Throughout football history, stadium renovations have generally gone hand in hand with the club's sporting success. One such example is the development of the ground where mighty Barcelona play their football.
The club first took up residence at the old stadium, Les Corts, which was built in 1922 and renovated on several occasions after that. By the end of the 1940s, however, a section of Barcelona supporters were frustrated by Les Corts' relatively small size and began to call for a new stadium to be constructed. The supporters wanted a ground better able to reflect the club’s growing success on the pitch and accommodate its ever-increasing fanbase.
The move towards a change of home gathered pace with Barcelona’s back-to-back championship wins in 1948 and 1949 and the signing of Hungarian ace Ladislao Kubala, which triggered a dramatic rise in membership as fans clamoured to see this thrillingly entertaining side in the flesh. Though plans were made for the construction of a new stadium, it was not until Francesc Miro-Sans took over as club chairman in 1953 that they were finally put into action.
On 28 March 1954, no fewer than 60,000 people gathered to watch the ceremonial laying of the first stone of a stadium that would become known simply as Camp Nou (Catalan for “new field”). Built by the architects Francesc Mitjans Miro and Josep Soteras Mauri, with the assistance of Lorenzo Garcia Barbon, it was completed inside three years and left the club in debt for some time.
Then, on 24 September 1957, the feast day of Barcelona’s patron saint Nuestra Senora de la Merce, the city decked itself out in the club’s claret and blue colours for the official opening of the magnificent if not yet fully completed new stadium. Following a series of parades, ceremonies, blessings and speeches, the fans settled down to watch their heroes beat a Warsaw XI 4-2. Eulogio Martinez scored the first goal at the Camp Nou in this match.
In the years that followed, the likes of Kubala, Luis Suarez, Johan Cruyff, Diego Maradona, Bernd Schuster, Romario, Michael Laudrup, Ronald Koeman, Hristo Stoichkov, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Samuel Eto’o all graced the Camp Nou, their magical skills only enhanced by the majestic setting it provided.
The stadium has also seen the emergence of two epoch-defining sides. The first of them was Johan Cruyff’s so-called Dream Team* *of the 1990s, a supremely cultured outfit that featured a young Josep Guardiola and won the club’s first European Cup.
A little over a decade later, the midfield linchpin of that talented side assumed the mantle of his Dutch mentor. Guardiola has since scaled new heights of football excellence at the helm of a new generation lit up by the sparkling talents of Xavi Hernandez, Carles Puyol, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi et al.
While it was the great goalscorer Kubala who proved the catalyst for the Camp Nou’s construction, the stadium has fittingly given La Pulga the perfect setting in which to show the world his jaw-dropping skills.
Good football and much more besides
Officially named the Estadi del FC Barcelona during construction, the stadium has always been popularly known as the Camp Nou. Acknowledging the significance of that name, during the 2000/01 season the club conducted a postal ballot of its members, asking them to choose which of the two should be recognised once and for all as the stadium’s official name. Needless to say, the majority of the votes were for “Camp Nou”.
The famous arena has been refurbished on several occasions, undergoing renovation for the first time prior to the 1982 FIFA World Cup Spain™, when its capacity was increased to 120,000. The Camp Nou hosted the Opening Ceremony and the Opening Match between Argentina and Belgium, later staging all three Group 1 matches in the second round and one of the semi-finals.
Ten years later it was the stage for Spain’s dramatic victory in the final of the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament at the 1992 Barcelona Games, when Kiko’s last-minute goal gave the host nation a 3-2 win over Poland and sent the fans wild.
In 1994, further renovations were carried out to bring the stands into line with UEFA regulations, which prohibited standing areas. Though capacity was cut to the existing 99,354, it remains the biggest stadium in Europe, and was awarded five-star status by European football’s governing body during the 1998/99 season.
Accustomed to watching their team turn on the style on the pitch, Barcelona fans also have a flair for putting on dazzling displays of their own, creating impeccably orchestrated crowd mosaics before many a big game.
The backdrop for some of the brightest stars on planet football, the stadium has also welcomed many of the music world’s biggest acts, among them Bruce Springsteen, Michael Jackson, Josep Carreras, Julio Iglesias and U2. Camp Nou also played host to Pope John Paul II on his visit to Spain in November 1982.
The home ground of an institution that is proud to say it is more than a club, the Camp Nou can itself rightly lay claim to being more than a football stadium.