I’ve gone a little bit stadium mad on this channel over the last month or so. We’ve had a then and now video on the first 7 World Cup final stadiums, a look at 7 fascinating abandoned stadiums and seven – or fourteen I guess – of the stadiums located closest together from across the globe.
I also did a video on seven tiny football clubs with enormous stadiums, and the somewhat inevitable top comment on that video was a request for the opposite… that is to say, seven much larger clubs with stadiums probably not big enough.
I should point out, these aren’t all super clubs playing in large but not enormous stadiums, and neither are they seven mid-sized clubs playing out of garden sheds, it’s a mixture of the two. There are many more that I could have mentioned, but I’ll give quick honourable mentions to Everton and Eibar. Everton’s Goodison Park isn’t tiny, with a capacity of over 39,000, but the Toffees could fill a bigger one and there is a general feel on Merseyside that the club needs to update its infrastructure in order to push on on the pitch. Eibar don’t actually sell out their stadium every week, hence why they missed out, but a 7,000 capacity stadium for a club that finished 12th in La Liga is just absurd, so they deserve an honourable mention.
Here are my 7 football clubs who need bigger stadiums:
7. Bayer Leverkusen
Fan culture is alive and well in Germany, and the Bundesliga has the highest average attendance figures of any league in world football, and is second only to the NFL when it comes to world sport. The average gate of a match in Germany’s top flight is over 44,000, but one club who fall significantly below that average are Bayer Leverkusen. That’s not due to a lack of appetite for football in the region, but simply a result of the BayArena having a maximum capacity of just 30,210.
That isn’t tiny by any means, but it is roughly the same as Hoffenheim – who are actually a village team – and it is smaller than the likes of Mainz and five stadiums in the Bundesliga 2. What’s more, Leverkusen are a side with ambitions to challenge the established top brass of the German game, having finished fourth last season, meaning they’re in the Champions League this season.
Five-time Bundesliga runners-up since 1996 and Champions League finalists in 2002, Leverkusen are an established Bundesliga side who haven’t been relegated since the 1970’s. The BayArena has had multiple renovations and expansions over the years, having had an original capacity of 20,000, but the city and club decided against expanding to over 40,000 in order to host games at the 2006 World Cup. The city of Leverkusen itself isn’t enormous, but one suspects the appetite is there for a 40,000 seater venue now.
6. AFC Bournemouth
Whilst Eibar, the club with the smallest stadium in La Liga miss out on this seven, the club with the smallest stadium in the Premier League do not. That is because Bournemouth’s Dean Court, or the Vitality Stadium for sponsorship reasons, is actually maxed out in terms of capacity on a regular basis. Dean Court has a maximum capacity of 11,329, which is almost half the second smallest stadium in the division, it is smaller than 23 of the 24 stadiums in the Championship, 15 of the 24 stadiums in League One, 6 of the 24 in League Two and even a couple of non-league grounds.
There’s a good reason for all that, and that is because Bournemouth have historically lingered in the third and fourth tiers of English football. Dean Court originally opened in 1910, but the ground was completely rebuilt becoming essentially a new stadium in 2001. Bournemouth were struggling in what is now League One at the time, and the three-sided venue reopened with a capacity of 9,600.
The Cherries have of course made a rapid ascent through the divisions under Eddie Howe, and a fourth stand taking the capacity up to 11,329 was added following promotion to the Championship. Demand at the stadium still far outweighs capacity, and following failed negotiations attempting to buy the stadium so they could renovate or rebuild it again, the club are now reportedly looking for a new site in which to build a larger home for themselves.
5. AFC Wimbledon
I ought to add a little side-note to AFC Wimbledon, who come in fifth in this seven, and that is to point out that they will actually be moving stadiums in the imminent future. Nevertheless, right now the League One side play at Kingsmeadow in Norbiton, which has a capacity of fewer than 5,000, with just 2,265 seats. That means Wimbledon have the smallest stadium not just in League One, but actually in the entire Football League.
That’s particularly troublesome for the club since they actually enjoy pretty decent support. No stadium in League One has a higher percentage of their capacity occupied in terms of average attendance, with the Dons averaging over 4,300 fans at home games, with the away end not always sold out. AFC Wimbledon have been playing at Kingsmeadow since their formation as a phoenix club in 2002, but they plan on returning to a rebuilt Plough Lane for 2020-21.
New Plough Lane will occupy the site of the old Plough Lane, which had a capacity of almost 16,000. The new ground will only be able to accomodate 9,000 fans initially, with one permanent stand housing 4,500 fans, and three temporary ones accommodating the other half. The ambitious project will see Wimbledon return to their spiritual home in a ground more fitting of their league standing, and it will also have the potential to be expanded well beyond the initial 9,000 capacity.
I have said it before and I will say it again, I hate to appear overly reactionary on this channel, and this inclusion could be perceived as being just that. For those of you who don’t know, Famalicão are a relatively small Portuguese football club located in the district of Braga. Having won promotion from the LigaPro last season, they have taken the Portuguese Primeira Liga by storm in their first top flight campaign since 1994. They have won seven of their first nine games, losing only once, a record which puts them third in the Primeira Liga table, level on points with Porto and eight points ahead of Sporting.
