Greatest Sports Arenas of the World and why they're Fan Favorites

Table of content

  1. Introduction (The importance of sport in our lives and the importance of arenas to the sport itself)
  2. Football
  3. Formula 1
  4. Tennis
  5. Cricket
  6. Memories for a lifetime (stories of how people’s lives have been impacted by live sporting events)

Introduction

There is something about sports that simply brings out the best in us. Excellence and competition are two of sports' most enduring contributions to the human race. Not just participation, but even viewing sports is a passionate activity. Most of us have a favorite team or player we follow and watching a match on television can often become a competitive activity. How often have we lorded over our chums, when the team we support has trumped their favorites?

Now transpose the same feeling, times a million, and you have the thrill and sheer excitement of watching your favorite sporting event live, in the moment, at the stadium. From time immemorial, live sporting events have dominated the psyche of civilizations the world over. The Romans with their massive stadiums for gladiatorial contests were among the world's first sporting culture. Chariot races were incredibly popular in ancient Egypt and wrestling had a cult following in India.

The arenas have now been replaced with stadia, the chariots by race cars and the wrestlers by cricketers, footballers and every conceivable type of sporting hero. The electricity and ambience of a live sporting event though remains unchanged. Such is the lure of watching a sporting event live, that fans make great journeys, akin to pilgrimages, to their favorite sporting arenas to catch a glimpse of their heroes in the flesh. What they come away with are epic stories and memories that stay with them for life.

Watching a sporting event live can have a tremendous impact on our psyche. In the words of Italian footballer Giuseppe Rossi, “watching Italia 90 really inspired me. The electricity of the entire tournament forged in me the need to be a footballer, we had our shares of heartbreaks, no doubt and losing to Argentina in the semi-finals was devastating. But that was where the player in me was born.” Similar things have been said by many greats of the game. For all you know, you sitting and cheering your favorite team, could easily result in you playing for it someday!

One of the biggest draws for a sports fan to a live event, other than the spectacular ambience is the stadium itself. And some of the world’s greatest arenas are well worth the price of admission. Whether, it is Manchester United’s home at Old Trafford (also known as the ‘Theatre of Dreams’) or that fantastic cricket ground we all know and love called Eden Gardens, sports fans will tell you that it is these venues that make the sport what it is!

Let us then take a look at some of the world’s most renowned sporting venues and try and decode why they are so special.

Football

An integral part of what makes football the world’s most popular sport, other than the players, are the incredible arenas the encounters are staged in. Some of these arenas have become synonymous with incredible tales of triumph, achievement and inspiration. Let us then take a moment to acknowledge the great venues of the most watched games in the world.

  • Old Trafford
  • Location: Manchester, England
  • Capacity: nearly 80,000

If you’re a football fan, Old Trafford is definitely on your bucket list of places to visit. England’s second largest stadium and home to the Manchester United Football Club, Old Trafford, most certainly, has some tales to tell. From being a temporary bunker in the World War II to seeing the emergence of Manchester United as the most dominant force in English football, this stadium has seen it all. Nicknamed the ‘Theatre of Dreams’ by Sir Bobby Charlton (one of the most venerable names in football), catching a football match in this stadium is one experience fans will never forget. The chants of “Glory glory Man United” echo through the arena, the action on the pitch seems like it is orchestrated to the beats and cries of the supporters and the trounces and triumphs of the home team seem to be willed by the prayers and exclamations of the supporters. Truly an amazing experience and an awesome sight to behold!

  • Camp Nou
  • Location: Barcelona, Spain
  • Capacity: nearly 100,000
Camp Nou

In the heart of the Basque capital and one of the world’s most ‘livable’ cities, Barcelona, is a venue that houses one of football’s most awe inspiring teams, the Futball Club Barcelona more popularly known as Barça. Camp Nou, its home is revered by every football fan, simply because of the grandeur and spectacle that is produced by the wizards of the game on this hallowed strip. From Ronaldinho and Rivaldo to the more contemporary Lionel Messi, Neymar and Iniesta, some of the most mesmeric players the world has ever seen, have at some point in time, called this stadium home. A massive stadium, a great atmosphere and of course, a pilgrimage for worshippers of the game, make Camp Nou another must visit for any sport fan.

