Sport has never been just about playing; it's also about spectating. The start-up of the football season will see many of us yet again travel all over the country (and Europe) in support of our clubs - and we love it. If we didn't have these beautifully constructed arenas designed specifically to accommodate our live viewing experience, sport simply wouldn't be the same. No matter what the sport is, the fans are everything, not only to a club's support but also to the overall atmosphere generated at a sporting fixture. It seems only right, therefore, that stadiums exist to facilitate huge audiences, bring fans and teams together, and ultimately enhance the entire spectacle of live sport; an experience that, to many, can't be beaten.
There are hundreds of breath-taking sporting arenas scattered around the globe, each one unique and special in its own individual way. It's a hard task, but we thought we'd have a go at witling down our favourites and share with you our 10 favourite sports stadiums - ranging from architecturally impressive designs, to historical gems, to theatres of atmospheric beauty. We've even included a few bits of trivia, so enjoy!
10) Panathenaic Stadium, Athens (Greece)
Capacity: 45,000 (current)
It seems only fitting we start our list off with one of the stadiums that essentially started sport spectatorship. The multi-purpose stadium, originally built in 330 BC for the Panathenaic Games, has undergone several renovations since its birth. After evacuation in the 4th century, the entirely marble-based arena was brought back to life to host the first modern Olympics in 1896, providing a venue for 4 of the 9 sports. Yes, 9. How sport has evolved! The 2004 Olympic Games in Athens also made use of the ancient stadium, and nowadays it's open for joggers to use every day - a great way to keep this timeless sporting arena alive.
9) Celtic Park, Glasgow (Scotland)
Known as 'Parkhead' by the locals, this magnificent all-seater stadium is the home of Scottish giants, Celtic FC. Though this may not be the biggest ground in the world, Celtic park generates a spine-tingling, hair-raising atmosphere that can rarely be replicated by any set of fans, in any stadium around the globe. Derby clashes with their rivals Rangers, and big European nights turn this place into a footballing battleground that emits ear-bursting noise, passion and energy - something that every football fan should experience. Celtic away is a fixture that no team in Europe looks forward to - not unless you're a Rangers hooligan.
8) AT&T Park, San Francisco (USA)
The home of San Francisco Giants is undoubtedly one of the most impressive baseball parks in the world. Located in the South Beach neighbourhood of San Francisco, California, the stadium practically sits on the beach; in fact one segment (The infamous McCovey Cove) actually stretches across the bay, making for a beautiful atmospheric backdrop. Fans sitting behind the batter will be able to watch the game whilst also looking out at the gorgeous harbour and ocean that is situated just behind the arena. Another fun feature of the ballpark is the 80-foot Coca-Cola bottle, which not only has a kids superslide inside, but also lights up whenever the Giants hit a home run - typical of the classic American baseball experience.
7) Signal Iduna Park, Dortmund (Germany)
The Westfaldenstadion (as it's commonly known) is the stomping ground of German side Borussia Dortmund and probably one of the most famous stadiums in European football. The ground's capacity makes it the largest ground in Germany, which appropriately accommodates the wild Dortmund fans - who are renowned for drumming up (quite literally) an electric atmosphere through incredible noise and colour. The freestanding terrace, which is the largest in Europe (24,454 capacity), is often referred to as the "Yellow Wall" - a daunting sight for any opposing side, and a 12th man for Dortmund.
6) MCG, Melbourne (Australia)
Since its opening in 1853, the Melbourne Cricket Ground has firmly established itself as the home of Australian cricket - the equivalent of Lords and English cricket. Domestically, MCG is the home stadium of Melbourne Cricket Club, but it also hosts test matches and one-day internationals for the national side, as well as AFL (Australian rules football) games. The shear size and shape of the arena allows for a phenomenal atmosphere and viewing experience, no matter where you're sat. The circular sweep of the pitch and stands makes you feel like you're right on top of the action. The MCG also has the tallest flood-lights of any stadium in the world.
