Bucket List Stadiums

As regular readers will appreciate, trips away to watch football are a real passion. In no particular order, I’ve watched club and international football in Scotland, England, Wales, France, Spain, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Czech Republic, Poland, Lithuania, Italy, Iceland and Norway. Games in these countries have been viewed in a whole spectrum of venues from massive, plush stadia all the way down to tatty, crumbling concrete ruins. I’ve visited more in different countries, but haven’t been lucky enough to catch a game in all.

I’ve written before about the interest in watching games abroad in terms of experiencing the differing approaches, tactics, playing styles and cultures of different places. Tied into the cultural side and the overall experience of a matchday however, very often the stadium plays a significant role in the enjoyment and appreciation of the game and what it means for the fans, those oh so important elements in making up what we see as a club.

Personally, I find the best stadia are those where you can trace the lineage of the cultural identity and history of the club, nation or people through the events and the character of the place. It’s location and connection to the population also help, with stadia in far flung edge of centre locations losing elements of appeal and romanticism.

I’ve therefore listed below 6 Bucket List Stadiums, representing what I feel are some of the greatest venues in the world in which to take in a game of football.
Westfalenstadion

Home of Borussia Dortmund, this massive arena is famed for its pulsating atmosphere and noise generated by fervent, yellow clad fans when Dortmund play at home. Also used by the German National side from time to time, the stadium is equally capable of generating atmosphere on these occasions also.

With a maximum capacity of 81,360, reduced to 65,829 when the “safe standing” sections are removed for European games, as well as tall stands right on top of the pitch it is easy to see how such a great atmosphere is generated. A main component of this is the “Yellow Wall” or the Sudtribune, a massive free standing 25,454 capacity stand behind the southern goal. Bigger than many stadia on its own, this single stand is famed across the world as the all action, all bouncing, all consuming home of some of the most passionate fans on the planet.

The stadium was built in the 70’s but then expanded, renovated and upgraded over the years – most notably recently for the 2006 World Cup.

A definite bucket list visit.
Camp Nou

The world famous stadium housing FC Barcelona, famed for its football, political and cultural significance was completed in the 1950’s. Since then it has been home to teams of varying success, but in the last 30 years Barca have certainly established themselves as a world superpower with magnificent players, managers and a club motto “Mes que un club” (more than a club) illustrating the wide ranging influence of this institution.

This influence and deep meaning translates itself into a vibrant and passionate atmosphere on match days, The overriding sense of belonging, belief and tribalism manifests itself in one of the great football atmospheres. Holding just shy of 100,000 spectators, the Camp Nou can be a cauldron of noise on match days, a venue notoriously difficult for even the best sides in the world to visit and leave victorious.

Culturally, the venue has been a hub of Catalan identity over the years. With stories of the Camp Nou being one of very few venues where the Catalan language could be openly spoken during times of oppression. In modern times of cultural and political unrest across the world, this aspect appears to have gained significance.

Notwithstanding the, or rather than the political side which I am less inclined to highlight as a positive aspect, I would suggest that the connection felt between fans and team, as enhanced and intensified by the stadium itself is one of the reasons why the Camp Nou simply must make it onto the stadium bucket list.
Santiago Bernabeu

The eternal rivals of Barca, Real Madrid also call a magnificent stadium home. The Bernabeu houses around 81,000 spectators and was originally completed in 1947 before various expansions over the years. A huge arena, the stadium has housed numerous great teams over the years – the record European Cup/Champions League have had a number of great, world class players over the decades all of whom have graced the stadium with their presence and brilliance.

It is this connection with brilliance and success which gives the stadium part of its character and generate a special aura within. Things are not always rosey however, with numerous documented episodes of disenchantment from fans, notably waving white handkerchiefs when things have been particularly bad. Again this act of passion has transcended through onto the pitch and throughout the club as a whole, instigating change and action – demonstrating the stadium’s importance.
Rajko Mitic/Marakana/Stadion Crvena Zvezda

Red Star Belgrade’s stadium, a 55,000 capacity arena which opened in the 1960’s might seem like a left field choice for this list, but this is definitely a bucket list stadium.

Built sunken into the ground, for architectural and construction cost reasons, this makes the stadium into a proper bowl which in turn helps to create one of most passionate, vibrant and exhilarating environments in the game. Famed for their rivalry with Partizan Belgrade, the stadium is home to one of the world’s greatest and most passionate derby matches where the notoriously passionate ultras create an intense and intimidating atmosphere. A must for the bucket list.
La Bombonera

The famous stadium in Buenos Aires, home of Boca Juniors and an arena which has housed players including Diego Maradona and Juan Roman Riquelme over the years is relatively small in comparison to some of the above, holding 49,000. Famously the 12th man for some of the great Boca sides which have dominated Argentina and South America over the decades, the stadium is iconic not only for it’s atmosphere but also its architecture with its large 3/4 bowl and steep main stand.

Cited as a main factor in many of the great performances and successes of the club side, the atmosphere and passion exuded by the stadium has helped to shape and dictate the direction of the club’s success. An atmosphere, passion and emotion generated within make this stadium another must see for the bucket list.

Azteca

This huge arena in Mexico City, holding around 87,000 spectators and finished in the 1960’s has been the venue for a number of great games, performances and incidents over the years. These are all commemorated in one way or another within the stadium, with a plaque commemorating the “Match of the Century” which was a game between Italy and Germany in the semi final of the 1970 World, finishing 4-3 to the Italians.

Also commemorated is Maradona’s goal versus England in the 1986 World Cup. Upon my visit, this statue however depicted not the solo, mazey run from halfway but the other, infamous “Hand of God” goal with a bronze statue depicting this. A question of perspective perhaps therefore. When I visited in 2014, this statue was finished with the name “Maradon” on the back, missing the “a” which presumably was missed out as the designer miscalculated the space available.

Character exudes from the stadium however, the central rung of the vast bowl houses executive boxes. But rather than being standard, flashy boxes these have all been done up or maintained in a more individual manner. Presumably depending on design preference or what kind or colour of double glazing was on sale at the time, the boxes and booths are finished with different colours, sizes and shapes of windows and doors. This just adds a wonderful character and sense of fun, enjoyment and chaos to the stadium which perfectly encapsulates the spirit of the city. A wonderful stadium and well worth a visit.

The above stadia all have various aspects in common. Steeped in cultural significance, home to great sides, generators of fantastic atmospheres, accessible to fans and creators and catalysts for passion. While many have been upgraded and renovated over the years, they have not lost any of their appeal. They out perform and outclass many modern, Legoland, dry wipe, corporate stadia located out on the edge of cities and continue to represent must see, bucket list locations for every football fan.

For more of football travel: All Aboard the 09.17 from Berlin ; Football Expedition – Prague, March 2018; Guide and Tips – Organising European Football Expeditions

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