A trip to the Santiago Bernabeu is high on the list of any serious football fans “must do” stadiums. This classic stadium was inaugurated in 1947 with a match against Portuguese side Os Belenenses and had taken nearly three years to complete. The new Estadio Chamartin was built close to Real’s former Chamartin stadium had been designed by renowned architects Manuel Muñoz Monasterio and Luis Alemany Soler. Within five years the new stadium had been renamed to honour long term Real president Santiago Bernabeu. The new stadium initially held 75,000 but by 1954 had been expanded to a mind-boggling 125,000. Three years later floodlighting came to the Bernabeu and were switched on for the first time in a special match again Brazilian side Sporting Recife.
The stadium remained essentially unchanged until renovations were needed for Spain’s hosting of the 1982 World Cup tournament. In a pleasing symmetry and nod to history and continuity Real engaged the sons of the original architects, Rafael Luis Alemany and Manuel Salinas. Roofing for two thirds of the stadium was a major undertaking as well as the installation of more seating, thus reducing overall capacity to 90,800. The great stadium hosted that memorable final between Italy and West Germany.
In the 1990’s there was further major renovation which saw the now familiar corner towers completed and major works on the foundations to enable the near doubling of the height of the stadium with fourth and fifth tiers. The work was undertaken by Gines Navarro Construcciones and gave the Bernabeu a huge capacity of 110,000. The latter part of that decade saw the stadium move to an all seater arena and a reduced capacity once again of 75,000. Improvements and expansion throughout the 2000’s and even as recently as 2012 has seen the stadium settle at it’s current licensed capacity of 85,454.
The club itself had been formed in March 1902 as Madrid Football Club, the royal ascent was given by King Alfonso XIII in 1920 and the current name of Real Madrid Club de Futbol was adopted. Almost uniquely the club has been member (socio) owned since its inception. The club of course grew into a global phenomenon with a record nine European Cup/Champions League wins which included the first five competitions in a row. Three World Club Cups and no less than 32 Spanish League title gives you an idea of their incredible success particularly in the post World War II years.
From Di Stefano, Puskas, Hugo Sanchez, Butragueno, Juanito through to the Galacticos period of the likes of Raúl, Zidane, Ronaldo, Figo, Roberto Carlos and Cannavaro the club have always attracted the greatest players in the world. Of course the latest star signing Gareth Bale has joined a small group of British players to have worn the famous all white kit. David Beckham, Michael Owen and Steve McManaman all graced this particular stage but less well known is Scotland’s contribution to the long history of Real Madrid.
John Fox-Watson was one of the first British players to move to a high profile foreign club, joining Real Madrid as player/coach in 1948. His transfer from Fulham was many years before the likes of Jimmy Greaves, John Charles and Denis Law left the shores of Great Britain. His career had started modestly with Waterthistle and later on with Douglas Juniors. Via spells at Bury and Fulham he arrived at Real as the club was moving into their new stadium. Fox-Watson only stayed in Spain for a single season and only played one match for the All Whites, away to Celta Vigo, but remains the only Scot to have represented the Spanish giants. He returned to England in the summer of 1949, joining Crystal Palace.
So what is the whole match-day experience like at one of the sports most revered and historic amphitheatres? While many criticise Real Madrid for its juggernaut of commercial enterprises, what is abundantly clear is its embracing and idolatry of its past. I see as many “Juanito” shirts as I do those of current favourites like Isco. The hubbub around the stadium is fascinating to be part of, allsorts of souvenirs are being sold and the Spanish match staple of nuts, nuts and more nuts, are profusely available from stall after stall. Suddenly the chatter is broken by loud whistling, the clopping of horses hooves and the wailing of police sirens. Has trouble broken out? Have the Málaga fans gotten too boisterous? No, none of that it’s the Real team coach sweeping up the road. A sea of humanity parts amid a myriad of camera flashes.
The game itself starts and its high octane stuff from the hosts but they find visiting keeper Willy Caballero in scintillating form. Save after save denies the hosts in the first half with a Ronaldo shot that hit the bar the only one eluding his grasp. Immediately after the break though Málaga are caught cold and the Argentine Di Maria nips in to give Real the expected lead. And it is expected, the relief around the Bernabeu is palpable. They are of course expected to win by a landslide but it does happen, Caballero remains solid as a rock. Malaga fans greet the substitution of their former hero, the wonderfully talented Isco, by bowing en masse in the rafters of the fifth tier. It’s one of the visitors own substitutes that nearly causes an upset when their Ivorian striker Anderson burst clean through only to fire narrowly wide of the home goal. The game is settled in injury time when skipper Weligton upends a marauding Bale. As expected, Ronaldo dispatches the penalty with his customary swagger.
While a trip to the Bernabeu is indeed a wallet emptying experience, and a magnet for tourists from around the world, there is absolutely no denying that the Santiago Bernabeu is truly one of the games greatest stadiums.
La Liga Primera Division – Saturday October 19th 2013
Real Madrid CF (0) 2 (Di Maria 46, Cristiano Ronaldo pen 90)
Málaga CF (0) 0
Attendance: 78,362 (at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu)
25. Diego Lopez; 15. Daniel Carvajal; 3.Pepe; 4. Sergio Ramos (c); 12. Marcelo; 6. Sami Khedira; 22. Angel Di Maria; 24. Asier Illaramendi; 23. Isco; 7. Cristiano Ronaldo; 21. Álvaro Morata.
Subs: 1. Iker Casillas; 11. Gareth Bale (for 21,76 mins); 16. Casemiro; 17. Álvaro Arbeloa; 18. Nacho Fernandez; 19. Luka Modrić (for 22,72 mins); 20. Jesé Rodriguez (for 22,81 mins).
1. Willy Caballero; 2. Jésus Gámez; 3. Weligton Oliveira (c); 5. Vitorino Antunes; 21. Sergio Sánchez; 18. Eliseu Pereira; 12. Fernando Tissone; 6. Ignacio Camacho; 7. Mounir El Hamdaoui; 8. Francisco Portillo; 24. Samu Garçia.
Subs: 1. Carlos Kameni; 9. Roque Santa Cruz (for 8,77 mins); 10. Bobley Anderson (for 24,70 mins); 14. Pedro Morales; 17. Duda; 23. Roberto Chen; 30. Sergi Darder (for 5,78 mins).
Yellow Cards: Carvajal (Real); Gamez, Weligton, Antunes, Sánchez, Eliseu (all Málaga).