A stadium being demolished is one of the most heartbreaking events in football. Whilst many fans might see their team moving to a newer, more modern venue with gleeful anticipation, others lament the lost memories that they have made in the stands of the old ground. Newer stadiums also tend to be a bit sanitized and hypermodern and certainly do not have the aura of the old footballing cathedrals, like the San Siro for example.
Among new venues the World Cup is the worst culprit, expecting host nations to quickly build high-standard stadiums in places where there are no top-flight football teams. Brazil’s Mane Garrincha stadium is now a bus car park and Stadium 974 in Qatar (which does not allude to the number of migrant workers killed during its construction) was supposed to be shipped off to some poor country with no footballing infrastructure, is still standing empty, with FIFA seemingly forgetting to follow up on the promise of the most sustainable stadium in the world. So, with the world being littered with stadiums nobody wants let’s take a look at the most iconic stadiums to no longer be with us.
1. Stadio Delle Alpi
The Stadio Delle Alpi was built in just two years, beginning construction in 1988 and being launched just in time for the 1990 World Cup, going on to host one of the most iconic games in World Cup history, the semi-final between England and Germany, which ended in heartbreak for an England team who had been the revelation of the tournament. Sadly, this is where the good news ended for the stadium of the Alps. The main issue with the stadium was the athletics track, which surrounded the pitch, with the Turin city council indenting it to become a multi-sport venue.
However, in a classic tale of build now think later, the track was never used, as it did not have an appropriate warm-up track. This caused the stadium to have very poor visibility and when combined with its location on the outskirts of the city, meant that both Juventus and Torino fans grew to hate their own stadium. Therefore, only 19 years later bulldozers made mincemeat of it.
2. Estadio Vicente Calderon
Built on the banks of the Manzanares River, the Estadio Vicente Calderon was initially named after the river which crosses through Madrid, before being renamed after Atletico Madrid’s iconic president. Speaking of iconic, one of the coolest features I have ever seen on a stadium, or rather under a stadium in this case, was the M-30 dual carriageway, Madrid’s inner-city ring, passing below one of the main stands.
With Atletico Madrid’s increasing success, the decision was made to move to a more modern and higher capacity ground, the Metropolitano. Officially named the Wanda Metropolitano, after Wanda Sykes Diego Simeone’s favourite actress, the Vicente Calderon was demolished in 2020, with Wanda Sykes driving a bulldozer during the ceremony. Full disclosure: I made up the parts about Wanda Sykes, as I am incredibly bored.
Moving on, the Parkstadion in Gelsenkirchen was also built right before a World Cup, namely the 1974 edition. It immediately became immortalized in FIFA folklore, as the stadium where Yugoslavia set the highest-ever score at a World Cup, beating Zaire, 9-0. After the tournament ended it became the home of Schalke until 2001. The last game played at the stadium nearly won the team a Bundesliga title.
Schalke beat Unterhaching 5-3 in a very difficult game and were looking to Bayern’s game against Hamburg to see if they would be crowned champions. Hamburg scored in the last minute of normal time and it seemed like the Parkstadion would have a proper send-off, before defender Patrik Andersson decided to score his only goal for Bayern in extra time, breaking the hearts of Schalke fans. After Schalke moved to the truly stunning Veltins Arena, the Parkstadion was partially demolished and renovated and now hosts Schalke’s youth teams.
I can hardly think of a stadium that is as dearly missed as the Arsenal Stadium. More popularly known as Highbury due to its location and nicknamed the home of football by its adoring fans, the stadium played host to Arsenal from 1913 to 2006. The iconic Art Deco look came about during redevelopment in the 1930s, and further redevelopments followed during its history.
With the arrival of Arsene Wenger, the crowds of Highbury saw their team rise to one of the modern powerhouses of the Premier League but also saw the issue of modernisation hanging around their stadium. With a capacity of only around 38k Arsenal were looking to maximize ticket sales but could not expand the stadium because it was located in a very crowded area with houses surrounding the site.
And since moving all of those people away would have cost way too much money the decision was made to move to the Emirates, saddling the club with debt and closing the curtains on Arsenal’s most successful era in recent memory. Arsene Wenger put it best when he said that the club left its soul at Highbury. Nowadays, part of the facade of the ground was incorporated into housing developments, and I bet they are quite a nice place to live in.
5. Ayresome Park
Another one of Archibald Leitch’s designs is next on the list, namely Ayresome Park. The famous architect planned the construction of Middlesbrough’s ground in 1903, which remained in usage until 1997. During its time in action, the stadium played host to one of the greatest upsets in World Cup history.
At the 1966 edition of the tournament, North Korea, who played all of their group games at the ground knocked out Italy with a 1-0 win in front of 18k spectators to advance to the quarterfinals. Sadly, by the time the Premier League came around the ground had become too old to maintain and Middlesbrough moved to the Riverside Stadium. To commemorate the old ground, the gates of Ayresome Park have been erected outside the main entrance to the club’s new ground.
6. Rasunda Stadium
Whilst the other stadiums on this list hosted many memorable matches, none so far have hosted the biggest event in world football. Rasunda Stadium was built in 1937 on the location of a former stadium and has been the home of the Swedish National team until 2013. In its long history, the stadium became the first of only two to host both the men’s and the women’s World Cup finals. In 1958, Pele dazzled the world at only 17 years of age, leading his team to victory against hosts Sweden, and 41 years later the USA defeated China to be crowned Women’s World Cup champions.
