes. This means that fans are close to the players creating an intimidating atmosphere and giving them a further nickname – the 12th man.
The stadium’s capacity is set at 49,000 which is too small for Argentina’s most popular club, with around 100,000 active members, so plans are afoot to increase capacity.
The avalanche, which is where Boca’s fans rush forward when a goal is scored has to be seen to be believed. When in full flow the fans make the stadium shake.
In terms of facilities La Bombonera can’t rival The Tottenham Hotspur Stadium or Wembley but it’s said that people make the place and if this is true, then Boca’s crazy fans in this most iconic of venues, makes it one of the world’s best.
Dale dale dale Boca dale!
Diego Stein – Estadio Centenario (Uruguay)
Think about the greatest stadiums around the world and you can’t refuse to add this iconic place in South America. Built specially to host 1930 first-ever World Cup, myth says concrete was still fresh for the opening game. But its history is made from much more than that. This stadium has served as the place where many finals were disputed: Intercontinental Cup (5), Copa Libertadores (14) and Copa América (4), among others. Players like Maradona, Pelé, Di Stefano, Puskás, Zico, Ronaldo, Messi and each and every Uruguayan distinguished player have shown their skills in this pitch.
While it keeps hosting Uruguay’s National Team home games and most of Uruguayan derbies, its ageing structure still keep alive the memories of football history. As this stadium hasn’t been reconstructed, it is a great place for nostalgic football fans to feel that vibe in its stands.
How football it is going actually, it is almost impossible for a single stadium to host that many decisive games. Modern, newly-built stadiums may be much more comfortable but they have nothing to do with this concrete colossus in terms of histories kept in its walls.
James Young – Broadhurst Park (FC United of Manchester)
Broadhurst Park is an act of Mancunian defiance. It may not be the most aesthetically pleasing stadium in the world but its an important one in today’s football society that has been taken over by super-agents and billionaires.
It continues the attitude that the city of Manchester has of sticking two fingers up at something they don’t like. Did Manchester United fans that were unhappy with the Glazer takeover and modern football sit there and moan? No.
They started a movement. In the same way that those did during Peterloo and the suffragette movement did. They started their own football club and built it from scratch. Broadhurst Park symbolises the attitude of and the spirit of Mancunians. Its a piece of heritage that should be preserved for centuries after football dies.
It is also an integral part of a community and isn’t afraid to open its doors to the most vulnerable in society. Whether that’s those experiencing homelessness on Christmas day or refugees, Broadhurst Park is standing there, waving its two fingers at the money-grabbing, sometimes sports washing experience of football just over a few tram stops away. It’s a beautiful sight.
David Nesbit – Goodison Park (Everton)
My favourite stadium is Goodison Park, home of Everton FC and known as ‘The Grand Old Lady of English Football’.
First opened in 1892 after Everton left their previous ground, Anfield, on the other side of Stanley Park, Goodison has undergone many changes in its existence and yet has managed to maintain its charm, tradition and uniqueness.
The main stand, built in 1971, looks as impressive today as it did almost half a century ago. One of the country’s first three-tiered cantilevered stands, it was built at a high cost and for a time cast a significant financial burden on the club.
Behind the goals are the Park End and Gwladys Street stands. The Gwladys has always had the reputation for housing the more voracious and hard-core of Everton’s support, while the Park End is perhaps the one section of the ground that looks poorly planned and less than impressive. Built in 1994 it actually looks like a poor man’s Kop.
The final stand running the length of the pitch opposite to the main stand is the Bullens Road stand. A traditional stand designed by Archibald Leitch it encompasses the traditions of Everton as a club. Unfortunately, it is now severely dated and large swathes of the Bullens Road offers what can generously be described as ‘restricted viewing’.
Goodison’s days are numbered with a new ground due to be built, and while not even most of Everton’s most ardent fans will argue that it’s time to move on, it will be a sad day when the gates at Goodison are closed for the last time.
