How football's most iconic stadiums have evolved over time

PICTURE SPECIAL: Tottenham had humble beginnings before building their £1bn ground while the San Siro and Nou Camp are modern-day coliseums set to be given their own face-lifts… a look at how Europe’s most iconic stadiums have evolved over time

  • Football stadiums have grown and evolved alongside the beautiful game since its inception 150 years ago
  • Fans have flocked to their team’s home to watch their favourite stars live and in person for over a century
  • Some of the world’s most famous grounds are almost unrecognisable while others have stuck with their roots
  • Sportsmail looks back through the archives to see how football’s iconic stadiums have evolved over time 

Home is where the heart is, and for football fans, it is the arena where their favourite teams play.

Like a place of worship or religious setting of significant importance, a football stadium is the site supporters flock to on a weekly basis, where they could see their hopes dashed or faith rekindled depending on how their team performs.

Even without live football, stadiums can be landmarks and tourist hotspots that are marvelled at by football fans who have embarked on pilgrimages just to see these structures up close and in person. Their significance in football is recognised far and wide, allowing for these towering venues to stand for many years to come.

But stadiums these days often dwarf the houses and shops in their vicinity, it wasn’t always like that. Most of the time, in football’s infancy as a sport, there would be no monstrous structure, rather a small terrace allows for thousands to peer at the action on the pitch. These stadiums would then evolve and develop into the structures we see today.

But what were some of the world’s iconic stadiums like all those years ago when they were first built? After digging back through the archives, Sportsmail has taken a look at just how these magnificent stadiums came to be. 

Anfield

Liverpool 

Anfield was first built in 1884 and has been the home of Liverpool FC since 1892, but was actually first occupied by their Merseyside rivals Everton to begin with, before they moved into their current stadium Goodison Park.

While the first stands put up at Anfield initially would host 8,000-plus spectators each week, more than 20,000 would regularly turn out to watch Liverpool before the turn of the 20th century. As Liverpool enjoyed success on the pitch, the club would continue to expand their ground to welcome hoards of new followers from the local area.

Liverpool sought the expertise of architect Archibald Leitch to help build their new ground in the 1890s and it was after the club’s second League championship in 1906 that they built a new stand along the Walton Breck Road, which was named locally as the ‘Spion Kop’ – now known simply as ‘the Kop’ – which took its name from a famous hill in South Africa where a number of soldiers from the local area had died during the Boer War in 1900.

Anfield remained more or less the same for the next two decades before the Kop was expanded in 1928, which could then hold more than 30,000 fans. Further improvements were made in 1963 and then again 10 years later, where the Main Stand was demolished and replaced.

During the 1980s, plans to convert Anfield into an all-seater stadium had begun before works to rebuild the Centenary Stand started in the 90s.

There were discussions to move away from Anfield in the early 2000s and build a larger 60,000-seater ground. Insufficient funding scuppered the plans, with the club’s new owners deciding to renovate and expand Anfield instead in 2012.

The Main Stand was reconstructed again in 2015, increasing its capacity to 8,500 seats, while there are also plans to expand Anfield again, bringing it closer to a 60,000-seater venue. 

Workers build he new Spion Kop stand along Walton Breck Road during 1927, as Liverpool’s popularity continues to grow

The Kop begins to take shape and is finished in 1928 – where it could hold over 30,000 standing spectators on a matchday

Roger Hunt (left) plays in a European Cup semi-final against Inter Milan with thousands watching on in the stands in 1965

Refurbishments to the stadium would take place in 1963 and again in 1973, where floodlights were added to the Main Stand

Ground staff help tear up the pitch and relay it at Anfield in May 1982, as a frantic season comes to an end

Liverpool began to make a start to convert Anfield – seen here in 1989 – into an all-seater stadium during the 1980s

A general view of the entrance to the Kop before it was demolished in May 1994, with Anfield becoming an all-seater stadium

Work on the Kop begins as Liverpool fans turn out in force to watch their side during a European Cup match in 1994

The terracing of the Kop is demolished at Anfield during the summer of 1994, before it is rebuilt and modernised

Demolition work of the Main Stand begins before it is completed right before the start of the 2016-17 campaign

Anfield is one of the most famous football stadiums in the world, given its ability to create a deafening noise from supporters

An aerial view of the iconic stadium is just a stone’s throw away from neighbours and fierce Merseyside rivals Everton

Old Trafford

Manchester United 

After officially opening in 1910, Old Trafford became the home of Manchester United.

