Italy’s Ghost Stadia: Il Nord

In the UK, the unveiling of a new football stadium almost always implies the demise of its predecessor. Finance dictates that stands must be razed and a century of memories deleted, all in the name of progress. However, as the shine begins to wear off the new venue, it’s not uncommon to hear fans become nostalgic for the imperfections of the old place, yearning for just one more visit. But by that point, it’s too late.  

It is perhaps unsurprising to hear that things work a little differently in Italy. With most stadia in municipal ownership and fulfilling a broader set of sporting needs, there is rarely such an imperative for scrapping the old venues. Across the provinces, countless historic former homes stand as memorials to the triumph and emotion of yesteryear. Nature has silently reclaimed some, others have struggled on in a dilapidated state, whilst a few have received a new lease of life.  

The previous legs of our journey took us to the stadiums of Italy’s southern and central regions. The final part takes us to the north… 

Udine – Stadio Moretti

In 1924, the family behind the famous Birra Moretti brand constructed a sports facility on land adjacent to their brewery in Udine. It was a unique venue with the playing field surrounded not by an athletics track, but by a speedway track. The main tribuna was set back slightly from the pitch, allowing the speedway track to pass in front of the main stand before weaving behind the other three sides of the stadium. 

Udinese played here for half a century amidst the aroma of hops and under the divine gaze of the Temp Ossario cupola. In its heyday, the old venue held 25,000 spectators, though the facilities were basic and it was never furnished with floodlights. In 1976, Udinese moved several kilometres out of town to the futuristic concrete curves of the Stadio Friuli. Le Zebrette continued to use the old stadium as a training venue and for youth team fixtures right up until 1998 when the remains of the stadium were removed to make way for a public park, which today bears the same Moretti moniker. 

Reggio Emilia – Stadio Mirabello 

Stadio Mirabello is named after the district of Reggio Emilia in which it resides and has hosted football since 1910. The first stands were added in 1913, becoming a fully enclosed venue with the birth of AC Reggiana in 1919.  The most significant development of the ground came as recently as 1988 with the addition of a large, modern grandstand. But having begun life on the southern extremity of the city, suburban sprawl gradually ensconced the ground, limiting the scope for further development. 

Reggiana ascended to Serie A in 1993, but with a capacity of just 15,500, it was clear that the dear old Mirabello could not match the club’s ambition. Reggiana moved to the purpose-built Stadio Giglio (now Mapei Stadium – Citta del Tricolore) in 1998, but the Mirabello has been retained as a minor venue with just the grandstand in use. After initially being inhabited by Serie C Brescello, it now plays host to junior and women’s football and rugby. 

Padova – Stadio Silvio Appiani 

The Lion’s Den was truly one of a kind, a stadium which combined brawn and beauty. In the middle distance, visible from the pitch, lay the fairytale Abbiaza di Santa Giustina, with its eight magnificent pepper-pot domes and bell tower. But the defining feature of the stadium was a vast, imposing eastern terrace where the baying Padovani would congregate. The addition of a precarious second tier in the early 1980s further accentuated an already a foreboding sight for visiting teams and raised the capacity to 25,000. 

As home to Padova’s football team from 1924, it witnessed the club’s most successful years, including their third-place finish under Nereo Rocco in 1957/58. In 1994, Padova moved to the out-of-town Stadio Euganeo; since then the venue has been used for first-team training and the club’s youth matches as well as hosting local amateur sides. Happily, the future of the stadio looks secure, with investment taking place to sympathetically rationalise and modernise the venue. 

Milano – Arena Civica 

Few football stadiums have enjoyed the eclectic past of Milan’s Arena Civica. Set in the peaceful Parco Sempione, it was commissioned by Napoleon Bonaparte in the early 19th century. It has staged miniature naval battles (the Colosseum-esque construction enabled the venue to be flooded), Buffalo Bill’s travelling Wild West show and the Giro d’Italia bike race. It hosted Italy‘s maiden football international in 1910 and was used by Silvio Berlusconi to announce his arrival at AC Milan in 1986, dramatically arriving by helicopter in the centre of the pitch. 

Primarily, though, it was also a happy home to Inter from 1930 and their base for two scudetti won in 1938 and 1940. A combination of Inter’s growing popularity and damage sustained during the war saw the nerazzurri join their city neighbours at the San Siro in 1947. However, the club continued to use the Arena as a training base well into the 1950s. One of the last ever senior games hosted here was the 1958 Fairs Cup tie against Lyon in 1958. Today it is used for football, athletics and concerts – it’s deep stone terracing, pillared clubhouse and porticoed entrance providing a grand setting for amateur sportspeople. 

Trieste – Stadio Giuseppe Grezar

Foto – https://www.oocities.org/unionet/Stadio_Rocco.html 

Italy’s Fascist regime saw the 1934 World Cup as a chance, not only to demonstrate their sporting prowess but also their organisational and architectural competence. A raft of construction projects commenced across the peninsula to build tournament venues, including this one in the newly-annexed north-eastern territory of Trieste. Built in 1932, it hosted a single World Cup match between Czechoslovakia versus Romania, before becoming playing home to Triestina for the next six decades. 

The stadium was a popular multi-sports venue, hosting international athletics meetings and being used as a home-from-home by both Juventus (1963) and AC Milan (1971) in European competitions. In the early 1990s, work began on the futuristic Stadio Nereo Rocco, which both figuratively and literally cast a shadow over the Stadio Grezar. The frayed old stadium remained in use until a renovation programme began in 2004. However, a series of delays and the bankruptcy of the main contractor put the entire project at risk. This was a story with a happy ending though; the renovation was completed in 2017, in time to host the Italian Athletics Championships.  

Thanks for reading! That concludes our tour of Italy’s ghost stadia – why not start from the beginning, or dive into the history of AS Roma’s former Campo Testaccio home.

2 Comments

  1. Hi Robert, very interesting article on stadia on Italy. Not been to matches in the stadia in the article but have been to San Siro several times to see Inter play and win Scudetto in the great era of Mancini and Mourinho. In a way, it is a shame the San Siro will become a memory but calcio has to move on.

    Like

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