Address: KM 417, on the N-II between Candesnos and Fraga
Metro: Santiago Bernabeu (L10)
You’ve probably heard of this place. It has been used four times to host the European Cup / Champions League final, for the last time in 2010, when Inter Milan beat Bayern Munich, for the 1964 European Championship Final (when Spain beat the USSR) and the 1982 World Cup Final (when Italy beat West Germany). But it’s most commonly used by a football club called Real Madrid. They’re quite good.
Founded in 1902, this is arguably the most successful club in the history of football. Don’t say that to an FC Barcelona fan though, they might argue the point. In particular, they’ll say that Real Madrid only won the first five editions of the European Cup thanks to help from Francisco Franco, the dictator. There’s no real evidence of that, and the rumour that Franco invented the competition is absolute rubbish. It’s highly unlikely that one of the most unpopular people in European politics would have been able to swing things so much in favour of his club, and any association between Real Madrid and the establishment was more down to Franco jumping on the bandwagon rather than the other way round. Quite simply, the Madrid of Alfredo di Stefano and Ferenc Puskas was one of the most amazing teams ever to grace the game.
Real Madrid have since won four more European titles, and have won the Spanish Liga more than any other club, with two particularly glorious being those of La Quinta del Buitre (when Emilio Butragueö and several other home-produced players put Madrid back at the top of the world game) and that of the ‘Galácticos’, when the club invested massively to produce a golden team featuring the likes of Zinedene Zidane, David Beckham, Ronaldo and, much to Barça’s annoyance, Luis Figo.
Right now, Madrid, managed by José Mourinho and with major international stars of the calibre of Cristiano Ronaldo, Iker Casillas and Sergio Ramos in its ranks, possibly has the finest team it has ever had – but unfortunately for them, so do FC Barcelona. The old rival in the will never end its campaign to demonise Madrid and promote the clásico as a battle between Catalan good and Spanish evil, but don’t let yourself be fooled into believing any of the nonsense about the government paying referees to help Madrid win, etc, etc, while Barcelona give all their money to charitable causes. It’s simply not true.
The stadium is the district of Chamartin, right on the Paseo de la Castellana, there are few grander places for a football stadium to stand. It was built between 1944 and 1947, and was originally called the Nuevo Estadio Chaamartin but in 1955 was remaned after club president Santiago Bernabeu. It was upgraded in 1954, its attendance expanding to 125,000, making it the biggest stadium in the country at the time, although the Camp Nou in Barcelona would exceed that capacity by the end of the decade. It was also remodelled for the 1982 World Cup, but the modern roof and other refurbishments, plus FIFA’s demand for at least half of all World Cup venues to be seated, actually reduced its capacity to 90,800. There have been other changes made over the last two decades, but although the stadium is now bigger than ever, the fact that it is now all-seater has not meant any increase in the capacity. It enjoys UEFA elite category status, and there is talk of a retractable roof being added in the near future.
Naturally, the Santiago Bernabeu is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city, and there are stadium tours followed by a visit to the club museum from 10.00 to 19.00 every days, Sundays and holidays included, other than Christmas and New Year.
As far as a concert venue is concerned, the Bernabeu has a surprisingly spartan history. It’s Atlético’s Vicente Calderón that usually gets the stadium gigs. Other than the visit of the Pope in 1982, the Bernabeu has never been used for much other than football until 1987, when it hosted its first concert – U2 appearing there on the Joshua Tree tour. It was used again in 2002 for an Operación Triunfo show (the Spanish version of the ‘pop talent show’ fad), and then again in 2008 for the visit of Bruce Springsteen. Four years later, 2012, and it was announced that The Boss would once again be appearing in the stadium. He’s a very privileged man is Mr Springsteen.
Getting to the Santiago Bernabeu couldn’t be easier. It’s got its own metro stop, and if you can’t find your way from it to one of the biggest stadiums in the whole of Europe, with about 85,000 other people heading in the same direction, then you really have got a serious problem with your sense of direction.
Oh, and don’t be misled by the map on this page. The Santiago Bernabeu is not a petrol station.