7. White Hart Lane
Since we talked about Highbury, it would be unfair of me not to mention their bitter North London rivals Tottenham. The story of the two clubs moving to new stadiums is quite similar, with Tottenham playing at White Hart Lane since 1898, and as the club became more and more successful in the modern era, the need for a bigger stadium became increasingly obvious. The name is said to be derived either from the White Hart pub nearby or from the fact that Spurs supporters often met at the White Hart Lane railway station before games.
Over the years the stadium went through many redevelopments, but one item that remained the same was the Cockrel statue that overlooked the pitch, which was moved to the club’s offices shortly before the stadium was demolished. In 2017 demolition work started on the old ground, with the new state-of-the-art Tottenham Hotspur stadium to be built on roughly the same site. This has of course come with a tremendous amount of debt, and it remains to be seen if Spurs can avoid the same fate as Arsenal.
8. Bolelyn Ground
Right before Tottenham moved to their shiny new stadium, their London neighbours West Ham United also abandoned their historic stadium in favour of a more modern one. In 1904 West Ham merged with another local club called Boleyn Castle and took over their ground. Eight years later they also rented the Green Street House and its grounds, which was known locally as Boleyn Castle, as it was rumoured that Anne Boleyn either stayed there or outright owned the house.
Thus, the Boleyn Ground name was also used for the stadium, only to be later replaced with Upton Park, named after the area where it is located. West Ham played at the grounds through 2016, with the only exception being a few games in 1941, when a V1 flying bomb damaged the southwest corner of the pitch. During the repairs, West Ham played at various other stadiums throughout London winning nine consecutive games, but losing 1-0 to Tottenham as soon as they returned to Upton Park. After the club moved to the London Stadium the old ground was sold to a development company, which turned it into a residential area.
9. Wankdorf Stadium
Another stadium that has hosted many illustrious events over the years is the Wankdorf Stadium in Bern. And I know if you spell the name out in English it sounds like a rude word, but we should try to be civil. Built in 1925, it hosted Young Boys Bern until 2001 and its most illustrious game has to be the 1954 World Cup Final.
Dubbed the Miracle of Bern, the final saw an unfancied German team stun the seemingly invincible Mighty Magyars 3-2 in one of the most iconic World Cup finals in history. In 2001 the Wankdorf was knocked down, or out depending on your preference, and the Stade de Suisse stadium was erected on its location. In 2020 due to many fans insisting on the name change, the name of the new stadium was also changed to Wankdorf.
10. Cathkin Park
As far as stadium demolitions go, not all of them have to be quick irreversible affairs. In the case of Cathkin Park, it has been slowly demolished by neglect and the elements since the late sixties but has recently been at the centre of many renovation efforts. Originally built in 1884 and became the home ground of Queens Park, which had moved from its original stadium, Hampden Park to the new venue, which was also named Hampden Park.
In 1903, Queens Park decided to build their own stadium, the current Hampden Park and a new team Third Lanark AFC moved into their old ground. Since Third Lanark had played at a stadium called Cathkin Park before the move, the ground was renamed to New Cathkin Park and would serve as their home until 1967, when the team was dissolved. With no new teams wanting to move in the stadium stood abandoned with the occasional amateur game taking place there. Since 2017 the reformed Third Lanark alongside several volunteer groups has laid out plans for a redevelopment.
11. Camp de les Corts
Barcelona’s Camp Nou is one of the most recognizable stadiums in the world, although it has lost some shine as it is now known as the Spotify Camp Nou. Before moving to its current stadium in 1967, Barcelona had been playing at its first purpose-built stadium, Camp de les Corts since 1922. The driving force behind its construction was Joan Gamper, the Swiss-born football executive who founded Barcelona as well as FC Zurich.
Just three years after its opening the stadium was closed for six months after a controversial incident. Barcelona fans had jeered and booed the Spanish national anthem and then applauded God Save the King, performed by a visiting British Royal Marine band. Spain’s dictator Primo de Rivera was quite upset about the whole thing and decided to exile Joan Gamper because he was allegedly promoting Catalan nationalism.
Before we take a look at the final stadium on the list, I would like to include two more honourable mentions, namely Filbert Street, Leicester City’s home for 111 years whose site has been converted to housing for university students, with its main road being named Lineker road after one of Leicester’s most beloved sons and Roker Park where Sunderland played for 99 years. The connection to the stadium was so deep amongst the Black Cats supporters that their collective grief even sparked a play called “I left my heart at Roker Park.”
12. The original Wembley Stadium
Only one stadium could be worthy of closing this list and it is of course the Cathedral of football, Wembley. Its full moniker, as stated by Pele reads, “Wembley is the cathedral of football. It is the capital of football and it is the heart of football”. It saw England beat Germany in the 1966 World Cup Final and the Germans subsequently defeat the Czech Republic team at Euro 1996.
Built in 1922, it hosted every FA Cup Final since 1923, until its demolition, including the White Horse Final, the stadium’s first-ever game. The FA had grossly underestimated the interest from fans wishing to see Bolton Wanderers play West Ham United in the final and around 300k of them squeezed themselves onto the terraces. Thirty years later, an equally momentous final unfolded, as Stanley Matthews finally got his hands on the FA Cup at his third attempt.
By the time everyone had recovered from their Y2K scares it had become clear that England needed a new Wembley. So, the famous twin towers were to be knocked down, with the last international match taking place between Germany and England, with Germany winning 1-0. The England national team moved into the new Wembley Stadium in 2007 and funnily enough, the first team to defeat them in their new ground was also Germany, providing further proof that when it comes to football the Germans always have the last laugh.
By: Eduard Holdis / @HE_Ftbl
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Nick Potts – PA Images