MILAN AND THE SAN SIRO
If you were asked to draw up a list of the 10 clubs that left the biggest mark on the game of football in the 20th century it would be near impossible to argue against the inclusion of AC Milan.
The club, founded 121 years ago today by two Englishmen by the name of Herbert Kilpin and Alfred Edwards, has grown from its humble origins to one of football's great superpowers. And for 94 years it is a club that has called one place home, the peerless San Siro stadium.
Kilpin and Edwards side (1901)
It could be argued that Milan is a club that has been defined by trios.
The club hit its peak under the reign of the demonstratively powerful Silvio Berlusconi and the iconic Dutch trio of Gullit, Rijkaard and Van Basten, figureheads of the imperious side that graced the hallowed turf of the San Siro in the late 80’s and early 90’s. The club’s European pedigree, however, was built on foundations laid way back to the 50’s and with the side led by the legendary forward line of Gre-No-Li. While the great Milan side spearheaded by the legendary trio of Swedes couldn’t dislodge the Real Madrid of Di Stefano and Puskas on the European stage, their period of domestic dominance set Milan up to claim their first European title in 1962. A feat they would repeat no less than six times in the next four decades.
While Milan’s iconic sides have come and gone, the legendary arena that has borne witness to some of the greatest nights in European football history has remained for close to 100 years.
Given the side's history it is perhaps fitting that the San Siro itself would have had something of a trio of identities, and a trio of architects who have stamped their own identity upon the iconic stadium.
The original San Siro
Architects: Alberto Cugini, Ulisse Stacchini (1926)
The original San Siro was the brainchild of Milan chairman Piero Pirelli, who had pushed hard for the construction of a new stadium in the early 20’s. Crucially he viewed the stadium as to be solely for footballing use, and at a time when most stadia in Italy incorporated a running track he did away with this convention. It’s an innovation that has certainly aged well. When first constructed the San Siro bore an almost English style four stand design and a capacity of 35,000 with a single covered stand.
As a side note, it’s fitting that the first game ever played at the ground was between Milan and great rivals and future co-tenants Inter Milan.
Construction work is carried out on the original San Siro
A match being played showcasing the original four stand design (1930’s)
Conversion to a bowl style stadia
Architects: Perlasca (1935) Update: Ronca & Calzolari (1955)
Within a decade it was decided a capacity upgrade was required and thus connecting curved corner stands were added to the design. This created a decidedly more European style curved bowl design that was improved upon drastically in the 50’s when a second tier was added to the bowl structure and 19 spectacular spiralling ramps, each 200 metres long, wrapped around the stadium and gave access to the upper tier.
The San Siro goes futuristic
Architects: Ragazzi and Hoffer (1990)
The final facelift the stadium received was in preparation for the 1990 World Cup. The stadium was by this point going under the official name of the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, having been renamed in 1980 in honour of the legendary Milan and Inter forward who had passed the year prior. It would be during this refit that the stadium was converted into the futuristic, muscular stadium we know today. The renovation saw the ground receive yet another tier on top of the 30’s and 50’s constructions as well as a roof that would cover all seating areas. Eleven striking concrete towers were also added in order to both support the weight of the new tier and roof structures as well as provide access to the new upper tier of the stadium.
The 11 cylindrical towers under construction (late 80’s)
The imposing steel roof structures provide both form and function
The stadium hosts the opening ceremony of the 1990 World Cup
A final quirk of the redesign is the captivating optical illusion created by the 11 spiralling cylinders. When fans begin to spill out of the upper tiers after the final whistle it’s hard not to look upon the walkways and think that the entire structure is rotating.
Source: YouTube • Credit: Footballia
The future of the San Siro
Remarkably, despite being both the scene of some of European football’s greatest ever nights and, at least in appearance, the continent’s most iconic stadium, the Italian heritage authority concluded earlier this year that the San Siro has cultural interest, paving the way for its probable demolition.
While many quite reasonably see the need for refurbishment and modernisation, it’s a hard verdict to stomach. There are very few stadiums anywhere in world football that have a soul like the San Siro, nearly a hundred years of hopes, dreams and disappointment echo around the place. It is a stadium that, like the city where it lies, has quite literally grown with its inhabitants.
If progress must relentlessly march on, however, at least we can take heart that it will not really be gone. For it is a venue that has hosted not just countless memorable domestic fixtures but also no fewer than nine World Cup matches and eight major European club finals. It’s these memories that mean the historic stadium will live on in the hearts of not just hundreds of thousands of Milanese but of countless more fans of the game around the world, through tales passed down through generations and stories and reminiscences told late into evenings.
There is still undoubtedly some uncertainty around the project but in many ways it does seem that the end is drawing near for the San Siro. If that is to be the case then I can only implore that anyone who has not yet made their own memories in one of football's great theatres to do so before time runs out. There’s very few places on earth quite like it.
In Milan, in Europe, everywhere...
Written by Andy Gallagher