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Thought you knew everything about Barça's famous stadium? Then read on, and you might come across a few surprises!
Built for Kubala?
It is widely claimed in folklore that the need to build the Camp Nou was the result of the arrival of László Kubala at FC Barcelona. The old Les Corts stadium simply could not accommodate the number of fans wanting to see the great Hungarian in action. However, that’s not strictly true. Kubala did generate unprecedented interest in the football club, but the plans to build the new ground were already in place some time before he signed in 1950.
A costly project
At the time, the project was a matter of heated controversy among club members. Many were sorry to lose Les Corts, the spiritual home of FC Barcelona for the best part of the century, and there was much concern that such a massive investment would cripple the club. In some ways, the critics were proven right. The years that immediately followed were some of the most barren in club history in terms of trophies, and the burden of paying the costs of the new stadium were widely blamed.
There is a claim, albeit unsubstantiated, that the stadium was originally going to be named after FC Barcelona founder and five-time president Joan Gamper, but the proposal was rejected by the dictatorship. Not only was it unthinkable for such a monumental building to take the name of a liberal-minded Protestant foreigner, but Gamper had committed suicide, which was still a very taboo subject in the eyes of the clergy.
Finding the right name
Instead, the stadium was simply known as the Estadi del FC Barcelona, as endorsed by a 1965 referendum. But the name never caught on and people just referred to it as the ‘camp nou’ (‘new ground’).
In the 2000-2001 season, the members voted again and 68.25% of the members were in favour of making ‘Camp Nou’ the official name of the stadium.
Miró and Miró
There is often confusion between Francesc Miró-Sans (president of FC Barcelona when the Camp Nou was inaugurated) and Francesc Mitjans i Miró (one of the two architects of the stadium). The two gentlemen were actually cousins. The architect’s other major contribution to the Barcelona skyline is the Banco Sabadell skyscraper on the corner of Balmes and Diagonal.
As big as it gets
Measuring 110 x 73 metres, Barça president explained that the playing surface in the new stadium was the biggest allowed internationally, telling El Mundo Deportivo that “the idea is to make teams that adopt ultra-defensive tactics when playing away from home much more vulnerable.” The choice of such a large field undoubtedly had an influence on the development of Barça’s unique style of play.
The opening ceremony on 24 September 1957, the day of the Mercè festival in the city, was divided into two. The ‘solemn’ morning event was religious in nature, and despite ladies being allowed in for free, only about half the seats were filled for a mass presided by the archbishop of Barcelona, featuring a huge statue of the Virgin of Montserrat and a powerful rendition of Handel’s Hallelujah.
But the stadium was packed for the second event, which included a parade of all the major clubs in Catalonia, including RCD Espanyol at the back of the line, ‘esbart’ and ‘sardana’ dances and the release of 11,000 white doves.
It all ended with the raising of the Spanish flag and the stadium standing to attention to respect the Spanish national anthem. The press reports had nothing but words of gushing admiration for this and for General Franco’s admirable support for the project as a whole, but journalists had to be careful about what they said at the height of the dictatorship, so we should be wary about taking such comments too literally!
The stadium was inaugurated with a series of three friendlies. In the days before global television coverage, and when pan-European competitions were in their infancy, such exhibition matches offered a rare but fascinating glimpse of how football was played elsewhere in the world. The guest teams were designed to showcase just that.
The opening fixture pitted Barça against Legia Warsaw. The Eastern European passing game was revolutionising the way football was played, and after recently being so impressed by visiting Hungarian club Honved, the Barcelona fans were hungry to see more of the same.
It wasn’t really Legia though. With an eye to trying out players for the forthcoming game World Cup qualifier with Bulgaria, Poland national coach Henrick Reyman included a number of players from other clubs in the travelling party, which is why the team has officially gone down in the records as a Warsaw XI.
Boys from Brazil
Eulogio Martínez, Tejada, Sampedro and Evaristo scored the goals in a 4-2 win for Barça, although the visiting manager did complain vociferously afterwards that the referee seemed to be under orders to do everything in his power to make sure the home fans were treated to a win!
Evaristo had been signed from Flamengo, one of the sides that would grace the new venue the following day. Featuring a large number of the players that would win the first of the country’s record five World Cups a year later, they cruised to 4-0 victory against a side representing the birthplace of football, England.
Burnley, with a terrific young team led by arguably the finest player ever to wear the claret shirt, Northern Irishman Jimmy McIlroy, were vying for English supremacy with Manchester United at the time, but the Brazilian victory was further proof that the British were no longer the masters of the beautiful game.
Barça were back in action for the last of the three games, against what was claimed to be the finest side from what had become West Germany after the war, Borussia Dortmund, featuring several members of the 1954 World Cup winning squad.
The game produced a surprisingly comfortable win for the Catalans, 4-1 with goals from Villaverde (2), Hermes González and Coll (pen).
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