The home of Real Madrid FC the “Estadio Santiago Bernabéu” to give it its full name is quite simply one of the most sublime and impressive places to both watch and play football in the world. It took almost three years to build and was first used in December 1947. In the intervening years it has witnessed some of the greatest footballers ever to grace the game. It has hosted the Champions League Final on four occasions and was a central platform of the World Cup in Spain in 1982.
It is the third largest stadium in Europe behind Barcelona’s Camp Nou and of course the New Wembley with a capacity of just over 85,000 but has seen in the past in excess of 125,000 fill it to the rafters.
Construction on the stadium began in late 1944 with club Chairman Santiago Bernabéu looking to make what was the second best team in Madrid at this time into world beaters. To do this he considered a new stadium a necessity. It was built next to the old stadium and named the “Nuevo Estadio Chamartín” or “New Chamartín Stadium” when it first opened. Over the course of the next decade it was continually improved by Bernabéu and in 1955 it was renamed in his honour. At this time the club were in their heyday and dominating European football. By 1998 safety concerns and the implementation of an all-seater policy had reduced its capacity to the 85,000 mark but there are plans afoot to increase this once more.
Who was Santiago Bernabéu?
Santiago Bernabéu Yeste is widely considered to be the most important man in the history of the club. He is credited for turning Real Madrid into the force that they became in the 1950’s and shaping the club into one of the worlds most influential in modern times. He was the clubs President for 35 years but was so much more than that in his lifetime.
His life dedicated to Real Madrid
Born in June 1895 he was first a regular fan of the club before signing for their junior side at the age of 14. During the next 18 years he played as a striker and captained the side before retiring in 1927. After leaving the playing side of things he became a club director, assistant manager and then the manager of the club before the Spanish Civil War in 1936 overtook football in its importance. Three years later and with the Civil War at an end but the Second World War just beginning it fell to Bernabéu to rebuild a club with many of its administration, staff and players either dead or chillingly having disappeared. Many of the clubs trophies had been stolen and the club was at an all time low. Bernabéu spent those first few months restructuring the club, firstly by contacting ex players and staff still alive and then helping to develop the club in what must have been an incredibly difficult period as the Second World War drew to a close. His efforts were so successful that in 1943 he took over as club President – a role he held until his death in June 1978. It was a slow and laborious process but he gradually changed the club into the most dominant force in football during the 1950’s.
His influence in Europe and legacy
Bernabéu’s policy of recruiting the best players in the world not just Spain was at this time unheard of as the first Galactico’s were signed. Among these were players recognised as some of the best ever to have graced a football field like Alfredo di Stéfano and Ferenc Puskás. Indeed, di Stéfano now aged 87, is still a big part of Real Madrid as an honorary President. As well as playing a large part in Madrid’s history Bernabéu was also largely responsible for creating what was the forerunner of the Champions League when in 1955 acting upon an idea mooted in the press by French journalist Gabriel Hanot he helped to organise a regular coming together of all the top European sides.
How do I get to the Bernabéu Stadium?
The ground is reached via its own metro station not unsurprisingly called the Santiago Bernabéu and is served by several bus routes including 14, 27, 40, 43, 120, 147, and 150. As for driving to the ground well honestly I’d give that a miss. Parking is extremely limited and as someone who has had to negotiate the gigantic 16 lane carriageways within the city unless you know your way around Madrid like a local it’s very easy to get lost.
What does the future hold?
As recently as October 16, 2013 club President Florentino Pérez announced that Real are seeking to sell the naming rights for its stadium and are hoping to attract a sponsor to fund the €400m development planned. So if you have a few bob stuck down the back of your sofa it might be worth considering. Perez has described the ambitious project as “providing our stadium with an outer skin that will be a crowning architectural achievement. The Bernabéu has to become a unique stadium, the best in the world and the crowning achievement of 21st Century stadium architecture.“