  • Santiago Bernabeu
  • Location: Madrid, Spain
  • Capacity: 85,500
Santiago Bernabeu

Home to the most dominant football team in Europe, 10 time champions Real Madrid, the Santiago Bernabeu, is definitely one of the world’s most hallowed football venues. According to die hard Galacticos fans, a trip to the Bernabeu is akin to a pilgrimage. And why not? Imagine near 86,000 fans screaming their support for their team, the brass drums pounding, the chants of “Hala Madrid” echoing through the air and of course, a match being played at a frenetic pace; after all isn’t that just a football lover’s version of paradise. And if football is a religion, the Bernabeu would definitely rank high in the minds of the faithful as a spot of veneration and adoration.

  • Allianz Arena
  • Location: Munich, Germany
  • Capacity: approximately 75,500

An important stop on our tour of the homes of football is the ‘Futbol Stadium Munchen’ or the Allianz Arena, home to German powerhouses Bayern Munich. This is one stadium that really makes your jaw drop because it is so constructed that you get sweeping views of the pitch from wherever you are seated. Needless to say then, that even the upper tiers of this stadium are engineered such that an undisturbed view for every single fan is assured. A match between Bayern and any other opposition, be it domestic or international, is a true treat, simply due to the sheer magnificence and atmosphere of this arena, which is most certainly why it makes it to the list of our greatest stadiums in the world!

Maracana

If there is one ground that is full of drama, atmosphere, electric excitement and of course goals galore it is the Maracana. Most of you will remember it from its rather swanky, nouveau avatar, from the recently concluded FIFA World Cup in Brazil. Sure, its capacity isn’t what it used to be in the 1950s, when it held nearly 120,000 supporters for a match against Uruguay, but this pitch has been the spiritual home of generations of Brazilian football’s most famous stars, including Pele, Socrates, Dunga, Ronaldo and Ronaldinho. Even if only for this reason, this is definitely a must visit for any football fan! The atmosphere of this ground can only be described as an absolute Salsa party and with fans from both sides chanting, singing and hailing their club or national sides, it is truly a spectacle to behold.

Formula One

If there is one sport that can claim to push the logical bounds of human endurance, it is Formula One or F1 as it is commonly called. Conceived to be the ultimate marriage between man and machine, F1 races are spectacles that will leave even the most brave-hearted individuals awestruck and spellbound. A petrolheads fantasy, F1 is one of those sports that have to be seen (and heard!) to be believed. The courses add a unique dimension to this sport as no two courses are ever the same. Let us take a look at some of the sport’s most glorious tracks.

Italy is the world’s leading maker of supercars with brands like Ferrari, Lamborghini, Zonda and Bugatti calling it home. Logically then one of the world’s best F1 tracks needs be there. While purists may contend that the notorious Imola was the premier track of its time, the fact is that Monza has taken the high speed and challenges of its predecessor and has combined it with even more thrills to become the world’s preeminent F1 track.

Autodromo Nazionale Monza
  • Silverstone Circuit
  • Location: partly in Northamptonshire, and Buckinghamshire, England
  • Capacity: nearly 150,000
  • Event: Formula 1 British Grand Prix

Britain has produced some of F1’s most legendary drivers, like Nigel Mansell, Damon Hill, Jenson Button and several others. Once home to the world’s most sought after carmakers it is considered one of the birthplaces of F1. And with a course like Silverstone, the first race track of the modern day F1 sport, the legendary quality of the drivers is no coincidence. Talked of as one of F1’s most challenging circuits, with its hairpin bends and chicanes, watching a race at Silverstone is definitely a must-do for the diehard F1 fan.

Maracana

Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace, also known as Interlagos (between two lakes) is one of F1’s most dramatic and challenging tracks for a driver. This also makes it an interesting and immersive viewing experience for the F1 fan. Once home to driving legends Ayrton Senna and Rubens Barrichello, this track adds a definite Brazilian vibe to the F1 season, with its exciting corners, inducing straights and hairpin bends. If that isn’t incentive enough to attend the race, there’s always the beautiful city of Sao Paolo to factor in, to help sway your decision.

