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Giuseppe Meazza – The Scala Of Football

After strolling along the road skirting the race course and inhaling the fragrance of the sausages, onions and paprika exuding from the mobile snack bars, suddenly it looms up in front of you around the bend in the road. Majestic, sophisticated, subtle and colossal all in one: the Giuseppe Meazza Stadium.
Perhaps it seems all the more awe-inspiring because both AC Milan and Inter Milan, two of the most prestigious clubs in the world, call it their home. “Milan is without doubt the capital of football and our stadium is the worthiest stage,” comments AC Milan vice-chairman Adriano Galiani with obvious pride.
Over the years, such fulsome appellations have been lavished on the stadium as “the football temple” and “the Scala of football”. But to most Italians, it is known simply as San Siro because of its location in the San Siro district about five kilometres from the centre of Milan, with its wide stretches of green spaces and elegant houses contrasting starkly with grim cement blocks. However, there is no longer any sign of the idyllic village and the chapel of Saint Syrus, who gave the district its name.
AC Milan’s fans are reluctant to mention the name of Giuseppe Meazza, who played for their club for one season before moving to rivals Inter, where he stayed for 14 years. After Meazza’s death in 1979, the arena was officially renamed the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza and a commemorative plaque placed at the main entrance, in honour of Milan’s famous son and two-time World Cup winner in 1934 and 1938.
The San Siro had, in fact, had little to do with Inter Milan before they moved into the stadium in 1947. AC Milan chairman Piero Pirelli decided to build a fitting stadium for his club in 1925. Architect Ulisse Stacchini, the brains behind Milan’s impressive main station, drew his inspiration from the typical English curve-free stadium – after all, AC Milan had been founded by Englishmen. Thirteen months later, on 19 September 1926, the official inauguration took place – but Inter wrecked the celebrations by crushing their rivals 6-3. Now there is very little to see of the original 35,000 seats and the English-type model since it underwent major refurbishment.
The Italian word for “fan” – tifoso — is derived from “typhus”, so it is little wonder that the football bug in Italy spreads rapidly from one person to the other. To satisfy this hunger for football, the corners of the stadium were filled in in 1939 and an extra tier erected on top of the existing stands. 7he result was breathtaking. San Siro could then accommodate 150,000 spectators and thus became the largest stadium in the world – theoretically. Fears about safety in the stadium, however, soon prompted the city of Milan to reduce capacity to 100,000.
The Giuseppe Meazza was given its last facelift for the 1990 FIFA World Cup™. A third tier was added, propped up by eleven cement towers that lead in seemingly endless spirals to the vertiginous second and top tiers. Now completely covered, it can accommodate 82,955 spectators.
Although the appalling state of the battered pitch often gave rise to criticism of the turf among the players, fans have never had cause for complaint about the entertainment provided at the 81-year-old San Siro. It was here that Cameroon humiliated defending champions Argentina 1-0 in the opening match of the 1990 World Cup. And in 1965, the celebrated Grande Inter side, with Mazzola, Corso and Suarez, celebrated their second and most recent triumph in the European Cup by beating Benfica 1-0. Twenty-four years later, AC Milan, armed with the Dutch trio Rijkaard, Gullit and Van Basten and coached by Arrigo Sacchi, swept Real Madrid aside in the same tournament with a crushing 5-0 victory.
But the Giuseppe Meazza has also made history in all sorts of domains outside football. On 1 September 1960, 53,043 spectators watched the World Welterweight Championship fight between Duilio Loi and Carlos Ortis – a European record number which remains unbroken to this day. In 1980, a crowd of 90,000 flocked to see Bob Marley in his only ever concert in Italy. Later on, musical giants such as the Rolling Stones, U2 and Bruce Springsteen packed the arena. In the 1990s, Milanese youngsters twisted and turned to open-air disco music ringing from the main stands.
But nothing will ever detract from its aura as the temple of Italian football. It has been the home ground of such dazzling stars as Giacinto Facchetti, Gianni Rivera, George Weah, Ronaldo, Lothar Matthaus, Kaka, Andrea Pirlo and Clarence Seedorf. “San Siro is like home and, without exaggeration, a place where all kinds of magic can happen,” enthused AC Milan captain Paolo Maldini recently.
At present, Inter Milan are seriously debating the option of building their own stadium. Then the AC Milan fans could call the Giuseppe Meazza their very own. That would only be fair – after all, it was they who built it.