While the Red Devils played their games at Bank Street for the first decade of the 20th century, Old Trafford, also designed by Leitch, became their home after then club president John Henry Davies decided their previous ground was not fit for a team who had just won the First Division and FA Cup.

When first opened, Old Trafford only had one covered seating stand while the other three sides were open terraces with the ground able to welcome 80,000 spectators for matches.

Few changes were made to the stadium in the next two decades before a roof was added to the United Road – now known as the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand – terrace and the south corners during the mid-1930s.

However, Old Trafford sustained heavy damage during World War II when a bombing raid destroyed much of the South Stand forcing the club to temporarily move remove the debris and begin rebuilding in 1941. United would play their games at Manchester City’s Maine Road while this work was done.

It took eight years for the stadium to be rebuilt, with small improvements and expansions made to the ground in the years following. A complete renovation of the United Road Stand in the 1960s also saw it become the first ground in Britain to house private boxes.

Old Trafford would continue to be improved in the 1970s and 80s before it was eventually made an all-seater in the 1990s. This saw the Stretford End demolished and replaced as a result.

In the late 90s, second tiers were added to the East and West Stands, taking its capacity to 68,000, before another renovation in 2006 saw Old Trafford become the largest club stadium in British football, where its current capacity stands at 75,000. 

A year after its official opening, an FA Cup final replay is played at Old Trafford between Bradford City and Newcastle

Old Trafford was severely damaged during the Second World War following bomb raids by the German airforce 

The Theatre of Dreams was the stuff of nightmares following the war, with it taking over eight years before it was rebuilt

A renovation of the United Road Stand in the 1960s also saw it become the first ground in Britain to house private boxes

The souvenir shop and ticket office can be seen on one of the corners of the ground back in 1983

Old Trafford would continue to be improved in the 1970s and 80s before it was eventually made an all-seater in the 1990s

In the late 90s, second tiers were added to the East and West Stands, taking its overall capacity to 68,000 

The iconic stadium has been home to Manchester United since it’s official opening way back in 1910

Another renovation in 2006 saw Old Trafford become the largest club stadium in British football, with a capacity of 75,000

United supporters mill about outside Old Trafford before a Premier League game with Crystal Palace earlier this month

The Stretford End, located to the west of the ground, is usually where the club’s most hardcore supporters are housed

Nou Camp 

Barcelona

While the likes of Manchester United and Liverpool found their permanent bases relatively early on in their lives as clubs, it took a lot of chopping and changing before Barcelona would find somewhere they could call home.

Having established themselves in 1899, Barcelona’s first played their games at Camp de la Industria before moving to their temporary home at Camp de Les Corts in 1922.

By the late 1940s, the Catalan giants had already out-grew Les Corts and instead decided to build their new home, the Nou Camp – meaning ‘new field’ in English.

Construction began on the stadium in 1954 and was finished three years later, giving Barcelona room to continue expanding as and when they pleased – something they were unable to do at Les Corts.

The construction of the Nou Camp would leave the club heavily in debt for many years, given how they hoped to cover costs with the sale of Les Corts but were made to wait by the city council.

The stadium would gets its first refurbishment in the 1980s, in time for the 1982 World Cup, with private boxes, VIP lounges and a third tier added to increase the seating capacity by another 22,150. This meant the Nou Camp’s seating and standing capacity was a staggering 121,401, making it the largest stadium in Europe.

The Nou Camp would undergo little change after 1982, but plans to renovate, expand and remodel the stadium as a celebration of their 50th anniversary are currently in the works. 

It would see a roof added while the state-of-the-art ground would again welcome even more spectators, taking its current capacity of 99,000 to 105,000.