While technically not a circuit, this piece of asphalt in the heart of arguably the world’s most glamorous city, is a must visit, as it is one of the world’s best F1 circuits. Imagine sweeping views of the city and a complete circumnavigation of the world famous marina; this is the kind of stuff that a dream race is made of. Now imagine yourself rubbing shoulders with the crème-de-la-crème of high society, watching a race here… enough said!

Belgium is world renowned for its chocolates, beer and Flemish paintings. SPA Autobahn though is what it is starting to be noted for. One of the world’s oldest tracks, this particular one has been in every F1 season since the past 20 years. This is one scenic track, owing to its location in the Ardennes forest. Known for its breakneck speeds and hairpin bends, the SPA circuit in Belgium rounds off our look at the world’s best F1 tracks.

Tennis

Tennis has gained fame as a sport of endurance, precision and willpower. But that wasn’t always the case. It was once reviled as a sign of the decadent, decaying royalty. Tennis clubs were looked at as the ultimate signs of exclusion and the sport had a particularly bad reputation. But post the Russian Revolution in the 1920s and the institution of clubs and what is known as the Open Era in competitive tennis, it has become a more accessible sport to the masses. The introduction of the Davis Cup and the Hopman Cup has also brought to the otherwise individualistic sport, a sense of national honor and team spirit.

Melbourne Park: Australian Open

Home to the first grand slam of the year is this imposing artificial turf court that has seen in recent times the emergence of superstars like Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Li Na. Typically Aussie in its style, the Rod Laver Arena at Melbourne Park is a theatre of excellence with a retractable sun roof, assuring players and the crowd of a dry, waterproof playing and viewing experience. The Australian Open is often called the toughest opener of the year’s tour, because of the incredible January heat. But fans needn’t worry about a heatstroke, because of the ample shade provided by the thoughtful designers of the stadium. A perfect start to the year for a tennis fan would be to catch a match, or better still the entire tournament live!

Roland Garros: French Open

Ah Paris! The eternal, romantic city and home to the only clay court Grand Slam in tennis. Roland Garros has been associated with the French Open and the dominance of continental, especially Spanish players at the event. It would be any tennis fan’s dream to watch the likes of Nadal, Ferrer, Federer and Djokovic battle it out to win the crown on Roland Gaross’ brilliant red clay, officially known as terre battue (French for “beaten earth”). A test of a player’s fortitude, skill and patience, the clay courts of the French Open are the ultimate showcase of individual brilliance. And what’s more it’s Paris, so if it isn’t the tennis that would interest your partner, there would always be the lure of Gay Paree to look forward to. With its beautiful archways, parks, cafes and romance galore, Paris in itself is a destination worth visiting, throw in a couple of weeks of tennis, and you’ll think that you’ve ended up in heaven!

The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club:  The Championship, Wimbledon

Easily the most prestigious, oldest and a championship steeped in traditions, Wimbledon is where it’s at. As both players and fans, will tell you, that even among its equals (the other three Grand Slams), Wimbledon is something different altogether. Whether it is the ceremony of introducing the players, the tradition of wearing all white clothes or even the fact that you are almost always in the presence of royalty, the atmosphere of restrained enthusiasm, is not a dampener to the overall, hallowed ambience of the Championships. And if you’re not much of a purist, you could always hang out on the lush mounds in the complex, chill out with a beverage or relish strawberries and cream, with your ladylove. Wimbledon will definitely leave you entranced, either with its traditions and old world-sy charm, or with the best possible tennis you will watch anywhere in the world.

  • USTA Billie Jean King Tennis Centre
  • Location: New York, United States of America
  • Event: The US Open

The last Grand Slam of the year is undoubtedly also in the most amped up city in the world. Can you imagine for an instant, a fortnight of breakneck tennis, in the city that never sleeps? Little wonder then that New York and the US Open are such a wonderful fit. Taking in the sights of the ‘world’s greatest city’ and enjoying the top notch tennis action is definitely on any event traveler’s bucket list. And there’s a way you can incentivize the trip for your significant other by promising them an evening of shopping at one of the several exclusive stores in the city, or better still a musical on Broadway … provided you can pull yourself away from the action on the courts!

