There are an array of football stadiums across the planet which, for one reason or another, are household names. There are the arenas that host showpiece occasions that millions worldwide make the time to watch on a regular basis, such as Wembley and the Maracanã. Others are steeped in history and form a huge part of sporting folklore, like Old Trafford and Anfield. Some, such as Celtic Park and La Bombonera, are known for the relentless passion and fervent noise made famous by home supporters. The sheer scale of stadiums like Camp Nou or the Bernebéu will have made a lasting impression on each and every spectator watching in the flesh and on TV at home.
Not all of those stadiums or ones similar are known for their innate beauty, however. Some date back to the Victorian era and were built with practicality in mind, while others, including many of the copycat soulless bowls that were erected in the vicinity of retail parks throughout England in the early 2000s, have an industrial air that belies the magic of the sport.
So, where are some of the most beautiful and unique stadiums on Earth? Here, we take a look at a few examples of football’s relationship with stunning architecture.
Stadio Gospin Docal — Imotski, Croatia — NK Imotski
The first stadium on this list earns its place by virtue of its idyllic surroundings. The small town of Imotski sits at the base of the Biokovo massif, which, though it sounds like a knock-off version of early 00s hip-hop group Blazin’ Squad, is actually the second-highest mountain range in Croatia.
It may look like it was constructed by the Ancient Greeks, but the Gospin Dolac was in fact erected after the Berlin wall came down. Built in 1989, the ground holds up to 4,000 supporters, and was incorporated into the natural landscape, with the mountain rock appearing to work its way around the edge of the pitch on one side, and the lake behind visible from some seats.
Igraliste Batarija — Trogir, Croatia — HNK Trogir
We’re staying in Croatia for the second ground on this list, so the Mediterranean country should be probably be at the very top of your list of destinations for prospective trips if spectacular away days are your main concern. The trouble with this one, though, is that the club who played their games here, HNK Trogir, ran out of money in 2009 and so lost their place in the Croatian second division and are currently a non-league side. Maybe you and your mates could take a ball with you and have a game of your own, the standard probably wouldn’t be a lot different.
The thing that makes this stadium so spectacular is the pitch is situated slap-bang in the middle of two UNESCO World Heritage sites built in the 15th century, Kamerlengo Castle and the tower of St. Marco. The 1,021 spectators the stadium holds would also be forgiven for being distracted by the bobbing yachts parked upon the glistening blue waterway behind the northern end of the pitch, which eventually leads to the Mediterranean itself.
Estadio Municipal de Braga — Braga, Portugal — SC Braga
I’m not entirely sure how the planning of this stadium went, but I’m willing to bet it was a little like this:
Portuguese FA: “Right, Mr. Architect. We’re designing all of the stadiums we’re going to need to be ready for Euro 2004 here in Portugal, and we’d like you to be in charge of the one for the city of Braga. This will be one of the smaller stadiums we build for the tournament, we’re looking at about 30,000 seats or so, but we want it to be full of character and to really make an impression on the football world. Do you have any ideas as to how we could accomplish this goal?”
Architect: “Give it two sides instead of four and make one of the ends a big fuck off cliff face.”
Portuguese FA: “Consider it done.”
Estadio BBVA Bancomer — Guadalupe, Mexico — CF Monterrey
The newest stadium on this list, having been opened in 2015, lies in the Mexican City of Guadeloupe in the state of Nuevo Léon. It boasts 51,000 seats, and is nicknamed ‘El Gigante de Acero’ (The Steel Giant’) as its steel exterior was modelled in homage to the mountains which surround the city.
Which brings us to the reason this stadium is so spectacular. The sloping curvature of the roof was designed to highlight the view of La Silla Ecological Park, which is simply incredible.
You may have noticed that the last two entrants on this list have been included pretty much exclusively because they’ve got a great view of some mountains, but, y’know, mountains look great.
Central Coast Mariners Stadium — New South Wales, Australia — Central Coast Mariners
Football in may have a long way to go in order to become the most popular sport in Australia, but citizens of New South Wales have been given probably the perfect location in which to get involved.
The Central Coast Stadium was opened in 2000 and was originally built with the North Sydney Bears Rugby League team in mind, but the club dissolved in 2002, and after hosting some matches during the 2003 Rugby World Cup, the stadium’s first-time tenant became A-League side Central Coast Mariners for their debut season in 2005.
Viewers in the south-facing stand are met with a paradisiacal view upon entry to the stadium, with the litany of palm-trees and sparkling blue water providing the perfect backdrop for a football match, especially as the sun sets.
The Float @ Marina Bay — Singapore — N/A
You know what I was saying earlier about proximity to the pitch being really important? I’m going to let this one off with it because, well, just look at it.
Constructed in 2007 by the Singaporean government and designed as a multi-purpose arena, The Float holds 30,000 spectators but was first used as a sporting arena for a Sunday league match no less, between amateur sides Tuan Gemuk Athletic and VNNTU FC. I’m willing to bet they made sure this was the only Sunday League ground on the planet with no dog shit on the pitch for the big occasion. The only thing that lets this was one down is the fact they’ve actually gone and stuck an ‘@’ in the name, which is unforgivable.
The stadium also forms part of the Marina Bay Formula One circuit; drivers pass it as they move between Turns 17 and 18 of the Singapore Grand Prix. Since 2012 the stadium has mainly been decommissioned, and primarily functions as a space that commemorates National Service, which is all a bit dystopian and joyless really.
Stop messing about and let them play footy there again.
Selhurst Park — Croydon, England — Crystal Palace
Nah, only joking. This one’s hideous.