5) Beijing National Stadium, Beijing (China)
One for the architects - the "Birds Nest", as it's referred to as, is a stunning piece of unique architectural design. The chief architect, Li Xinggang stated that "China wanted to have something new for this very important stadium" and it's also believed that the initial nest design, which is formulated by a series of steel beams that were originally implemented to hide the supports for the retractable roof, was inspired by Chinese ceramics. The magnificent arena saw plenty of use throughout the 2008 Bejing Olympic Games and will be used again in the 2022 Winter Olympics. Interestingly, the stadium hasn't been used for the Chinese national football side; due to fears that their average crowd attendance of 10,000 people, would look a bit silly in a 81,000 seater stadium - and rightly so. What a waste.
4) Soccer City - Johannesburg (South Africa)
This iconic arena is yet again another slice of design brilliance. It's said that the recent renovation is based on the appearance of traditional African pottery - with the outside cladding representing a mosaic of fire and earth and the ring of lights that surround the stadium simulating the fire that heats up the footballing 'pot' from underneath. The venue was used for the 2010 World Cup Final and is also the home ground of South African side Kaizer Chiefs F.C. Soccer City, or the FNB Stadium, was the site of Nelson Mandela's first speech following his release from prison in 1990 and also his last ever public appearance at the 2010 World Cup closing ceremony. Additionally, Mandela's memorial service was hosted at the stadium. Rather fitting.
3) AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas (USA)
Not to be confused with the AT&T Park that also found its way into our list. Weird. The AT&T STADIUM, home of the Dallas Cowboys, is the fourth largest NFL ground in America. What makes this arena so special is the huge retractable roof - that when shut, technically makes the stadium a room. A total of $1.15 billion was pumped into the construction of the AT&T, making it on of the most expensive sports venues ever built. Was it worth it? Probably. The viewing experience and overall atmosphere is like no other NFL stadium. The HD Jumbotron also stretches across over half of the pitch space - one of many impressive features of this simply spectacular stadium.
2) Wembley - London (United Kingdom)
Wembley - the stage of English football. Wembley is the second largest stadium in Europe and the largest in England. It has hosted first class football matches including the FA Cup Final and Semi Finals, as well as home fixtures for the English national side. The stadium was also used for the 2012 Olympic Games and has even been the venue for competitive rugby and NFL matches. Wembley is undoubtedly one of the most recognisable stadiums in the world - with it's 134 metre high (440ft) arch (the 'Wembley Arch), the ground can be seen from almost any rooftop in London. The old Wembley may have been demolished and replaced, but the history of 1966 still lives on within this exceptionally constructed, quintessentially English football arena. In terms of crowd atmosphere, it doesn't get any better than FA Cup Final day at Wembley.
1) Camp Nou - Barcelona (Spain)
It has to take number one, surely? The Camp Nou, built in 1957, is the biggest stadium in Europe. In terms of culture, heritage and character, no stadium in the world can top the Camp Nou. It seems only right that this amazing footballing coliseum hosts the best football on the planet in the form of Spanish giants FC Barcelona. Barcelona's famous motto 'More than a club' is plastered across one of the stands; and the Camp Nou is a ground that more or less resembles a palace fit for royalty, a heaven for the gods, a footballing paradise and above all a home for the Catalan family. The atmosphere inside the arena speaks for itself; just watch El Classico. The look of the stadium is unique in itself, with open top terraces that climb up to the clouds and a huge pitch that seems to stretch out across the whole of Spain; the Camp Nou really is an aesthetic masterpiece - and a thing of real beauty. Apparently there's plans to renovate and remodel the stadium to boost the capacity of the stadium to 105,00, which would also involve the addition of a canopy over the stands; a controversial move that may compromise the classic Camp Nou feel.
This article was written by Sports Tours, a specialist sports tour operator that seek to provide and organise the best sports tours, tournaments and festivals for amateur clubs and school teams, both in the UK and overseas.