El Centrocampista

Getting Away With It – El Sardinero can’t be saved by its beautiful vista

I can’t help but feel that Real Racing Club de Santander’s Estadio El Sardinero has been getting away with it for too long. You see whenever this slightly stodgy, but functional stadium is photographed from the air it can’t help but look spectacular. Alas, it has nothing to do with the formulaic 1980’s architecture. No, it’s all down to the wonderful backdrop of the Playa El Sardinero and the lush Cantabrian coastline.

If you think that the current stadium is close to the beach, you should have seen its predecessor. Opened in 1913, it also went by the name of El Sardinero and occupied the site of what is now a municipal park, wedged between the current stadium and the Playa El Sardinero. It was three parts old school, with low covered terraces close to the touchlines and one part inspirational architecture.

That piece of inspiration was the main stand, which was built in 1961 and featured a daring new cantilevered stand, quite unlike any other in Spain. At 72 metres in length and made out of pre-cast concrete sections, its dominant feature was a huge curved roof, which despite its size had an elegance that mirrored the shape of the waves that crashed onto the Playa El Sardinero.

Santander missed out on hosting matches at the 1982 World Cup. El Sardinero was beyond redevelopment and Racing was broke and back in La Segunda. A year later the club sold the stadium to the municipality for 175 million pesetas and the two began the process of finding and building a replacement.

Work began in early 1987 on a piece of scrub land 150 metres to the west of the old stadium. The new stadium was designed by architect Juan Jose Arenas and opened on 20 August 1988 with two friendly matches. The first featured Racing against Real Oviedo, which was followed by Real Madrid against Everton. That first season at the new stadium saw Racing finish a creditable fifth, but a year later the club finished 17th in the division and dropped to Segunda B.

At the time, the Estadio El Sardinero was the most modern and advanced stadium to have staged football at this level, a point emphasised in March 1991, when the Spanish National team used the stadium for the first time when they played Hungary.

It was the first match La Seleccion had played in Santander for 64 years. Despite losing 2-4 to Hungary, the National side was back in Santander little over a year later to record a 1-0 victory over England. El Sardinero has staged four further matches featuring La Seleccion, the most recent being a 1-0 victory over USA in June 2008.

I do feel I’ve been a little unfair. I’m sure the people at the municipality and the club feel they have done a sterling job and there’s no denying the fact that El Sardinero is as tidy a medium sized stadium you can find in Europe. My point is that you will find stadiums of this ilk and era all around Europe.

There is no denying they are all perfectly functional and it has to be said the El Sardinero in particular, looks fresh for a stadium in its third decade. Juan Jose Arenas’ design is clearly influenced by the stadiums that went up in Germany and Holland in the mid-eighties. No problem with that, because the design works and all 22,400 seats have an unimpeded view of the pitch.

Three sides of the stadium are made up of a lower tier of white seats and an upper Tribuna of green seats. The main west stand is slightly larger thanks to a row of corporate boxes sandwiched between the two tiers. Four corner stands neatly link it all together. The roof is raised on the west side to take account of the additional height of the stand below and provides excellent shelter to all four stands.

Which is just as well, for Santander in the winter months gets rain from all sides as it heads in from the Bay of Biscay and the nearby Picos de Europa. Poor old Racing. If it isn’t the opposition forwards or some dodgy businessman peeing on them, then it’s the weather. Still, what a lovely view!

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