Serie A: Top 5 Stadium Atmospheres in Italy

Sam LoprestiFeatured ColumnistAugust 23, 2013

Serie A: Top 5 Stadium Atmospheres in Italy

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    Stadiums have recently been a topic of conversation in Italian soccer.

    In a press conference reported on by ESPNFC before last week's international friendly between Italy and Argentina, Roma midfielder Daniele De Rossi spoke about the state of the Italian game as compared to other countries in Europe.  

    He first mentioned the acrimony between rival fans as the biggest reason the Italian game has fallen from its perch as the world's best league, but then went on to say, "Italian football is a long way behind compared to England, Spain and Germany on this subject, and also in terms of stadia...and the pitches."

    De Rossi is right to decry the stadium situation in Italy.  Most Italian stadia are decades old and in desperate need of renovation or replacement.  Another problem is that, with a lone exception—one we'll get to presently—they are all owned by the municipalities in which they are located, depriving the clubs of much-needed revenue.

    Despite their age, some of the stadiums in the Serie A are renowned for having a great matchday atmosphere.

    Make your home ground your fortress goes the adage, and the fans in these five stadia do just that for their favorite clubs.

Stadio Luigi Ferraris

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    Location: Genoa

    Home Clubs: Genoa, Sampdoria

    Opened: 1911 (renovated 1990)

    Capacity: 36,599

    The oldest stadium on this list, the fans who've filled this stadium the last few years haven't had much to be happy about the last few years, but that hasn't dimmed their intensity.

    Sampdoria was a Champions League contender as late as 2010, but they were relegated two years ago and had to claw their way back to the top flight through the playoffs the next year.  Genoa has battled relegation for the last two seasons.

    Those struggles haven't dampened the fans' spirits—although it has awakened their anger on occasion.  Two seasons ago Genoa fans threatened to storm the field midway through the game in protest of the grifone's poor performance and demanded the players give up their shirts.  The impassioned plea of Giuseppe Sculli allowed the match to continue.

    As for Samp, their fans were treated to a final-day victory against Juventus and figure to be highly charged for the champions' return to the Ferraris on opening day Saturday.

    Despite the lack of success for the two teams, the intensity has never dimmed, and the Genovese clubs continue to enjoy some of the best support in the league.

Stadio Olimpico

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    Location: Rome

    Home Clubs: Lazio, Roma

    Opened: 1953 (renovated 1990, 2007)

    Capacity: 72,698

    Construction on the capital's showpiece stadium started in 1928 under Mussolini.  Its first tier was completed four years later, but construction was halted by World War II and not resumed until 1950.

    When the stadium opened in May of 1953 with an international friendly between Italy and Hungary, it could hold more than 100,000 people.

    The stadium hosted the 1950 Summer Olympics—hence the name—and hosted a pair of European Championships.  But when Italy was awarded the 1990 World Cup, it was immediately apparent that the stadium needed an upgrade.

    Originally the plan was a simple renovation, but eventually the stadium was completely stripped down and an essentially new stadium was built in its place.

    Another extensive refurbishment was done in 2007 to bring the stadium up to UEFA category four standards, ensuring that the ground—which has hosted four European Cup/Champions League finals—will be eligible to host UEFA's showpiece in the future.

    The Stadio Olimpico is the second-largest stadium in the Serie A, and both Lazio and Roma's fans make it a difficult place for opponents to visit.  The stadium's running track does keep the fans at a distance from the field, so the effect is not quite what it is at soccer-specific stadiums that we'll see higher on this list, but they still cheer their hearts out in the broad curvas.

    It's those sections that have recently given the stadium a less than flattering reputation the last year or so.  Italian authorities have recently closed the stadium's notorious curva nord for the first Serie A match of the season after Lazio fans directed racist chants at Juventus players during Sunday's Supercoppa.  Last year a string of racist incidents culminated in UEFA ordering the team to play a pair of games behind closed doors.

    Despite those problems, the Olimpico continues to rock every weekend, and the atmosphere on derby day between Roma and Lazio is truly a sight to behold.

Stadio San Paolo

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    Location: Naples

    Home Club: Napoli

    Opened: 1959 (renovated 1990)

    Capacity: 60,240

    There are few places more difficult to play in as a visiting team than the San Paolo.

