Stadio San Siro | Letting Go Of The Past
Visiting the San Siro is a right of passage for every true football fan. As you leave the recently built metro station, you can't not be impressed by the giant space-age structure in front of you.
Renovated for the 1990 world cup, the San Siro became an icon for Italian football and intertwined perfectly with it's golden age (by my estimate 1990-2003). The unique roof and twirling pillars set it aside from the out of the box modern grounds you see today.
The 80,000 capacity stadium means a lot to so many and it was in fact one of my first Serie A experiences. I'd chosen to do a weekend double-header in 2008 with Torino-Empoli on the Saturday and Milan-Cagliari the following day. Blown away by the sheer scale of the place, it instantly became a favourite of mine. Just over 52,000 were in attendance to see Kaka and company rip apart provincial Cagliari (a team by complete coincidence I kept on seeing over the years).
We placed ourselves in the tribuna, not exactly vip but not up in the gods either. Our seats were anything but and had to use one of the clubs free magazines as a make shift seat. It was clear that the ground (by this point it had been 18 years since hosting the world cup) needed a good lick of paint and a mild makeover.
A moody-looking teenager
Fast forward 10 years later and I returned to this iconic structure to watch Juve beat Milan. An early Manzukick header followed by a Ronaldo tap in saw the bianconeri take home all three points. This time we found ourselves slightly further up in the third tier (terzo anello blu) and I was pretty shocked to see how much the place had deteriorated. Having become used to the more plush stadia that the Premiership has to offer, the San Siro now felt dingy and worn out. It also stank of piss in places and to top if off, the view of the pitch was somewhat obscured by plexiglass that clearly hadn't been cleaned since Van Basten last graced the turf. There was about 5 toilets in each corner of the tier, catering for about 5,000 fans and barely a food vendor or official in sight. Despite the entertainment on the pitch and the wonderful choreography displayed by the Milan ultras, it was sad and slightly depressing to see the place in this state of affairs. This fitted perfectly with the trend of Italian football in general, which was a far cry from the dizzy heights of the 90s.
Me and the lads post game up in the gods in 2018
That experiencing leads us to the business part of the article, because both Inter and Milan's decline can be linked to that of the San Siro. The ground, owned by the local council, is in need of major investment but Inter and Milan are essentially trapped, unable to leave it or tear it down and start it from scratch (taking ownership with it). Having seen their rivals Juve return back to the pedestal of Serie A with thanks to their sparkly new privately owned stadium (and the revenue boost that comes with it), Inter and Milan deservedly want the same.
Rather than go their separate ways, both clubs have proposed to built a new ground next to the San Siro, noting that the costs involved to reconfigure the San Siro would be too high. They have a point, the ground has been built over a century ago, with a second tier added in the 1950's and the now infamous third tier and roof constructed in 1990. I say infamous as part of third ring are closed off after safety officials deemed them high risk, due to the stand literally shaking and moving after fans celebrate a goal. It's a sight for sore eyes to now go to the San Siro and see parts of the ground either end of the goal covered up.
The local government have a vested interest in keeping both clubs in their pocket, charging high rental fees to host games. They propose a scaled down version of the ground, reducing the capacity to 60,000 and eliminating the third tier. They defend the move, calling a move away from the San Siro something of a crime against the history of the clubs and city. Using nostalgia and being blind to the commercial needs of these Italian giants isn't sticking, with both clubs determined to let go of the past, catch up with their domestic and European rivals and start a new era together next door.
It would certainly be a sad sight to see the San Siro dismantled but in my opinion the show must go on. It's a ground that means so much to so many. Think Cameroon's victory against Argentina in the opening game of Italia 90, or Arsenal's demolition of Inter back in 2005 (sorry Inter!). This is a case of old meeting new, for the sake of innovation and growth. Without a change, Inter and Milan will continue to fall down the pecking order and will only be able to see the Coppa Italia as realistic silverware. Now that's a horrible thought...
Written by Richard Tester
BBC video on the San Siro's demise and the future