A football stadium is much more than bricks and mortar, an arena where sporting theatre is played out every fortnight. They are places where we grew up, where dreams were given birth to, and –more often than not – shattered. We always remember the first time we were taken to the ground, wide eyed at all the people, the commotion, the emotion. Then the first time you went with friends; the first time you stood/sat in with the hard core support; that first away trip. Just a glimpse of the floodlights standing proud over the terraced houses is enough to quicken the heart
A football stadium is also a place where records are made, set and broken. These records may be down to individual players’ brilliance, or a season where the team gelled like never before (and never again!), or merely simply because of a quirk of nature or a geographical anomaly. But that doesn’t matter. Not only are they the bread and butter of pub quizzes and coach journey trivia, they are what helps give each club an identity, and their followers pride.
Here we look at some of those records, from the momentous and outstanding to the embarrassing and downright unusual.
In all walks of life, people are fascinated by size. The bigger, the better is the mantra, and the same often goes for football stadia. As would seem appropriate for a club that’s currently the bookies’ favourite to win the next Champions’ League, Barcelona’s beautiful Nou Camp (or Camp Nou depending on how pretentious you want to be) is the largest in club football, with a capacity of 99,786.
That is impressive, very impressive, but even that looks small time when put up against the largest attendance ever recorded. The 16th of July 1950 saw Brazil take on Uruguay in the World Cup final at Rio’s Maracanã Stadium. Official records have the figure for the match – which Uruguay won 2-1 – at 173,850. Unofficially, people have put the number of people squeezed into the ground at anywhere from 199,000 to 210,000.
Concentrating on England, the highest attendance was for the famous “White Horse Final” on 28th April 1923 at the old Wembley Stadium, which ironically was the first match of the then New Wembley Stadium. 126,047 spectators (though estimates put the actual attendance at nearer 300,000) watched Bolton beat West Ham 2-0 to win the FA Cup.
The highest league attendance in England was at the match between Manchester City and Stoke, on the 3rd March 1934 when 84,569 crammed into Maine Road.
Of course, as Sky are constantly reminding us, football in England only began in the 1992-93 season. The highest attendance in the Premier league era (which also means it was all seating) was the 76,098 who witnessed Manchester United take on Blackburn Rovers at Old Trafford on 31st March 2007.
At the other end of the scale, the lowest attendance of the Premiership era saw just 3,039 turn up to to watch the match between Wimbledon and Everton at Selhurst Park on a cold January evening in 1993.
Highs and Lows
The ground that lays claim to being the highest above sea level is the Estadio Daniel Alcides Carrion. The home to Unión Minas, the 8,000 capacity stadium located in Cerro de Pasco in Peru is 4,380 metres or 13,973 feet above sea level.
The highest national stadium in the world is Estadio Hernando Siles in Bolivia’s capital city La Paz. The ground, which is also home to three club sides, is 3,637 metres, 11,932 feet above sea level. It has been the scene of not only some big upsets (Bolivia won 6-1 and 2-0 against Argentina and Brazil respectively) but also some controversy. Amidst numerous calls to ban the ground due to it giving the home team an unfair advantage, FIFA did in fact ban all high altitude games, but soon relented. The topic of the effects of altitude on match outcomes has even been explored by science – for instance, in a 2011 paper from MIT’s Williams and Walters.
High altitude isn’t something that is a concern for players or fans on these shores. The highest ground in England is The Hawthorns, home to West Bromwich Albion, which is at a less than dramatic 552 feet above sea level, closely followed by Oldham Athletic’s Boundary Park (526 feet).
Flooding is often more problem in England than altitude sickness, with 3 clubs all plying their trade at grounds less than ten feet above sea level – Blundell Park, Grimsby Town (2 feet); St Mary’s, Southampton (3 feet) and the KC KCOM Stadium, Hull City (6 feet).
Making your home a fortress
Of course, what goes on on the actual pitch also creates records occasionally. They certainly are a good indication of the joy – and pain – that the fans of that particular club have gone through. There are numerous examples of nearly flawless seasons played out in front of the teams adoring home fans. There have been six times when a team has won every single home match of the season – admittedly all at a time with smaller leagues:
Sunderland in 1891-92 (13 games)
Liverpool in 1893–94 (14 games)
Bury in 1894-95 (15 games)
Sheffield Wednesday in 1899-00 (17 games)
Small Heath in 1902-03 (17 games)
Brentford in 1929-30 (21 games)
There have been yet other instances where that season ticket would certainly have been money well spent. Bradford Park Avenue notched up 25 consecutive home wins in the 1926-27 season, while Liverpool hold the record for consecutive top flight home wins when they achieved 21 back to back victories at Anfield in 1972.
Millwall hold the record for the most goals scored at home, when they registered 87 in the 1927-28 season, an average of a little over 4 goals per game.
Overall, those attending Old Trafford have, on average, left the game happier than fans of any other club. They have recorded more wins at home than anyone else with 1341 (at the time of writing), while Everton have the most home wins in the top flight – 1174.
When it comes to English teams playing in Europe, Ipswich Town have an unrivalled record throughout the whole of Europe. The Suffolk club have never been beaten at Portman Road in European competition. In a run that stretches back to 1962, the 1980-81 UEFA Cup winners have played 31 times including against such European heavyweights as AC Milan, Real Madrid and Barcelona without once tasting the bitter tang of defeat
Out of Left Field
There are dozens and dozens of weird and wonderful stadiums around the world. Wherever there is a flat(ish) piece of ground, there is always someone who is willing to put up some nets and paint some lines. Sometimes, they don’t even need that. In Singapore’s stunning Marina Bay there is the world’s largest floating football pitch (which suggests there are more bobbing up and down across the globe). The full size pitch built in 2007, is surrounded by water but is still overlooked by seating which can hold up to 30,000 spectators.
Those wishing to travel to watch their team play at Switzerland’s Ottmar Hitzfield Stadium need to do so by cable car, as the 2,000 metre (6,561 feet) high ground it is the highest in Europe and not serviced by any roads.
In the coming months and years new records will be set, new achievements reached. Wherever the stadium is located, whatever it is in danger of being renamed, our home ground is something that will forever hold a place dear to our heart. For 90 minutes on a Saturday afternoon, or Tuesday night, it becomes our home with all the other stuff that is happening in our lives getting left behind at the turnstiles. And that is something that will never change.