Most football fans don’t care what stadium their team plays in. If they had to stand in the middle of a swamp every week to watch their club play, it wouldn’t matter. Their life-long passion for the sport and their club is so strong that they follow them through thick and thin.
Ask just about any supporter how they’d like their team’s owner to spend their money and they’d prioritise quality players over a shiny new stadium or upgrades to their existing ground.
That said, a great stadium can add to the experience of watching a game and fans are often happy to brag about the quality of their ground compared to their rivals.
Over the last few decades, an almost infinite supply of money has poured into professional football sparking a race between the wealthiest clubs as they try to outdo each other. Other clubs have taken a different approach, choosing to develop their existing grounds, incorporating historic elements and modern features together.
But some stadiums receive more praise than others. Why is this? And what makes a great stadium?
Most stadiums are now designed like pieces of art. Architects attempt to make them unique, creating an iconic mark on the landscape that will stand there for decades.
But good design is not just about making a pretty way to mould steel support structures and curtain walling. It’s about ensuring every fan, no matter where they sit, has a great view of the pitch.
You can find plenty of examples of terrible stadium designs online, with upper decks so high fans can’t see the action, support beams and columns that obstruct a fan’s view, and even seats placed directly behind walls.
Good stadiums give everyone an equitable view of the pitch, provide comfortable temperatures, and shield fans from the extreme elements that can come from playing during heavy rain, wind, or snow.
When you go to a football game, you expect to enjoy the match, chant and cheer with your fellow supporters, hopefully watch your team win, and go home feeling jubilant. However, too many times in history, some fans have gone to a game and not returned.
Structural integrity and safety design are vital in constructing a great stadium, and thankfully, we don’t see the issues today that we saw in the 20th century.
Because of this, you may not consider the safety of stadiums that much any more. But the architects and engineers do, and it’s this hard work that ensures you can go to the game focused on one thing: football.
While the fans aren't part of the stadium's construction, they are a vital part of the overall experience. A lively crowd can make a stadium great, while a sombre one can have the opposite effect.
Fans of English football will often cite Liverpool's Anfield as being a stadium with one of the best atmospheres in the sport. Of course, the design of the structure itself can make a difference as it can alter the acoustics that are experienced by your ears. But that wouldn't matter if the fans weren't there in the first place.
Back in 2018, the club's manager, Jürgen Klopp, even told fans to "produce an electric atmosphere" ahead of a crucial Champions League game at home. The supporters certainly delivered, helping the reds to a 1-0 victory.
Fans can sometimes be prevented from entering a stadium. This is often for safety and security reasons, such as to prevent rivals from clashing in or outside the stadium. A lack of fans can have a big impact on the players too. In the first few months of the 2020-21 Premier League season, several peculiar results and an abnormally high rate of goals per game were witnessed. Everton's Michael Keane commented on this, saying he believed quiet stadiums put players under less pressure, giving them the confidence to try things they wouldn't normally do.
The location of a stadium is important too. While die-hard football fans would walk for days to watch their team, casual fans may be put off if getting to the ground is an inconvenience. Most of the most famous stadiums in Europe are located in or near city centres. Liverpool’s Anfield and Everton’s Goodison Park stadiums are located in housing estates, with the traditional fanbases coming from the surrounding streets.
Barcelona’s Camp Nou is a short drive from many of the city’s most famous landmarks, while AC Milan’s San Siro Stadium is surrounded by homes and local businesses. They make it easy for fans to get there without spending hours in traffic, something that would take away from the experience.