Sure this tournament is not one of the four Grand Slams, but it is fast growing to be an important, lucrative and highly competitive event in the packed ATP calendar. In fact so popular is the pull of this tournament that it has been voted the players' favorite ATP 1000 event. The Shanghai Rolex Masters is a veritable feast of tennis for the discerning sports fan, held every year in what is now being called ‘the New York of the Orient’, Shanghai. The Flower Stadium, as the Qi Zhong Tennis Center is popularly known, offers spectators one of the most visually appealing tennis venues in the world with its eight-petal Magnolia-shaped roof. Add to this a much closer, more immersive tennis watching experience and a greater sense of interaction for the fans with their idols and you can see why this event is a must visit for every tennis lover!

Cricket

A sport that is a religion in South Asia and is catching up all over the world, with its newest, most condensed version of T20, cricket is a sport that promises a display of individual brilliance, teamwork and hits galore. The atmosphere at a cricket stadium has to be experienced, to be believed. While old timers and purists will scoff at the newer iterations of One Day Internationals (ODI) and T20, these have definitely injected a much needed dynamism into the sport and made victory and defeat, more of an instantly gratifying experience, rather than a wait and watch one, as in Test Matches. Cricket fans should definitely make a trip for a match, because as you will experience, there is an atmosphere unlike any other sport and a vibe that will have you wrapped up in it almost instantly!

  • Eden Gardens
  • Location: Kolkata, India
  • Capacity: 66,000

India is a cricket crazy nation and home to some of the world’s most prominent cricket stadiums. None of these stadiums though, hold a candle to the Eden Gardens, in terms of atmosphere, history and sheer magnitude. Sure Kotla in Delhi and DY Patil in Mumbai are more modern in their design and orientation, but in a fan’s heart, Kolkata’s landmark cricket ground is where the action will always be. A match here is more akin to a spiritual experience, with 66,000 knowledgeable fans lending both teams vociferous support. Home to one of the most batsman-friendly pitches in the world, this location is often home to crackerjack contests that can only be described as run fests. In fact there is a saying in the local dialect which roughly translates to, “If cricket is a religion, Eden is a temple”. A must-visit for any true fan of the sport.

  • Lord’s
  • Location: London, England
  • Capacity: 28,000
Lord's

The spiritual home of cricket, home to both the legendary Marylebone Cricket Club and the world’s oldest sports museum, Lord’s is one of cricket’s most celebrated and venerated venues. Relatively small by most modern standards, Lord’s is to cricket, what Wimbledon is to tennis. It still follows the hallowed traditions of the game and a match at this venue is still thought of as the showpiece of any tour. Sure England has many grounds steeped in cricketing history, but Lord’s makes the cricket viewing experience a memorable and ‘propah’ one. Like a cricket commentator once said, “traveling the world, following the game is an excellent experience, but Lord’s makes it feel like coming home.” Make a trip to this iconic venue to experience cricket like you aren’t likely to, anywhere else in the world!

  • Newlands Cricket Ground
  • Location: Cape Town, South Africa
  • Capacity: 25,000
Lord's

If ever there was a beauty contest for cricket stadia around the world, Newlands would be one of the top contenders for the title. Set in the heart of the beautiful city of Cape Town, this breezy ground, with its bouncy pitch and unparalleled atmosphere is undisputedly a top cricketing venue. Home to the Proteas, the ground really comes alive to the sounds of Vuvuzelas, African Horns, brass bands and trumpets, creating an ambience of a great celebration of cricket. Go there for the cricket and you’re bound to come back with a great love for the South African people, their sense of hospitality and of course the delicious cuisine, itself a heady mixture of Indian, European and local African influences. Do you really need more of an incentive to go already?