The Nou Camp is pictured under construction during the mid-1950s with Barcelona looking to move into their new home

The construction of the Nou Camp would leave the club heavily in debt for many years due to a dispute over their old ground

Argentina legend Diego Maradona visits the newly-refurbished Nou Camp after signing with Barcelona back in 1982

Digital scoreboards were installed in 1975 while a third tier was added before the 1982 FIFA World Cup in Spain

The opening ceremony of the 1982 FIFA World Cup takes places at the Nou Camp – one of Europe’s biggest stadiums

The Nou Camp has continued to expand and grow over the decades and can now house up to 99,000 spectators

The Nou Camp would undergo little change after 1982, but there are plans to renovate, expand and remodel the stadium

It has hosted two Champions League finals in 1989 and 1999, two European Cup Winners’ Cup finals as well as the football final at the 1992 Summer Olympics

Barcelona have struggled to sell out their stadium in recent times, especially with Lionel Messi no longer at the club

It remains as one of the biggest stadiums in world football and will continue to grow and expand in the years to come

White Hart Lane 

Tottenham Hotspur

From the club’s birth in 1882, Tottenham played their matches on public land in Tottenham Marshes. Given that they were playing their games on public land, it meant the club could not charge admission fees for spectators.

With the club growing in popularity, the club decided to rent a pitch in Northumberland Park but overcrowding became a prominent issue with Spurs finally moving to White Hart Lane in 1899.

The site was then a disused nursery owned by beer brewers Charrington, who leased the ground with the proviso that Spurs could guarantee crowds of up to 1,000 fans – a feat easily managed by the club given they were attracting on average 4,000 spectators on a normal matchday.

The groundsman of a local cricket club was tasked with demolishing the greenhouses and preparing a pitch for football to be played on.

With the ground able to welcome 32,000 fans to matches, the club decided to build a huge bank at the Paxton Road end, increasing their capacity by another 8,000 in the years after moving to the area. This saw the whole West Stand, a two-tier structure and one of the largest of its kind at the time, covered in 1909 before the club’s FA Cup triumph in 1921 allowed them to expand White Hart Lane once again, taking the capacity to 58,000.

The East Stand was then completed in 1934 with the Archibald Leitch-design taking shape.

By the 1960s, Spurs began to introduce a lot more seated stands in White Hart Lane, with the south and west stands later linked. However, two decades later, the stadium was in need of an upgrade and was given the green light to be redeveloped in 1980.

The West Stand was demolished and replaced 15 months later, while the East Stand would face similar treatment in 1988, despite objection from fans. As a result of the Hillsborough disaster and subsequent Taylor Report, Tottenham – as well as Liverpool, Manchester United and other top-flight clubs – refurbished White Hart Lane to become an all-seater stadium, seeing Spurs demolish and rebuild the South and North stands in the 1990s, which saw White Hart Lane install new jumbrotrons above each penalty area.

The stadium would stay in this form until 2016, where it would be completely demolished and rebuilt, paving the way for a new state-of-the-art stadium on top of the old site. With Spurs playing their games at Wembley, it would take the club three years before they could return to White Hart Lane, with the new 62,000-seater stadium setting the club back £1billion. It has since become the go-to venue in the world of sports and entertainment.

Tottenham moved to White Hart Lane in 1899 and would build their huge West Stand (pictured here in 1912) in 1909

Huge crowds would regularly turn out to watch Spurs play at White Hart Lane, where they welcomed Charlton here in 1932

The new East Stands is pictured here under construction in 1934, allowing the club to increase their ground’s capacity again

A workman helps demolish the houses in Paxton Road to make room for a new double-decker stand at White Hart Lane

The new West Stand is unveiled in 1982, seeing the club add private boxes and VIP lounges to their old ground

The East Stand was refurbished shortly after, as Spurs welcomed Aston Villa to White Hart Lane in September 1990

The foundations are laid for the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, as works begin to demolish White Hart Lane

One corner of White Hart Lane is removed so construction on the new stadium can begin in the summer of 2016

An aerial view shows the stadium in all its glory as it neared completion in 2018; it cost £1bn but will easily make it back

Fireworks from the stadium roof show the beauty of the arena on opening night, when Spurs played Palace in April 2019

The stadium holds just over 62,000 fans and has quickly become the go-to venue in the world of sports and entertainment

Stamford Bridge

Chelsea

Another Premier League ground that has stood the test of time is Stamford Bridge.

While there have been points over the years where it looked as if this iconic ground would be no more, it was saved and continues to live on in the heart of west London. As a stadium, it is steeped in history and has been the home of Chelsea for well over a century.

Having officially opened its doors in 1877, Stamford Bridge was almost exclusively used by the London Athletic Club for the purpose of athletics until the lease was acquired in 1904 by brothers Gus and Joseph Mears, who wanted to establish a club and play football games on the ground.

