The story of the mythical Santiago Bernabeu Stadium leads inevitably to the history of its regal owners, Real Madrid, an institution which in 2000 was recognised by FIFA as the Club of the Century. Enduring greats such as Alfredo Di Stefano, Ferenc Puskas, Emilio Butragueno, Ronaldo, Raul and Zinedine Zidane have all graced the Bernabeu's sacred turf in the famous all-white strip.
The stadium has also hosted many memorable international matches, most notably the 1982 FIFA World Cup ™ final and when La Furia Roja lifted their first major international trophy - at the European Championships in 1964.
Built on what at the time were the outskirts of the Spanish capital, the stadium now stands in the heart of Madrid's bustling financial district. The massive undertaking marked the beginning of an era of colossal sporting constructions across the globe. Many at the time thought that its capacity for 120,000 spectators was madness, but the property developers' gamble soon paid off.
Trophy for the Spanish cabinet
Around 100,000 fans packed the Bernabeu on 21 June to witness the final of Euro 1964 when Spain snatched a victory rife with political overtones from the Soviet Union. It was a win that Spain's fascist leader Generalissimo Franco was quick to spin a propaganda vehicle for his regime.
The dictator had withdrawn Spain from the first UEFA European Championship because of political differences with their quarter-final rivals - again the USSR - but he did appear for the showdown that afternoon. The hosts took an early lead thanks to a goal from Pereda in six minutes, but Khusainov levelled for the visitors with a superb free-kick just two minutes later. With the clock ticking down to the final whistle, and after a superb cross in from the right by Pereda, Marcelino headed home past the suddenly helpless 'Black Spider' Lev Yashin. Spain had won their first major international trophy with the majestic Bernabeu as the backdrop.
Coming of age
The stadium underwent major remodelling and refurbishment work when Spain was chosen to host the 1982 FIFA World Cup - with the final to be hosted there. Its capacity was reduced to 90,000 and the ground was kitted out with the latest technology in the form of video scoreboards.
With the stadium filled to the rafters, Italy won their third FIFA World Cup crown at the expense of West Germany. Marco Tardelli was to earn himself a place in football lore for his wild celebration of Italy's second goal, putting the Azzurri into a lead which was to prove beyond the Germans. The joy on his face and his frantic race to the dugout to celebrate with his coach and team-mates live on in the collective memory.
Poacher supreme Paolo Rossi also got on the scoresheet for the Italians, picking up not only a winner's medal but the title of the tournament's top scorer. Another Italian legend, goalkeeper Dino Zoff, crowned a glittering career when, at the ripe old age of 40, he received the FIFA World Cup trophy from King Juan Carlos I of Spain.
Santiago Bernabeu not only dreamt of a great stadium, he also envisaged a great team. The Real Madrid, which he created around the Blond Arrow Di Stefano, were eager to prove that they were worthy of their impressive home. And that is just what they did. Between 1956 and 1960, they won the first five editions of the European Cup and repeated the feat again in 1966.
The final of this famous competition has been held at the Bernabeu on three occasions. In 1957, Real Madrid overcame Fiorentina 2-0. In 1969, an unshakeable AC Milan brought Johan Cruyff's spectacular Ajax Amsterdam to their knees (4-1). And in 1980, Nottingham Forest retained their European Champions' crown by beating Hamburg (1-0).
As far as domestic competitions are concerned, as well as hosting the perennial Real Madrid-Barcelona superclasico, the Bernabeu has been home to more Copa del Rey finals than any other stadium. One never-to-be-forgotten encounter was the 2002 final, popularly known as the Centenariazo. On 6 March, which happened to be the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Madrid club, northern rivals Deportivo de la Coruna were bent on spoiling the party, which they memorably did thanks to strikes from Sergio and Diego Tristan.
In 1992, four imposing towers were added to facilitate access to and from the stands. The cover over the east stand and the remodelling of this part of the ground, which now house the director's box and the press area, meant that in 2005 the stadium attained 'five-star' status in accordance with UEFA standards. Also under consideration is a project to cover the entire Bernabeu with a transparent retractable roof.