Liam Togher – Anfield (Liverpool)
Zero marks for originality but, as a Liverpool supporter, it can only be Anfield. I’ve been on The Kop when it gets going and it’s an experience that made the £55 ticket price feel like a comparative 55p. Every time I visit, the communal pre-match performance of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ is nothing short of spine-tingling.
I love that Anfield has managed to expand in recent years to better cater for the enormous global demand for tickets while remaining in its existing location and retaining the classic feel of a rectangular, four-cornered English football stadium. It is a venue which, for me, has preserved plenty of its time-honoured charm and history while also modernising sufficiently to provide a welcoming experience for match-going supporters. It has not fallen away into decay, nor has it become a soulless venue like some stadia built in the last 20-30 years.
Even for international Liverpool supporters like me, Anfield feels like a place where all Reds fans are made to feel welcome. Matchday staff are genuine, down-to-earth people who want to contribute to a memorable day for supporters and even those conversations with stewards, programme sellers, etc. make visiting Anfield an experience I wish I could replicate with far greater frequency – not least with how the Reds have been playing over the last couple of years!
Graham Hollingsworth – Griffin Park (Brentford)
I am not a particular fan of the new breed of stadiums. Wembley is charmless. The Emirates has no soul (though that could also be the fans fault). The less said about the London Stadium the better. It is in the smaller grounds that I have enjoyed myself far more, even if the quality of football is usually lacking.
Most of all the games I’ve ever been to were at Portman Road. On a good day, where the team are playing well, the weather is fair and the crowd are up for it, there is no finer place to be; however this happens once every five years, and when the mood is bad, it really is toxic.
Of all the grounds I’ve visited, I believe the ‘greatest’ to be Griffin Park, the home of Brentford FC. The atmosphere is always electric, with the home fans just as loud as the travelling supporters. Holding less than 13,000, everyone is crammed into a tight space.
The away fans placed in the terrace in the Brook Road Stand. It is a rare treat to find safe standing in a Championship ground, but it really does improve the spirit of the game and the mood of the crowd.
Most importantly, it is the only ground in the country with a pub on each corner. With an average pint being under £5 (unheard of for a ground in London) it means win or lose you’re bound to have a good time.
Unfortunately, the club moving to a new facility in the summer, with Griffin Park due to be turned into housing. While the additional seating will be needed, it will be a crying shame to lose such a special stadium.
Andrew Haines – De Kuip (Feyenoord Rotterdam)
To choose the greatest stadium of all time is quite a tricky task. While I almost plumped for Oldham Athletic’s Boundary Park – my church of choice – one thought of my uncomfortable wooden seat in the Main Stand Upper halted that thought process.
Having done 48 of the 92 Football League and Premier League grounds I felt I surely had to choose a stadium which I had at least been to, however, I couldn’t quite bring myself to choose a stadium on the same country’s soil as Latics, so, I decided upon one a short trip across the North Sea.
For me, the greatest stadium of all time would need to have character, a long-lasting history and be one that I have seen with my own eyes (although I haven’t seen a game at my choice sadly). So, while the Johan Cruijff ArenA came very close, I had to go for Ajax’s de Klassieker rival’s De Kuip, or properly known as Stadion Feijenoord.
The stadium is commonly and lovingly known as De Kuip, which in its direct translation to English means ‘The Tub’ for its interesting shape which almost has supporters feel as though they are on the pitch.
With a 51,117-capacity, the all-seater stadion is unique in its image and as football stadiums go, it could not be further apart from the dreary-looking copy and paste modern stadiums. It has history and it has a chic style to it which I love.
De Kuip’s turf has been graced by some of Dutch football’s greats in the classic red, white and black of De Club van het Volk (The Club of the People); Ruud Gullit, Henrik Larsson, Robin van Persie and even the great Johan Cruyff, to name but a few.
While Amsterdam may be the city to catch the international gaze, Stadion Feijenoord is an example of the beauty that can be found beyond the capital.