Luzhniki Olympic Complex
Name: Luzhniki Olympic Complex
Address: Luzhnetskaya Naberezhnaya, 24, Moscow, Russia
Last renovation: 1995
No. of seats: 84 745
Home teams: Torpedo Moscow, Spartak Moscow, CSKA Moscow, Russian national team
Luzhniki – a colossal feat of engineering
The Luzhniki stadium is a typical product of the Soviet era. The authorities first came up with the idea of building a huge sports stadium in the mid-1950s. Soviet athletes of that time had already proved that they were capable of competing at an international level, and the country needed a large, multifunctional arena to allow further development and to stage the pan-Soviet Games, the Spartakiads.
They chose the perfect location, just five kilometres from the Kremlin, facing a picturesque bank of the Moskva river and surrounded by magnificent parks. The “Big Moscow Stadium”, as it was initially known, was built in a record time of 450 days, despite the huge difficulties caused by die extremely swampy soil on the site. Thousands of people from across the country took part in what was a colossal feat of engineering. The opening ceremony was held on 31 July 1956. A year later, the Luzhniki was the main venue for the World Youth Festival, welcoming 35,000 young people from more than 130 countries. The complex was constantly developed in the decades that followed, providing a magnificent showcase for the Summer Olympic Games in Moscow in 1980.
The Central Lenin Stadium, as the Luzhniki Olympic Complex was also known in the past, consisted of more than 100 buildings and embodied the majestic Stalinist architectural style. It spans close to 180 hectares, and with its swimming pool, skating rink, tennis courts and numerous multifunctional halls, it has proved to be an outstanding venue for many world and European championships in sports such as ice hockey, basketball, volleyball, and gymnastics.
As well as being a stage for national and international sporting events, the Luzhniki was also a place where ordinary people could enjoy sports. Scientists from medical and physical training research institutes worked together with stadium staff to develop methodology and special programmes that would improve the well-being of middle-aged and elderly sections of the population through sport, while thousands of kids got their first taste of sporting competition at the Luzhniki.
Following the collapse of communism, the arena became an outstanding stage for international pop and rock stars. The Rolling Stones, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Rammstein and many others wooed Russian crowds at the Luzhniki stadium. First and foremost, however, the venue is famous as the venue for the incredible football battles of old, when crowds of 100,000 would cheer on legendary Soviet players like Lev Yashin, Nikita Simonyan, Eduard Streltsov, Oleg Blokhin and Rinat Dasaev in their matches against the powers of world football.
On 4 July 1965, 102,000 fans saw the legendary Pele score two goals in a friendly game between the USSR and reigning world champions Brazil. Despite the painful 3-0 defeat, the Soviet crowd marvelled at the skills of the Brazilian wizards. It was a useful lesson, for just four months later the soon-to-be FIFA World Cup™ semi-finalists silenced a crowd of 132,000 at Rio’s Maracana stadium by holding the home team to a 2-2 draw.
Besides being the main arena for the Russian (and formerly Soviet) national team, the Luzhniki is also the home venue for Spartak Moscow, one of the most successful clubs in the country’s history. Following the huge political changes in Russia in the early 1990s, the privatised stadium became the home of Torpedo Moscow, a club actually owned by the complex proprietors. However, Spartak continued to use the pitch. What is more, the venue now also plays host to CSKA Moscow, as the former army club’s own arena, as well as its temporary home in Dinamo Moscow’s legendary stadium, are closed for reconstruction.
RETURN OF NATURAL GRASS
By the mid-1990s, the magnificent arena was in a poor condition following years of neglect. The stadium was outdated and no longer able to meet modern standards, so it was decided to start renovation immediately. Two years later, an encircling roof was constructed over the whole seating area. The wooden benches were replaced by plastic seats, and the initial capacity of 100,000 was reduced to just under 85,000. The whole area under the tribunes, from the dressing rooms and media centres to the cafes and offices, was redesigned and rebuilt to meet modern requirements. In 1998, the arena was good enough to earn recognition from FIFA and UEFA, who granted the Luzhniki the status of a five-star stadium. It was chosen to host the following year’s UEFA Cup final, Almost 70,000 fans saw a brilliant Parma team beat Marseille 3-0 on a chilly night in Moscow on 12 May 1999.
However, not everything about the stadium was perfect. The next item in the plan of modernisation was to cover the area above the pitch with a sliding roof, but the stadium engineers came across a problem. In the cold Russian climate it has always been extremely difficult to cultivate grass. Now, with the roof depriving the grass of sunlight, the pitch was unusable after just a few matches. The natural pitch was replaced several times, but eventually a FIFA-approved artificial turf pitch was installed.
In May 2008, natural grass returned to the stadium for the first time in eight years when the Luzhniki was once again chosen as the venue for a major European football match – the Champions League final between Manchester United and Chelsea. This was the ultimate recognition of the stadium’s quality, although as Muscovites will tell you, they will only really be satisfied when they have a ticket for the FIFA World Cup™ final in their home stadium.