Regular readers of this column should now by now that I live a globetrotting lifestyle, carbon emissions be damned. Last week it was London, this week it’s Melbourne to visit our pals Chris and Michelle and to see Franz Ferdinand live (they were superb).
First time in Victoria’s capital and one thing that strikes me is the number of sports stadia they have here. I’m going to see an Aussie Rules game on Friday night in the 50,000-seater Etihad stadium. There’s also the Rod Laver Arena where Andy Murray was pumped by Federer recently, next to that is the Melbourne Cricket Ground, and they’re constructing a purpose-built soccer stadium, styled on Munich’s Allianz Arena, to hold 30,000. Pretty impressive for a city of only three million.
I love a bit of stadium – as noted before I’m a bit of a stadium geek, having done the tour of La Bombonera while in Buenos Aires, and made the trek to the Olympic Stadium in Berlin – getting told off for walking on the grass, no less. So here are my lists of best and worst stadia I’ve experienced. Feel free to add your opinions in the comments below, which will influence my future trips.
Part One – The Best
Hampden Park, Glasgow, Scotland
Yes, not very original for a Scotsman I know, but when Hampden is rocking there are few places like it. When I’m an old man pishing my keks in a nursing home I will still remember the blood-curdling roars that greeted that entrance of the Scotland and Holland teams for the playoff in 2003 – a wall of sound that was kept up for the entire 90 minutes. There were similar scenes at the France game – though in that match, the noise built up and built up and with Caldwell’s goal reached a crazy crescendo that lasted until the final whistle. It’s no wonder that between 1985 and 2004 we were unbeaten in competitive games at home.
Parc des Princes, Paris, France
Again an obvious pick. I’ve only been there once, and might never be there again, but to me it’s what a football stadium should be – intimate, but intimidating. I was amazed at how small it felt – for a stadium that holds 48,000 you really are on top of the action – and the noise generated at that game was immense. An added touch I loved was the graffiti in the concourses underneath the stands – the PSG Ultras have put up some fantastic urban art, either with or without the permission of the football club.
Hong Kong Stadium, Hong Kong SAR, China
Close to home for me but this one is listed because of its beautiful setting. Though it’s in a very urban area of Hong Kong island, it’s beneath the hills of Happy Valley at one end with views across to Kowloon at the other end (see photo). Not being an egg-chaser, nor into behaving like a twat, I don’t bother with the HK Rugby Sevens but I have visited the stadium a few times and it is simply a stunning setting – especially when the scoreboard reads “Scotland 4” which it did when we gubbed the Hong Kong Select 4-0 in 2002.
Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, Milan, Italy
Better known as the San Siro, Stadio Giuseppe Meazza is the home of the two Milan clubs and was also the scene of a 20-minute rendition of “Doe a Deer” by around 15,000 Scotland fans on the occasion of Walter Smith’s first match as Scotland manager back in 2005. (This was also the occasion of my pal Malky’s stag do, so if you saw a guy walking around town with a blonde wig and plastic tits, now you know why.)
In Pete Davies’ magnificent history of England’s 1990 World Cup, “All Played Out”, he describes the San Siro as if it were an alien spaceship landed on Milan. That’s a good description. The monstrous concrete columns holding up the seating recall the mothership from Spielberg’s Close Encounters. Inside, it’s probably the most intimate 80,000 seat stadium I’ve ever seen – with wonderful accoustics, as evidenced by the BBC.
Ullevaal Stadion, Oslo, Norway
One of my greatest regrets in football – and, therefore, in life – is not making it to the World Cup in 1990. In particular, I missed the Scotland-Sweden game in the Stadio Luigi Ferraris in Genoa, and everything I’ve read or heard about this match indicates it was a wonderful day to be a Scotsman in Italy. I had an exam the next afternoon in Scotland so I was at home, and somewhat bizarrely (I’ve never done it before or since) I’m pretty sure I cooked a whole chicken for lunch before the match.
The Ullevaal reminds me of what I think the Genoa stadium would be like… compact and square and capable of generating a cracking atmosphere. Copenhagen’s Parken Stadium is in a similar vein; a modern, midsize ground that you find in provincial towns and capitals across Europe. Get a decent-sized TA contingent rocking up for a competitive match and you’re guaranteed a quality 90 minutes of fun, assuming Kenny Miller does the business with two goals in the first half.
Next Thursday: the worst stadiums on the planet. That I’ve been to. Apart from the one I haven’t.
Tartan Army in San Siro