"There are stadiums great by reputation and association which, when first encountered, disappoint. The Nou Camp is not among them". So said Simon Inglis, the doyen of all things “stadium”. I must admit that I was, from a distance, a little underwhelmed by the
. Then I paid a visit and I got it loud and clear. In the couple of hours I spent wandering around the stadium, the museum and the whole complex, I started to comprehend the size, the history, the symbolism and above all the fact that it is "Més que un club". Camp Nou
Back in the early fifties when the
Camp Nou was first conceived, there was something of a "Stadium War" being conducted by the big clubs in . First off the mark was Real Madrid with their new stadium at Chamartin (OK it opened in 1947, but who's counting). Portuguese giants Benfica opened their Estadio Da Luz in 1954 and supporting acts were provided in the form of Sevilla's Estadio Sanchez Pizjuan and Sporting Lisbon's Estadio Jose Alvalade. Barça, even with their souped-up version of Les Corts and its 60,000 capacity, were wary of being left behind, and very nearly over committed to the building of the new stadium, which in part, led to the barren years on the pitch during much of the 1960's. The first stone was laid on 28 March 1954 and the proposed 66 million peseta project was to be financed entirely by club socios. Designed by local architects J. Soteras Mauri & F. Mitjans Miro, it would feature two huge tiers and a modern cantilevered roof over the west side. Iberia
The final years at Les Corts were very productive and saw the club win the league on two occasions (1952 & 53) and the cup on four occasions, including the 1957 final win against Espanyol at Montjuic. Then on 24 September 1957, the stadium was inaugurated with a match against a select Warsaw XI. The new stadium, with its 90,000 capacity had taken 3 and a half years to build and finally cost 288 million pesetas, an almost ruinous 425% over budget. Initially, the teams form matched their impressive surroundings, with league titles in 1959 & 1960 and Copa del Rey victories in 1959 and 1963, but with an ageing side and talisman László Kubala switching to Espanyol, the remainder of the sixties and early seventies were barren years on and off the pitch.
Club finances were not helped by the protracted saga that surrounded the sale of Les Corts, and when it was finally sold in 1967, all of the 226 million pesetas raised were used to pay off the club debt. With the club's finances back under control, the club set about rebuilding the team and developing the next stage of the sports complex. 1971 saw two significant changes. First of all the Palau Blaugrana, an indoor sports hall, and an Ice Rink were added in 1971. This would be home to the club's basketball, handball, volleyball, roller hockey & ice hockey teams, and generate valuable additional revenue as a concert arena. On the pitch, the great Dutch coach Rinus Michels was employed, and thanks to his persuasive powers, Johan Cryuff chose Barça ahead of Real Madrid. The league title returned to the Camp Nou at the end of the 1973-74 season and the Copa del Rey followed three years later. As for the stadium, well with the exception of two electronic scoreboards, it remained unaltered until the lead up to 1982 World Cup.
|The Barça Complex - Some Club!|
|Late 1954 and there is still an awful lot to do at the Camp Nou|
|Sunny skies over the Camp Nou, but clouds gathered during the sixties|
|Camp Nou 1970's style - The seats were not covered in brown velour|
|Camp Nou - 55 years old and still at the top of the game|
Structurally, very little has changed at the Camp Nou in the past decade or so. There is the perennial changing of the colour configuration of the seats, but when you have 99,000 of them, it probably is a never ending job. Then in 2007, to celebrate the stadium's fiftieth anniversary, British architect Sir Norman Foster won a competition to renovate the Camp Nou. At an estimated cost of 250 million euros, the plan included the addition of 7,000 seats for a maximum capacity of 106,000. To finance this, the board approved the sale of the Mini Estadi, but just before work was due to begin in 2009, the project was halted thanks to the world financial crises and subsequent fall in real estate prices.
|The Camp Nou will witness a few more sunsets yet|
Since then, talk of selling the Mini Estadi has cooled, with prospective presidential candidates stating that other ways of financing the project should be found. Add to the mix the fact that Barça has debts in excess of €550m, then it will come as no surprise to learn that the club has put off any decision on the future of the stadium, or a successor until 2014. Estimates for rebuilding the Camp Nou come in on the wrong side of €330m, whilst starting afresh somewhere else, would see costs soar above €600m. This raises the delicate matter of softening the blow by selling the naming rights of any new-build. Before any culé dismisses the idea out of hand, they should remember that the club said the famous blaugrana shirt was sacrosanct. Which of course it was, until Qatar Foundation came up with a price. Either way, Barcelona cannot keep putting off the decision indefinitely, sooner or later, they'll have to make a tough decision & maybe suffer a few, relatively barren years.What of the stadium today? Well it is a truly uplifting experience, even if like me, you visit it in the pouring rain. The Museum, which opened in 1984, is the city's most popular and beautifully choreographed. Sure, some of the stairwells are beginning to show their age, but stepping out into the arena for the first time is breath-taking. I've talked about the problems with sight lines on earlier posts, but even on the top tier, you are still remarkably close to the pitch. On the way out of the museum, you pass a video wall, where hundreds of the club's socios tell you what Barça means to them. If you ever wondered why they say "Més que un club", then you can be in no doubt after watching their video tributes. The Camp Nou really is one of the wonders of the footballing world.
|More than a Club? The Camp Nou is more than a stadium.|