Stade Roi Baudouin (Koning Boudewijn Stadion)

Capacity50 093
10 092 (Main stand)
Country Belgium
Other names Stade du Centenaire (1930–1945), Stade du Heysel (1945–1995)
Inauguration 23/08/1930
Construction 10.1929–08.1930
Renovations 1978–1979, 1994–1995, 1997–1998
Design Joseph Van Neck (chief architect)
Address Avenue de Marathon 135, 1020 Bruxelles


Stade Roi Baudouin – stadium description

When was Belgium's biggest stadium built?

In 1927, the municipality of Brussels decided to build a representative, multi-purpose stadium on the so-called "Heysel plateau", on the northern outskirts of the capital. The venue was designed by a team of architects led by Joseph Van Neck. On October 4, 1929, Mayor Adolphe Max carried out the groundbreaking ceremony. It took less than a year to complete and was inaugurated on August 23, 1930. The new stadium had a roofed main stand, located on the south-west side, which (in contrast to the current straight main stand, built in the 1990s) was gently curved. On the other sides, the arena was surrounded by large stands based on earth banks. The total capacity of the stadium was approximately 75,000 spectators.

The first competition held at the arena was the Track Cycling World Championships, which took place from 24 to 30 August 1930. On that occasion a wooden, profiled cycling track was built on the athletics track of the stadium. The Track Cycling World Championships were also held in this stadium in 1935. The official opening ceremony of the new stadium took place on September 14, 1930, on the occasion a match between Belgium and the Netherlands was played, which the hosts won 4:1 (however, this game is not considered official). The opening celebrations were part of Belgium's centenary of independence, and the stadium was named the Stade du Centenaire on that occasion.

In the vicinity of the stadium, a large complex of exhibitory buildings was soon constructed in connection with the organisation of the World Expo in 1935. Expo was also held here in 1958, and for this occasion, among other things, a characteristic 102-metre high monument, the so-called Atomium, was built - a model of an iron crystal magnified 165 billion times. Until the roofing of all stands of the stadium in the 1990s, the Atomium was clearly visible from most of the stands of the arena and was a distinctive feature of its landscape. On June 20, 1937, the stadium hosted the start of the prestigious balloon competition, the Gordon Bennett Cup.

What was the history of the Stade du Heysel after World War II?

After World War II, the venue was more often called Stade du Heysel, after the so-called Heysel plateau on which it was located. On May 23, 1948, the stadium hosted a European championship boxing fight in which the then widely unknown Belgian, Cyrille Delannoit, defeated the famous Marcel Cerdan after a controversial decision by the judges. Seven weeks later, at a gala held at the Palais des Sports de Bruxelles, a rematch took place in which the Frenchman regained the title. In 1950, the Stade du Heysel hosted the European Athletics Championships. In the early 1950s, floodlights were installed in the stadium.

In 1971, the stadium was upgraded with a tartan athletics track. In 1974 new floodlights were installed on four 60-metre masts. Since 1977, the stadium has hosted the annual Van Damme Memorial athletics meeting. Between 1978 and 1979, a roof was erected over the central part of the east stand (opposite the main stand) and additional seating was installed underneath. A year later, the 46-metre-long digital scoreboard was inaugurated on the north curve.

Since its foundation, the stadium has regularly played host to the Belgian national football team, making it the de facto Belgian national stadium. Since the first post-war edition (1953/54), almost all Belgian Cup finals have been played at the stadium. National athletics championships are also regularly held here. In 1972, Belgium hosted the final tournament of the European Football Championship. At the time, the competition was much more modest than today, and the tournament took place in a "final four" format. The Stade du Heysel served as a venue of the final between West Germany and the USSR (3:0). The stadium has also frequently played host to European Cup finals (1958, 1966, 1974, 1985) and Cup Winners' Cup finals (1964, 1976, 1980, 1996).

How did the tragedy at the Heysel happen?

On May 29, 1985, the Stade du Heysel hosted the last of the four European Cup finals that have been played there. The game saw Juventus and Liverpool FC face off against each other. Juventus fans filled the stands in the south arches, while the English fans were given most of the stands (approx. ⅔ of the total) in the north arches. The stands along the pitch and the remainder of the north curve (Block Z) were for neutral supporters. However, a large portion of the tickets for section Z were bought by fans of the Italian team.

