Guest Writer – Chris Clements from Estadios de Espana
|San Mames - The home of Athletic Bilbao|
Mine is a peculiar ailment, but I know that I don’t suffer alone. In fact, I would wager that practically every football fan has, at some time, developed the symptoms. You’ll recognise them. It’s a dull game that is drifting towards a goalless draw, so you start to look around the stands. Then it hits you. This stadium is special. It’s been here for years and will outlast your star striker, the latest manager and the egotistical Chairman. These bricks and mortar are at the very heart of your club. In recent years, my obsession has developed some very specific symptoms, notably a fascination with Spanish stadia. So it’s rather convenient that those nice people at ISF invited me to talk about the five most extraordinary stadiums in Spain.
To start with I am going to look at the most atmospheric stadium in La Liga, the home of Athletic Club de Bilbao. Athletic is a symbol of Basque pride and at the centre of that intensity is the fans place of worship, the magnificent San Mamés Stadium. So it seems only appropriate that the stadium also goes by the name of La Catedral. Opened in 1913 when the club was in the middle of its first golden era, San Mamés was special from the start, costing an unheralded 89,000 pesetas to build. It was the first major purpose built stadium in Spain. For their money, Athletic got a magnificently ornate red & white wooden stand that sat atop a grass bank. In front was a narrow strip of terracing, either end of which were flower beds. Opposite the main stand was a crescent shaped wedge of terracing, a shape that the current east stand still follows. The 10,000 capacity was completed by thin strips of terracing behind each goal.
|Artist Ramiro Arrue's 1913 painting of San Mamés|
|San Mamés in the 1940's. The city was so drab, these fotos might as well be in colour|
|1970 and La Catedral awaits the east stand|
|San Mamés in 1989. Add a few seats here & there and it could be 2011|
Whilst the main stand was undergoing major surgery, work continued on the north and south stands. These were basically cantilevered versions of the earlier structures and were clad with moulded white roofs. These were illuminated from the rear by windows and ran from the main stand to the east side. The east stand got a new roof and seating was installed in the lower tier. The floodlight gantries were removed and new floodlights were installed along the roofs of the main and east stand. The new San Mamés had a raised capacity of 46,000, of which 36,000 were seated, but it came at cost of 1,100 million pesetas.
|San Mames at present|
Not a great deal has changed in the past 30 years, but San Mamés is still one of my favourite places to watch a match. Its days are however numbered. In 2006, the club announced plans to build a new stadium on land between the Rio Nevrion and the back of the west stand. Work started in May 2010 on the 160 million euro, 55,000 capacity stadium. Alas the new stadium will not feature an arch and once complete, the old stadium will make way for a new residential area. As for the arch, well there is talk of it becoming the supports of a bridge that will link the new stadium with the north bank of the Nevrion. The new stadium is to be initially called San Mamés Barria and whilst it may not have the distinctive features of the old stadium, Athletic can count on one thing. The club’s fanatical supporters will still come to worship at the new cathedral.