    Even after the team was demoted to the third tier following bankruptcy in 2005-06, Napoli fans filled Italy's third-largest stadium and set a Serie C1 (now Lega Pro) attendance record.

    The stadium was built after the team's original home, the Stadio Partenopeo, was destroyed in air raids during the Second World War.  Napoli hosted Juventus in its first game, winning 2-1.

    The stadium was modernized before the 1980 European Championships and extensively renovated in advance of the 1990 World Cup, where it hosted a semifinal match between hosts Italy and the country of their beloved Diego Maradona, Argentina.  Maradona called on the fans of his club to support him rather than their homeland—but although they saluted their hero the Neapolitans politely declined.

    The San Paolo has truly been a fortress for Napoli, especially over the last three years of the Cavani/Mazzari era.  Last season Napoli had a 14-4-1 (W-D-L) record at home with a goal difference of plus-26.  In the last three years they've lost only eight times on their home ground.

    The fans are rabid, but the stadium itself is in dire straights.  The club failed to maintain it after the World Cup, mostly due to its financial problems and lack of on-field success.  Improvements have been made in recent times as the success of the team has made them eligible for European competition, but the stadium is still in disrepair, and some sections have been roped off.  Napoli have been in the market to either build a new stadium or extensively renovate the San Paolo.

    If the partenopei do end up leaving it will be a sad end to a great stadium, but the atmosphere is likely to carry over to any new home.

Juventus Stadium

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    Location: Turin

    Home Club: Juventus

    Opened: 2011

    Capacity: 41,000

    Andrea Agnelli's new palace may revolutionize the way Italian clubs regard their grounds.

    Built on the footprint of the old Stadio delle Alpi, the Juventus Stadium is everything that the bianconeri's old home wasn't.

    The delle Alpi's biggest problem was its running track.  Ironically never used for an athletics competition, the track separated the fans from the field and caused visibility problems for fans.  Its location on the outskirts of town also made it inconvenient to get to.  The stadium was unpopular and was rarely full on game day.

    At the Juventus Stadium the first row of seats is a mere 49 meters from the playing surface, and there's nary a bad view in the house.  Improvements in public transportation have solved the problem of getting to the ground—and fans have filled the place.

    Juventus built the stadium to mimic the feel of stadiums like England's Stamford Bridge and Germany's Allianz Arena, and they have succeeded in creating an atmosphere that is matched by few other Italian clubs.  Juventus has fed off their fans to the tune of 27 wins in 38 home league games to only two losses, both coming last year.

    What may be the most important thing about the Juventus Stadium is that it is owned by the club.  That means Juve can reap all the revenue from stadium concessions and do not need to pay a municipality rent for the stadium's use.  

    That extra revenue has allowed Juve to create a large gap between themselves and the rest of the Serie A.  Their example has inspired other clubs to build their own grounds.  Roma has announced a location for a new stadium of their own, and you can expect other teams to follow suit.

    The revolutionary ground in Turin has energized a fanbase after the team's back-to-back seventh-place finishes and become one of the toughest places to play in Italy.  Other teams will hope that the same will happen for them.

San Siro

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    Location: Milan

    Home Clubs: Milan, Inter

    Opened: 1926 (renovated 1939, 1955, 1990)

    Capacity: 80,018

    Officially known as the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, the San Siro is Italy's largest stadium and a symbol of the Italian game.  Apart from playing host to two of the country's most successful clubs—AC Milan and Inter—the stadium has been used for many high-profile international matches for the Azzurri and is a two-time World Cup host.

    The stands at the San Siro are right up against the playing field, resulting in a truly stunning experience for fans.  The devotion to which supporters of both Milan and Inter adds to that experience, and it makes the San Siro a truly incredible place to play.

    The atmosphere is such that FIGC often selects it to host its most important qualifiers.  Most recently the Azzurri welcomed a Danish squad fresh off a strong performance at Euro 2012 to Milan for what would likely be their toughest home match on the road to next year's World Cup.

    The stadium hosted games at the 1934 and 1990 World Cups as well as the 1980 European Championship.  At the club level the European Cup/Champions League final has been contested in Milan three times, most recently in 2001.

    But if you really want to see a crazy atmosphere, go to the San Siro on a day the derby della madonnina is being played.

    Watching the two bitter city rivals—and their fans—square off is one of the most intense experiences in world soccer.  There is an electricity in the air that is hard to replicate in any sport.