There was a riot in the stands before the kick-off. Liverpool fans broke into the section Z, starting fights. Panic broke out in the sector and many fans ran for safety. The lower section of the stand became overcrowded. A section of the wall and a metal fence collapsed and more fleeing supporters trampled those lying on the ground. The final toll was 39 dead and over 600 injured. Most of the victims were Italians.

Despite the tragedy, the match, delayed, was decided to go ahead. Although it may have seemed controversial in view of the deaths of the fans, the decision was rational, as it was feared that the cancellation of the match could have led to further unrest. The match ended in a 1:0 Juventus victory, with Michel Platini scoring the only goal of the match from a penalty kick in the 58th minute after a rather questionable decision by the referee to call a foul on Zbigniew Boniek in the penalty area.

As a consequence, English clubs were banned from European competition for several years. Although the number of casualties was not record high, the rioting in the final of Europe's most important club competition had wide-ranging implications and the name Heysel became almost synonymous with stadium hooliganism for a long time. The causes of the disastrous incident include poor organisation, allowing two neighbouring sectors to be filled by rival supporters, insufficient policing and the bad state of the stadium's infrastructure. Ultimately, however, the main responsibility lies with the English supporters who caused the riots.

How was Heysel Stadium redeveloped after the tragedy?

Despite the tragic events of the European Cup final, the stadium continued to function and not much was done to improve its infrastructure in the first years after the tragedy. It was not until October 25, 1993, that a deal was signed to redevelop the stadium. The blueprints were drawn up by architect Bob Van Reeth. Works started in September 1994 and the modernised stadium was opened on August 23, 1995 with a match between Belgium and Germany (1:2). The redeveloped arena was named after King Baldwin I (Stade Roi Baudouin), who passed away in 1993.

As part of the renovation, a completely new main stand was built (from the old stand only the historic central part of the facade was retained) and a roof over the previously uncovered parts of the terraced stands (mainly on the arches). Standing places were eliminated and plastic seats were installed. The work cost 1.5 billion Belgian francs. On May 8, 1996, the Cup Winners' Cup final between PSG and Rapid Vienna was played at the newly renovated stadium. The memory of the 1985 tragedy was still vivid and there was great apprehension about holding such events in this stadium, but this time everything went off without incident.

Following the hosting of Euro 2000 by Belgium and the Netherlands in 1995, the second phase of the stadium's redevelopment began in January 1997 and the reopening took place on August 28, 1998. As part of this second stage, a second storey was added to the terraced stands, which also gained a coherent, unified roof. For Euro 2000, Brussels hosted three group stage matches, one quarter-final and one semi-final, as well as the opening ceremony.

Will the Stade Roi Baudouin have a successor?

In 2012, a LED screen was installed under the roof of the north curve. In the second decade of the 21th century, there was much talk of either a major refurbishment of the stadium or the construction of a new venue to replace it. In September 2014, Brussels was announced as one of the host cities for the Euro 2020 to be held across the European continent and the construction of a new venue seemed almost certain. At the time, a concept for a new, football-specific national stadium for more than 60,000 spectators with the working name Eurostadium was born, which was to be built not far from the Stade Roi Baudouin. However, delays to the project resulted in Brussels being stripped of its role as one of the tournament's hosts in December 2017 and the new stadium was ultimately not built.

What other events has the Stade Roi Baudouin hosted?

The stadium has hosted many different events over its history, including motorbike competitions, gymnastics performances, rugby matches and Tour de France stage finish lines.The facility was periodically used by local football clubs. Numerous concerts have been held in the arena (Madonna, U2, Céline Dion, Robbie Williams, Bruce Springsteen and other artists have performed here) or the jubilee celebrations of the reign of King Baldwin I.

What does the Stade Roi Baudouin look like?

The stadium has an athletics track, which is surrounded on all sides by stands. The main stand, located on the south-west side, is clearly separated from the rest of the arena; it is also slightly lower. The auditorium is double-storied, with a much more extensive lower level. All stands are roofed and have seating. Under the roof, on the northern curve, there is a LED screen. Floodlighting with an intensity of 1,500 lx is provided by four tall masts, supported by floodlights mounted in the canopy. With a capacity of 50,093 spectators it is the largest stadium in Belgium.

The venue's surroundings feature several training pitches, including the so-called "Petit Heysel" with stands for 8,000 spectators. It is located on the northern outskirts of Brussels, on the so-called "Heysel plateau", close to the exhibition compound, the Atomium monument and the Mini-Europe miniature park, among others. The stadium is located close to the A12 motorway junction and the Brussels motorway ring road, and can be reached by public transport, with two metro stations in the immediate vicinity.



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