The venue was initially offered to Fulham, who turned it down due to financial reasons and a new west London club, Chelsea, were later established as a result in 1905.

The Mears brothers brought in architect Leitch to construct the stadium, with the official capacity of around 100,000 spectators to matchdays in the early years – making it the second largest ground in England behind Crystal Palace.

Leitch, like he did with many other stadiums at the time, designed a 120-yard long stand on the east side of the stadium that could hold 5,000 spectators, complete with a roof. The rest of the ground remained open in a vast bowl-like style but the running track stayed and kept fans far from the pitch.

The stadium itself remained untouched until the 1930s until the ‘Shed End’ was constructed to the south of the ground. In 1939, the North Stand was built at Stamford Bridge while renovations to the East Stand were commissioned but disrupted by World War II.

Financial issues in the 1970s saw an ambitious project to renovate Stamford Bridge stagnate, halting plans to redevelop the East Stand. While work on the East Stand would eventually finish, the rest of the ground would suffer and wouldn’t be rebuilt for another two decades.

As Chelsea dropped down the divisions during the 70s, the stadium continued to be neglected due to a lack of finances with the club steeped in debt. However, after Ken Bates bought the club, and eventually Stamford Bridge after a legal tussle over its ownership, Chelsea finally got a stadium fit for purpose and would later see the ground converted into a 34,000-seater venue during the 1990s.

With the running track gone and roofs covering all four sides, Stamford Bridge became what we know it as today, complete with megastores, hotels and residential buildings surrounding it. 

While there were plans to leave Stamford Bridge in recent years to make an ambitious move into the then-vacant Battersea Power Station over the River Thames, Chelsea have since been given full permission to completely redevelop their stadium in the coming years. 

Stamford Bridge was originally used as an athletics ground from 1877 before Chelsea became permanent residents in 1905

The ground could attract up to 100,000 spectators, as seen here during a match against Tottenham Hotspur in 1913

Stamford Bridge was almost exclusively used by the London Athletic Club in its early years as a venue

The ground featured a running track around the pitch, while ‘The Shed’ can be seen towards the south of the ground

Construction on the new East Stand during the mid-1970s can be seen as Stamford Bridge gets renovated

Blues supporters run onto the Stamford Bridge pitch in May 1977 after the club secured promotion back to the First Division

Chelsea supporters make their way into Stamford Bridge to watch their team play Wrexham in August 1980

An aerial view of Stamford Bridge shows how the stadium is largely unfinished when compared to today’s model

A campaign during the late 1980s to ‘Save the Bridge’ is seen inside the ground near some overgrown terraces

Now, megastores, hotels and residential buildings surround the iconic ground located in the heart of west London

Chelsea have called Stamford Bridge home since 1905 and there are now plans to redevelop the stadium once again

Chelsea are looking to increase their 40,000 capacity while staying in the prime west London location

San Siro 

AC Milan & Inter Milan

Italy has plenty of experience when it comes to building some of the best stadiums the world has seen – just look at the Colosseum in Rome.

But this modern-day coliseum isn’t in the country’s capital. Over 350 miles away in Milan, the San Siro is one of the most iconic stadiums in all of world football.

The San Siro, unlike other stadiums on this list, is the home to not one, bur two top-flight teams, with rivals AC Milan and Inter Milan sharing the 80,000-seater ground between them.

However, while the ground is an Italian marvel, its roots are largely English – just like AC Milan’s founder, Herbert Kilpin. Back in 1925, then-AC Milan president, Piero Pirelli gave the green light to build a new massive ground dedicated entirely to football. 

But Pirelli was such a huge fan of English football that he wanted the stadium built in the style of the grounds popping up all over Britain, which saw four separate stands erected around the pitch while there wasn’t an athletics track in sight.

So construction got underway in 1925 and was built in a record time of just 13 months, opening in the following September.

While AC Milan originally owned the ground, rivals Inter, who played in the Arena Civica across the city, later became tenants in 1947 and the two teams have shared the stadium ever since. 

Decades after its inauguration, development plans for the San Siro got underway with a second extension of the stadium taking it’s capacity from 50,000 to a staggering 150,000 visitors by 1955. However, for security reasons, the capacity was reduced to 60,000 seats and 25,000 standing as a result.

The San Siro remained untouched until the late 1980s when it’s last major renovation was sanctioned in time for the 1990 FIFA World Cup. The San Siro needed to be modernised, which saw a roof added over all four stands.

