On The Road
The Most Impressive Football Stadiums On Earth
As the FIFA World Cup kicks off, we round up six architectural wonders that prove it really is the beautiful game
Henningsvær Idrettslag Stadion in Norway. Photograph by Mr Ferdinand Stöhr
The beautiful game taking place on the pitch is appealing enough, but what surrounds that 7,000sq m of grass can be equally diverting. Football grounds can be about more than simply a place to park the buttocks and grab a half-time drink. The world’s best grounds evoke the pride and optimism of a team and a place.
Smalltown stadiums are a focus for local pride, while the great grounds of the world, such as Wembley, Barcelona’s Nou Camp, Madrid’s Santiago Bernabéu and São Paulo’s Morumbi, are icons of the game as much as the world’s top players. That is why Qatar commissioned Ms Zaha Hadid to design a new ground in 2013, while Russia’s slew of shiny new stadiums are about to be shown off to a huge global TV audience when the FIFA World Cup kicks off on 14 June.
Alongside the modish and new, there are many other grounds that will wow you with something quite different: architectural grace. So pull on your boots, tie your laces and let MR PORTER take you on a tour of the best football grounds in the world.
Nouveau Stade de Bordeaux
Photograph by Mr Francis Vigouroux, courtesy of Herzog & de Meuron
Bordeaux’s stadium is uncharacteristically elegant and graceful. That is what you get you employ the services of renowned Swiss minimalists Herzog & de Meuron (Messrs Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron), here in collaboration with architects Groupe 6. Together, they created a contemporary design anchored by a forest of thin columns around the exterior and topped off with a wafer-like roof, with everything from the seats to the walls in toothpaste white. Bridges are decked in warm wood and signage is kept simple to assist with navigation. Rather than surrounding it with an endless sprawl of car park, the designers employed landscape architect Mr Michel Desvigne to slot in trees, paths, playgrounds and seating around the new stadium, currently known as the Matmut Atlantique following a sponsorship deal with a French insurance company. The stadium is home to football team Girondins de Bordeaux and hosted several matches in Euro 2016.
Photograph by Alamy
Somewhat strangely, Moscow’s CSKA Arena (known as the VEB Arena after its sponsor, a Russian bank) won’t be playing host to any World Cup matches this summer. This surprises us because it’s one of the most interesting-looking stadiums on the block, and has a capacity of 30,000. In fact, it nearly hit that high point when CSKA played Arsenal in the Europa League quarter-final here in April. How many other football stadiums have a skyscraper bursting out of one corner of the ground like some kind of alien infestation? And how many have those distinctive wonky roofs that suggest you’ve had one vodka too many? To say nothing of the eye-catching lighting scheme by IntiLED, which lights the building at night in a strip of bright red. If you’re in town to watch a game at the Spartak or Luzhniki Stadiums, don’t forget to check this one out.
Henningsvær Idrettslag Stadion
Photograph by Mr Ferdinand Stöhr
The Lofoten archipelago, off the northwest coast of Norway, is home to one of the most spectacular pitches on Earth. An entire islet was flattened to build this pitch for the fishing village of Henningsvær’s club, Henningsvær IL. The 500-capacity Henningsvær Idrettslag Stadion doesn’t have much in the way of facilities and you have to stand, but who cares when you’re on this spectacular archipelago where a misplaced penalty means you’ll need to get wet to retrieve your ball? The pitch is made of artificial turf and there are floodlights, so even if it’s dark and cold, as Norwegian winters always are, you can still play. And there can’t be many other stadiums in the world that are surrounded with racks on which locally caught cod are dried to last through those frigid days.
Photograph by Alamy
Another Herzog & de Meuron stadium that stands out from the crowd, the Allianz Arena in Munich looks like a giant grey cloud that has fallen to Earth. The genius of the exterior is that it can be illuminated in any colour or pattern you like. It’s lit up like a rainbow every Christopher Street Day to celebrate Munich’s Gay Pride festival, and the lights were a neat trick when the stadium was ground-shared between Bayern Munich and less successful rival team 1860 Munich. When 1860 were playing it would turn blue, and it was lit up red for Bayern. After a disastrous run in 2017, 1860 moved out, and now that the German Bundesliga champions have it to themselves, they’re painting the seats inside red and installing some of the biggest video screens in Europe. If you can’t make it to the arena, which sits by a motorway outside the city, you can visit a miniaturised version if you’re passing through Terminal 2 at Munich Airport, complete with an exhibition about the city’s most famous football team.
Photograph by Mr Richard Brook
Cult architect Mr Peter Womersley produced some of the boldest buildings of the 1960s in Britain, such as the University of Hull’s Sports Centre and High Sunderland, a home and studio for textile artist Mr Bernat Klein in the Scottish Borders. Not far from that house and studio is the town of Galashiels, home to Netherdale, which in the early 1960s required a new main stand. Step forward, Mr Womersley, who created something stunning for fans of beautifully monikered local team Gala Fairydean Rovers. Fans could enjoy weather-proofing, seating, bars and modern toilets in this new stand. It was a whole new world, and it looks like something revolutionary, too. Its cantilevered concrete “canopy” looks more like a motorway flyover than a football terrace and faces squarely towards the future. The innovation and visual power of the architecture have earned it a Category A heritage listing – the highest possible – meaning that it must be protected as a piece of history for future generations of football fans. Quite right, too.
Photograph by Mr Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty Images
Russia’s clutch of new stadiums, spread across this vast country, includes a few that are very easy on the eye, notably the Rostov Arena. It is set by the Don River in Rostov-on-Don, about 600 miles south of Moscow and near to the Black Sea coast. Its pillow-like roof and clear, simple lines give the ground a crisp finish. The end result could have been even more spectacular, though. The architects, Populous – who also designed the current Wembley Stadium in London – planned for irregular, undulating roof lines that would have made it the most distinctive of all the new World Cup venues. But that plan was derailed due to soaring costs. However, even this less costly iteration should have enough charm to keep fans happy during the five World Cup games to be played here, including Brazil vs Switzerland on 17 June. After the tournament, it will become home to the local team, FC Rostov.