  • Sabina Park
  • Location: Kingston, Jamaica
  • Capacity: 30,000

No trip of the cricketing world would ever be complete without a mention of the West Indies. These cricket crazy isles have produced such greats of the game as Sir Garfield Sobers, Sir Vivian Richards, Alvin Kalicharan, Brian Lara and of course Malcolm Marshall, Courtney Walsh and Sir Curtly Ambrose. This archipelago is home to some famous cricket grounds but none as important to the game as Sabina Park. Being an island, Jamaica is naturally blessed with a year-long supply of winds, which plays an important role in the game of cricket, especially in the art of bowling. If Eden Garden is a batsman’s Mecca, Sabina Park is where the bowlers rule the roost. For the fans however the most important part of a match at the park is the Calypso music spiced ambience and the sheer noise levels that add volumes to the experience of watching a competitive match of cricket!

  • The Melbourne Cricket Ground
  • Location: Melbourne, Australia
  • Capacity: 100,000 plus
The Melbourne Cricket Ground

Australia, for the past several decades has been to cricket, what Brazil has been to football. Part of the reason they’ve been so phenomenally successful in the game is the fact that stadiums of the quality of the MCG have been available to the local talent. To describe a match to a reader is an onerous task, but here goes… imagine 100,000 plus fans, chanting “Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Oi! Oi! Oi!”. Imagine a ground so immense in dimension that a powerfully struck shot along the turf will stop a few feet from the boundary rope and a pair of batsman can run up to 6 runs if they push themselves. Imagine a playlist of songs that goes off after every boundary, six or at the end of an over. Imagine a Mexican wave so immense, that it should actually be called an ‘Australian Tsunami!’ Piqued your interest yet?

Memories to last a lifetime

Viewing live sporting events can often be life altering experiences. It could be that one match that propels your love affair with a game to such an extent that you devote your life completely to it. Or it could be an experience that binds people into relationships that last a lifetime. Let us take a look at a few such stories that enumerate this very point.

“I came to watch a game, I went back with the love of my life”

Regina and Davis Kuhn, are mad Manchester United fans. They travel from their home in Sweden every year to watch the Manchester Derby and their passion for football comes a close second to their love of each other.

Davis says with a twinkle in his eye, “It was the second derby of the season, and some friends and I had tickets. We were running late and resultantly ended up in the wrong seats. That’s where I saw her for the first time. Completely dressed in red, her pretty face painted with the United demon, she was a sight, to behold.”

Adds Regina, “after we (sic United) scored the first goal, we started cheering frantically, rubbing it in the faces of our noisy neighbors (Manchester City for the uninitiated). That’s when he started singing the United song in his ridiculous Swedish accent, and I have to say, that was it for me!” Their shared love for the game and Manchester United in particular culminated in a very sweet, happy ending when Davis proposed to Regina the following year, at the game. As he so eloquently sums it up, “I came to watch a game, but I went back with the love of my life.”

“Our mutual respect for Federer helped us overcome our estrangement”

Tales of families at war with each other over property, inheritance and other petty reasons are rife all over the world. Nowhere more so than in India.

Take the case of Dharmesh and Suraj Tripathi. Estranged for several years, due to a property dispute, the brothers hadn’t spoken to each other in years.

“Imagine my surprise when two rows up ahead at the Shanghai Rolex Masters last month I saw a rather familiar figure. Draped in the Swiss red carrying a “Viva Federer” banner cheering wildly at every point was my brother Suraj” , exclaims Dharmesh.

Suraj chimes in, “It was at that match and after that we began to communicate openly and are now working on our issues with each other.”

When this report went into print, both the brothers had begun the process of healing their families. Another sparkling example of how sports and a live event at that can change the way you perceive life in all its twists and turns.

“Where it all began.”

For doctors Glen and Felicia Harding, sport has a very special meaning. It was at Monza, some years ago that the two Ferrari fans were introduced. Says Glen with a near beatific smile, “The minute I found out we were both Ferrari fans, I crossed that off my list of qualities I look for in a woman.”

Felicia coyly nods and chimes in, “And that was the start of a long and rather adventurous romance for us, as we continued on the F1 trail, from the US to Abu Dhabi, that year was when we really travelled the world and discovered both ourselves and each other.”

Glen and Felicia have since married and settled down happily.