The stadium’s distinctive look now makes it one of the most recognisable grounds in the world but there are plans to finally replace the stadium with a new San Siro. While visually stunning, the stadium is in need of a face lift and both AC and Inter want to bring the stadium into the modern era, matching their rivals when it comes to stadia. 

The San Siro, pictured some time in the 1920s, took inspiration from English stadiums at the time with its four separate stands

Then-AC Milan president, Piero Pirelli, loved English football and wanted a stadium that paid homage to this

A large crowd turns out for a football match inside the San Siro in the 1950s, with the structure most of a bowl-shape

The stunning architecture on the outside of the stadium allowed spectators to reach all levels of the ground with ease

Development plans got underway in the late 1940s with a second extension of the stadium increasing its capacity

While AC Milan originally owned the ground, Inter later became tenants in 1947 and they’ve shared the stadium ever since 

Thousands of fans attend the Milan derby in 1959, with AC and Inter fans watching on in their shared home

Hundreds of lights light up the San Siro making it a visual treat for all those lucky enough to attend the grand stadium

An aerial view shows off the work done on the stadium after the 1950s before its last major renovation decades later

The San Siro was also used for concerts, with fans waiting to see Bob Marley live at the ground in June 1980

It remained untouched until the 1980s when it’s last major renovation was sanctioned in time for the 1990 World Cup

The San Siro needed to be modernised, which saw a roof added over the stands in time for the FIFA showpiece

Flowers are plastered over the stadium during the opening ceremony of the 1990 FIFA World Cup in Italy 

The red of AC Milan floods the stadium whenever the team plays its home matches at the San Siro

While Inter Milan have the colour blue inside the San Siro to represent them on a matchday if they are the home team

The iconic stadium is lit up on a match day during a Champions League match between AC Milan and Liverpool this month

The San Siro can welcome up to 80,000 fans on a matchday but both AC Milan and Inter are planning to rebuild the ground

Santiago Bernabeu

Real Madrid

Home to Real Madrid, the Santiago Bernabeu rivals the Nou Camp as one of the biggest and best stadiums in Spain and all of Europe.

Following its construction in 1947, the world famous Los Blancos finally had a place to call home having spent their early years at Campo De O’Donnell, before then moving on to the larger Campo de Chamartin in 1924.

However, having already outgrown Charmartin, then-club president and former Real Madrid star Santiago Bernabeu, who the stadium is named after, decided his club needed a 100,000-seater stadium fit for their stature.

On the same site as Chamartin, construction began on the Bernabeu in 1945 before it was officially opened two years later, with it initially named Nuevo Estadio Chamartin before being renamed after Bernabeu eight years later.

At the time of its opening, the Bernabeu only featured two uncovered tiers but had a capacity of 75,000 with plenty of room to grow in the future. In 1954, a third tier was added, welcoming a further 50,000 spectators on a matchday, already making it a mammoth stadium where football could be played.

However, the Bernabeu was left untouched until the 1970s, with club officials planning on building a new home elsewhere in the city given how the ground was visibly ageing.

But with the 1982 World Cup round the corner, club officials scrapped plans of a move and instead decided to renovate the ground, adding a roof to the ground while adding more seats, decreasing the capacity to 90,000.

More renovation in the early 1990s and 2000s saw the Bernabeu transform into the stadium we see today but further upgrades are on the horizon.

Like the Nou Camp, Real Madrid are planning to renovate the Bernabeu and turn it into a state-of-the-art ground in the coming years, with construction already underway. 

The Santiago Bernabeu opened in 1947 on the site of Real Madrid’s former ground, the Campo de Chamartin

In the mid-1950s, a third tier was added to the Bernabeu, which would see Real host around 125,000 spectators

Eintracht Braunschweig pose for a team picture at the Bernabeu prior to their friendly against Real Madrid in August 1977

Renovation on the ground continued over the years, but plans to leave the ground in the 1970s nearly came to fruition 

However, Real Madrid decided to stay put and renovate their stadium in time for the 1982 World Cup, where they added a roof

The Santiago Bernabeu is one of the world’s most famous stadiums and can welcome 81,000 supporters on a matchday

Renovation work to further modernise the stadium is already underway, after a £443million project was given the green light

The capacity will be increased by another 4,000 with the addition of an extra tier, while a new roof is to be installed






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