Andy Mitten

Spanish stadiums don’t match the football they house

Andy Mitten

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Barcelona's brilliance deserves an unobstructed view

Interested countries were formally invited to enter their bid to host Euro 2020 last week.

The deadline isn't until May, but Spain hasn't registered an interest. A country in the middle of a severe economic crisis has more pressing issues than hosting a sporting event in eight years time, especially considering the cost of Madrid's failed bids to stage the 2008 and 2012 Olympics and Spain's failure (in a joint bid with Portugal) to land the 2018 World Cup.

Many of Spain's football stadiums last saw significant redevelopment for the 1982 finals, 30 years ago this summer. Then, Camp Nou got an extra tier, Valencia's Mestalla a new lower tier; while Real Madrid and Sevilla were treated to a new roof, Athletic Club a full refurbishment. While there have been developments since, several Spanish stadiums are showing their age, with Camp Nou the most prominent.

Many a first-time visitor to Camp Nou is underwhelmed when they first see the stadium. Much of the exterior is clad in a pebbledash you wouldn't wish on your worst neighbour's house and the bottom tier is below ground level, lessening the impact from outside. You wouldn't think you were standing outside the largest stadium in world football in regular use.

What was cutting edge in 1982 is badly dated now. The glamour girls who meet the well-heeled executive fans entering the main stand may have the allure of Milan catwalk models, but they operate in an environment akin to a multi-storey car park in Gateshead, while the interiors are shabby and in need of modernising.

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The Camp Nou interior is akin to a multi-storey car park in Gateshead

Barca are enjoying record crowds at the stadium and averaging 85,000 this season. They are well aware of the need to change and they're acutely conscious of their lack of executive facilities in comparison with other clubs, but it comes down to cash. Or a lack of it.

In 2007, plans were announced around Camp Nou's 50th anniversary for Sir Norman Foster to expand the capacity to 106,000 by increasing the height of the main stand, then covering and cladding the Camp Nou in a Gaudi-esque terracotta exterior. It would have been a new architectural icon for a city already stuffed with design classics, but the project never broke ground and was shelved by an austere new board who struggle to justify the anticipated €250 million cost. They could also argue that there's no need to cover three open sides of the stadium when it only rains during two or three games a season.

Smaller, piecemeal and less spectacular developments are now likely and these should be enough for Camp Nou to retain its UEFA 5-star status, without creating a modern super stadium to rival the best in the world. With every new stadium like the Allianz Arena or Wembley, Camp Nou looks ever more dated.

Madrid's Bernabeu is different. They have made more changes since '82 and the stadium still occupies prime position on one of the capital's grandest avenues. Madrid plan to cover the exposed concrete exterior by wrapping their ground in a neon blue cladding as if it were a giant suitcase. Neighbours Atletico plan to move to a new 67,000-capacity stadium in 2015.

It's already partially built and will be converted to be used if Madrid win the 2020 or 2024 Olympic Games. Which is no given. After Madrid lost the bid to stage the 2012 games to London, t-shirts appeared in Catalonia bearing the legend 'Madrid 3012.'

Valencia hope to move into their stunning new 75,000 capacity home by 2014, having re-started work following a 1000 day hiatus caused by financial meltdown while work on Athletic Club's new 55,330-seater home in the shadow of San Mames has begun. Villarreal have built up and up to match their rise in status. Malaga, who've been filling their 29,000-capacity home all season, have grand plans for a 65,000-seater stadium paid for with Qatari money. And that is the key; for with 14 of the 20 top-flight clubs in debt to the public purse and/or other clubs, construction in Spain is limited.

The country doesn't always think stadium legacies through either. Barcelona's Olympic Stadium (which hosted the 1992 games) is underused after tenants Espanyol moved to their new home in 2009, while the city of Seville built a 58,000-seater Olympic Stadium to host the 2004 or 2008 games, but didn't win their bid to stage either. It also lies underused, while the nearby homes of Betis and Sevilla need investment.

Espanyol's move was a success, their new stadium at Cornella perfect for a club of their standing — and without the dreaded athletics track at the Olympic Stadium. Such tracks are a curse of Mallorca's uninviting home, built in 1999, and that of another '90s stadium, Real Sociedad's Anoeta. Both would like to move or at least change the configuration to make their home a home, but economics dictate otherwise. At Rayo Vallecano they don't have space for a stand behind one goal, let alone a running track.

None of which would have concerned Lionel Messi too greatly recently when he missed Barca's home game with Gijon. He chose to sit not in the presidential box like other players normally do, but  in the stands on row one. He will have looked up at an incredible soaring arena whose beauty comes from within, but one which, like many in Spain, needs modernising beneath the stands and outside before the country's stadiums are left behind, while Spain's footballing reputation rides on ahead.

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