Famalicão’s fine form means that the club is playing in front of packed out crowds every week, but that would be a little bit more impressive if their stadium didn’t only hold 5,307 spectators. There are actually a fair few small stadia in the Primeira Liga, Portugal is a country of just 10 million people after all, but Famalicão stand out as the club with far more demand than their Estadio Municipal 22 de Junho can accommodate.
The stadium opened in 1952, and is virtually untouched since its opening game. Famalicão are now owned by the Quantum Pacific Group though, who own 32% of Atletico Madrid, and expansion works are planned for early 2020. Following the renovations, Famalicão’s ground is expected to see a rise in capacity to around 7,000, which hardly makes it a mega-stadium, but is a little more suitable.
Chelsea FC have been looking to move into a new stadium for as long as I can remember, and indeed long before I was born. Few clubs are as tied to their homes as Chelsea are to Stamford Bridge for a couple of reasons. The primary one, perhaps, is the fact that most clubs are founded and then look for somewhere to play. Chelsea, meanwhile, was founded due to Stamford Bridge and so that the stadium would have a permanent occupant. The team came close to actually being called Stamford Bridge FC. Chelsea have played at Stamford Bridge ever since their formation in 1905.
Nonetheless, in the 1970’s it was decided that a new, modern 50,000-seater stadium was required for the ambitious West Londoners. The renovations would almost bankrupt the club, and ended up almost costing them a stadium at all when Stamford Bridge had to be sold to developers to avoid the club’s financial collapse. The main road and railway lines that surround the ground make major renovations and expansions incredibly difficult, and Roman Abramovich began seriously searching for alternative sites to build a new ground around the turn of the decade.
Earls Court Exhibition Centre, Battersea Power Station and the Chelsea Barracks were all cited as possible locations, and Chelsea lost a bidding war for Battersea Power Station in 2012. In late-2016, early-2017, plans returned to redeveloping the Bridge, but these were put on hold indefinitely in early 2018, supposedly due to the unfavourable investment climate. Roman Abramovich’s permanent residence is now in Israel, with the Russian billionaire seemingly having taken a slight step back from the club, and any hopes of a new move for Chelsea don’t seem imminent. Meanwhile, their London rivals Arsenal and Tottenham have glittering state-of-the-art 60,000 seater homes.
2. Viktoria Plzen
Viktoria Plzen are one of those teams whose name crops up in the Champions League and Europa League most seasons, typically going out of both competitions pretty early on, and then you forget about them for the next 12 months. Well we’re not forgetting about them any longer, as HITC Sevens boldly declares… Viktoria Plzen, you deserve a bigger ground.
Founded in 1911, Plzen are the third most successful club in the Czech Republic, trailing only Sparta and Slavia Prague. They have been playing at the Doosan Arena since 1953, with the ground having seen renovations in both 2003 and 2011. The Doosan Arena has a current capacity of 11,700, making it only the sixth largest stadium in the Czech First League. That is despite the fact Plzen have won five of the last nine Czech First League titles, only finishing outside of the top two once, back in 2012.
The Doosan Arena does have some pretty quirky features, such as the dugouts which are made to look like beer cans for sponsorship reasons, and it is a very pretty little stadium. However, Plzen are a big club by Czech standards, they could often get more than 11,700 fans for a big game league or European game, and they really ought to expand it.
There has long been a stadium problem in Italy, with a string of clubs playing in once great but now crumbling homes. Juventus, who are the biggest and most successful club in Italy, took the decision to move into a modern stadium faster than most. Juve played at the 69,000 capacity Stadio delle Alpi from 1990 to 2006, and then at the 30,000 capacity Stadio Olimpico from 2006 to 2011.
It was in 2011 that Juventus moved into their new home, the Juventus Stadium – now known as the Allianz Stadium – which was built on the site of the Stadio delle Alpi. Juve chose not to replicate the 70,000-seater delle Alpi with their new ground, having averaged just 36,000 fans a game during their 16 years there, and instead built a much smaller venue with a capacity of just 41,000.
The thinking was actually pretty simple. There are lots of crumbling concrete bowls with athletics tracks around them in Italy that are half-full, if that, most weekends. Juve wanted a packed out, more modern stadium with fans close to the pitch, something more akin to your average Bundesliga ground. It was a smart idea, and to a large extent it has worked. The delle Alpi wasn’t a joyous venue to visit, and the Allianz Stadium is much more welcoming. It is impossible not to look at Juventus, a club believed to have 80 million supporters around the globe, and not feel as though 41,000 is too small for a club of that size. Juve have dominated the last decade of Italian football, they’ve reached multiple Champions League finals and they have Cristiano Ronaldo on their books, yet their stadium is smaller than Sunderland’s in the third tier of English football. It just seems a bit wrong. Juve, we like what you’ve done, but stop charging €160 a ticket, make it a bit bigger and pack the place out every game.