Name: Giants Stadium
Address: 50 State Route, East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA
Last renovation: 2005
No. of seats: 77,738
Total capacity: 80,242
Home teams: New York Red Bulls, US national team
Giants Stadium – party time in “The Swamp”
Pele has produced his magic here, as have Franz Beckenbauer, Johan Cruyff, Michel Platini, Ronaldinho and Mia Hamm. To many Americans, Giant Stadium might be better known as a sporting facility that houses not one, but two American football teams (the New York Giants and the New Jersey Jets), but the stadium has also forged quite a remarkable football history – both domestic and international – over the past three decades.
Nicknamed “The Swamp” by fans because it was built on the Meadowlands wetlands in East Rutherford, New Jersey not far from Manhattan, the stadium was home to the world-renowned New York Cosmos, hosted seven World Cup games in 1994, was the site for the opening match of the Women’s World Cup in 1999 and has been the setting for many major international friendlies at both club and international level. The New York Red Bulls (formerly the MetroStars) of Major League Soccer (MLS) have played here since 1996.
Built for USD 75 million in 1976 – an amount that seems like a bargain these days – Giants Stadium has all of the amenities fans need. The facility boasts 166 suites, 70 bathrooms – 35 each for men and women – 231 concession stands, 1,568 speakers, two video scoreboards and floodlights that use enough power to energize about 4,000 houses on match days.
Games like parties
The stadium, which seats 80,242 for sporting events, has been utilized for American football, football, concerts, marching band competitions and even a rare visit from Pope John Paul II, who attracted a record crowd of 82, 948 for a mass on 5 October 1995, but it was the Cosmos loaded with stars such as former Brazilian national team captain Carlos Alberto, Giorgio Chinaglia, Beckenbauer and Pele in virtually every position, who made the stadium well known the world over. Games were like parties as crowds flocked to the stadium in anticipation of witnessing offensive fireworks or a beautiful goal to treasure. Sell-outs or near-capacity crowds in the late seventies and early eighties were quite common for the most famous club team in US football history. The Cosmos captured North American Soccer League (NASL) championships in 1977, 1978, 1980 and 1982, and Chinaglia once scored seven goals in an NASL play off game here. Pele’s farewell match in October 1977, in front of an overflow crowd, turned into one of the most emotional days in the stadium’s history. He played the first half for the Cosmos and the final half wearing the jersey of his Brazilian club, Santos.
When the Cosmos and the NASL went out of business after the 1984 season, club football went on a hiatus for 11 long years, although several international matches and tournaments – including the 1994 FIFA World Cup TM – brought football fans back to the stadium in droves. The World Cup produced some classic moments at the stadium, including Italy’s 1-0 first-round victory over the republic of Ireland and Bulgaria’s stunning 2-1 victory over Germany in the quarter-finals.
Two years later, the MetroStars began their run. For their inaugural home match in 1996, some 46,826 curious souls came to see what all the commotion of this new league, MLS, was all about. The MetroStars lost in excruciating fashion, 1-0 due to an own goal by defender Nicola Caricola with only 11 seconds remaining. Some football observers claim that put some sort of curse upon the club. The team has enjoyed only four winning seasons out of 11 and has never reached the MLS Cup, the league’s championship match, despite the presence of such international stars as Roberto Donadoni, Branco, Lothar Matthaus, Adolfo Valencia and Youri Djorkaeff.
When the Giants and Jets, the primary tenants of the stadium, play at home in the autumn, the Red Bulls are treated like third-class citizens. American football lines are painted white while the football lines are barely visible in yellow.
In fact, the stadium’s playing surface has produced more than its fair share of controversy. Astroturf was the surface of choice for the first 23 years but many medical experts claimed such a carpet took its toll on knees. Grass was tried in 2000 and interchangeable trays were used, unlike what was deployed for the 1994 World Cup, which was only a month-long event. The grass could not withstand the pounding of a football sides over three seasons, however, so the quality of the field suffered. In 2003, the Giants decided on another artificial surface – Field Turf.
When international matches are held, organizers bring in temporary grass placed over the artificial turf. That has worked quite well, since one of the world’s most popular teams have played here in recent years. The impressive list includes Manchester United, Real Madrid, Barcelona, AC Milan and Juventus.
The Red Bulls – energy drink producer Red Bull purchased and renamed the MetroStars in 2006 – will play their final full season before heading to Red Bull Park, a 25,000-seat football-specific stadium 15 minutes away in Harrison, New Jersey in July 2008.
Giants Stadium’s days are numbered as well. The Giants and Jets are scheduled to move into a state-of-the art facility in time for the 2010 season near their present home in the Meadowlands complex. Their new stadium, which will cost USD 1.4 billion, will seat 82,000 spectators. Whether the new stadium will also become home to football on a regular basis remains to be seen.