13 December 2007
Javier Palomino / Translation by Matthew Goltz
It was born on a frigid evening on 14 December 1947. A tenacious President's dream finally became reality. It was a stadium built on the outskirts of a city that would eventually grow around it until become one of its main focal points. Today the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium is a symbol of the Spanish capital and the stage where Madridismo has made all its dreams come true. It's here where the most heralded club in the world has experienced its greatest feats; the only club to possess six European cups in a trophy room visited by more than 600,000 people every year. One month before its birthday, it received its greatest distinction yet: the title of Elite Stadium by UEFA.
The first match played in Chamartín took place on 14 December 1947 against Portugal's Os Belenenses. Real Madrid won 3-1. That same day put an end to an old dream of club President Santiago Bernabéu, who was convinced of the ever-growing power of the sport called football. They called him crazy and bold for wanting to build a stadium for more than 100,000 spectators, but he proved them wrong. What's more, moments after its inauguration, Bernabéu proposed its first expansion, which came to fruition in 1954. Chamartín grew to 125,000. It wasn't expanded, "it was finished," as the President preferred to say.
WORLD CUP '82
One year later, Chamartín changed its name to that of the best President in the history of world football: Santiago Bernabéu. The team responded in the best way possible by winning five straight European Cups. Over the following decades, the stadium welcomed the greatest sporting achievements while also incorporating improvements in comfort to meet the ever-growing demand. A gymnasium was opened, a new lighting system was installed, the offices were moved...
The stadium had always been on the outskirts: pieces of Moncloa, Estrada field, Plaza de Toros Avenue, O'Donnell, Ciudad Lineal... Such was the case when it arrived in its current location. The first Chamartín was a plot surrounded by cropland, but as the city grew around it, the club proposed a change in location even further outside the centre. The project was unsuccessful and a huge blow to Bernabéu, who died in 1978, four years before his stadium took over the international spotlight during the World Cup of Spain.
Under the Presidency of Luis de Carlos, the club undertook the challenge of modernizing the stadium for World Cup '82. The world's greatest sporting event was an organizational success, and the Santiago Bernabéu made headlines across the globe. There was still, however, a demand to adapt it to the club's needs. The structure was completely renovated throughout the 90's; a huge project that virtually entailed building a new stadium over the already-existing one. This vanguard endeavor presented itself as one of the most ambitious architectural achievements ever carried out in Spain, and it was finished just in time for the Santiago Bernabéu to celebrate its Golden Anniversary in 1997.
As of 1998, the club approved an Infrastructure Plan for the stadium designed to update it and make it even more comfortable. A new commercial project was also rolled out to keep to the Bernabéu doors open 365 days a year. There was no stopping the modernization: dressing rooms, scoreboards, PA system, heating... The club added all the cutting edge technology that the 21st Century would demand. The Centenary served as the perfect tribute to the stadium, which through a variety of matches, events, and expositions welcomed those who left their most notable mark on a stadium that continued to grow: the East Stand overhang and Padre Damián Street facade further promoted the "Bernabéu atmosphere." The physiognomy changed to that of a 21st Century Bernabéu, which was well on track to becoming one of the elite stadiums in the world.
AN ELITE STADIUM
On 14 November 2007, UEFA announced its decision to include the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium among the elite. It was the best possible gift for a facility on the verge of celebrating its 60th birthday. Not only did UEFA reward the club's praiseworthy investment, but its organizational ability and professional structure as well.
The most recent improvements (escalators, a super store, a new Board Room...) only made this unique stadium even greater. The "new Bernabéu" isn't just a point of reference in sports, but in society, commerce, and business. It's the stage where dreams come true. The best club in history had to have the best stadium, and now it does.