Saturday, 30 November 2019

STADIA: JUVENTUS STADIUM AND STADIO OLIMPICO, TURIN







Built in 1990 specifically for the World Cup, the Stadio delle Alpi, although an impressive structure in and of itself, made for a bad football stadium. The usual thing: poor sight-lines, running track, remote location, lack of atmosphere. Juventus and Torino persisted in playing there until 2006, by which point Juventus were averaging crowds of about 25,000 across all competitions – Torino marginally less – in a ground with room enough for 69,000, compared to the approximate 47,000 thousand they’d been drawing in at the Stadio Comunale in 1998 (although it should be noted that attendances began to decline throughout all of Italy over the same period).
Actually, the delle Alpi’s number was up as early as 2002, when Juventus purchased the property off the city council for € 25 million with a view to knocking it down and constructing something more modest in its place – the same year a Coppa Italia encounter between Juventus and Sampdoria attracted a mere 237 supporters. In November 2008, plans for a new 41,000-seater stadium were finally unveiled with the project scheduled to commence the following year. In the meantime, both Juventus and Torino were able to return to the Stadio Comunale – now known as the Stadio Olimpico – after it had being substantially renovated ahead of the 2006 Winter Olympics. By September 2011, the new stadium was complete.




Stadio delle Alpi was essentially pre-fabricated, meaning that it was manufactured off-site and then pieced together on location. It follows that such a structure is easier to take down, and that much of its material is recoverable. Accordingly, in developing the new stadium a ‘sustainable construction policy’ was adopted that is reckoned to have recouped around €2.3 million in costs: the redundant terracing, for example, was reduced to aggregate and used to shore up the new ground’s foundations; something like 6,000 tons of various metals were recycled. Numerous energy-saving strategies were also incorporated into the new design – solar energy, district heating, the trapping of rainwater, and so on. Consider too that by scaling downward Juventus were able to sell off some off the land they’d acquired to the retail outlet Conad for around €20.25 million. Not only did this nearly cover the cost of the site itself, but the Area 12 Shopping Centre that Conad subsequently built, in partnership with French Hypermarket chain E. Leclerc, provided the sort of amenities that were beyond the football club’s reach: shops, bars, restaurants, as well as 2,000 parking spaces.
All in all, then, the new stadium appears to represent a neat piece of business. It looks like a neat piece of business. Comprised of a continuous, curved rectangular bowl, its simplicity is almost the most striking thing about it; only the row of the executive boxes squeezed between the two tiers of the west side and the ‘premium club’ seats directly in front disturb the monotony. But look up and you’ll notice two inverted V-shaped pylons at either end of the ground, pulling on steel tensioning cables attached to the trusses that support the roof. This is surely a nod to the old Stadio delle Alpi, whose roof was upheld in a similar fashion. Even the canopy itself bears some similarity, divided into sections with translucent gaps in-between letting in light.
The lower tier is about twice as deep as the upper ring of seating, and is as tight to the pitch as the available space will allow. Seats are mostly white but fade to black towards the rear, while three yellow stars behind each goal denote over 30 scudetti won. The 56 concrete monoliths that anchored the cables that supported the delle Alpi’s roof have been left in situ, as has the landscaped mound that encircled them – formed to diminish the ground’s profile against the backdrop of the Alps. As such the lower tier is indiscernible from without. The visible, upper stratum has been swathed in a skirt of grey panelling, save for a ring horizontal green, white and red panels around the stadium’s rim. Although in the main cosmetic, this façade gives protection against the elements for spectators congregating around the concourse that surrounds the top tier, which is uncluttered and with plenty of room to move about in.
From the off, there are those who have argued that the ground’s capacity should have been higher. Project manager and chief architect Gino Zavanella has pointed out that Juventus are currently averaging crowds of between 38,000 and 39,000, suggesting that they got the capacity just about right. In any case, the club have always argued that they’d rather sell out than have 10,000-odd seats left empty. More bothersome is the charge that, against minor opposition, the Juventus stadium can be rather uninspiring place; that the hardcore fans seem to save themselves for bigger games, and at other times the home support can be rather sedate. Or could it be something to do with place itself?




The Stadio Olimpico was built for the 1933’s Littoriali del Sport – an event set up by the National Fascist Party to celebrate itself – and the International University Games to be held that same year. The prospect of hosting the 1934 FIFA World Cup may also have played a part, although work on the stadium had already begun when the tournament was awarded to Italy, after much deliberation, in October 1932.
Although still rotten, Mussolini was a very different egg to Hitler and allowed Italian architects to build pretty much however they liked (out of indifference rather than benevolence). In 1927, Umberto Costanzini wrapped Bologna’s Stadio Littoriale, as it was then called, in a red bricked neoclassical façade. Just three years later and Pier Luigi Nervi was experimenting with raw, reinforced concrete at the Stadio Giovanni Berta – named after a Florentine fascist – in a manner that all but anticipated Brutalism. So it’s not so remarkable that Raffaello Fagnoni’s stadium in Turin ended up having something of the International Style about it, or even that it originally bore Mussolini’s name.
Juventus moved in first, in 1933, while Torino continued to play at Stadio Filadelfia until 1963, whereupon they joined Juventus at what had by now been rechristened Stadio Comunale, for obvious reasons. They stadium saw much success: Juventus were crowned champions 16 times and Torino 6 (and would have surely won more were it not for the Superga air disaster. By the time both clubs left to play at the Stadio delle Alpi, the Comunale was showing its age.






Thursday, 31 October 2019

LINER NOTES: DIFFERENT NOW [2019]






1.     Tell Me – Veronica Falls
2.     If I Needed Someone – The Beatles
3.     Wot – Captain Sensible
4.     Just Step S’ways – The Fall
5.     Big – Fontaines D.C.
6.     Big Burt – Sleaford Mods
7.     Why Won’t they Talk to Me – Tame Impala
8.     The Same Mistake – Dolly Mixture
9.     I Had to Say This – The Clientele
10.   You Don’t Love Me – Cate le Bon
11.   Time Moves Slow – BADBADNOTGOOD (featuring Sam Herring)
12.   Deep Six Textbook – Let’s Eat Grandma
13.   Alphabet’s Gotta Be Changed – Escape-ism
14.   Primitive London 1 – Basil Kirchin
15.   Equinox – John Coltrane
16.   Colossus – Idles
17.   Misperception – Soft Walls
18.   Our Girl – Our Girl
19.   Different Now – Chastity Belt
20.   Quiet Ferocity – The Jungle Giants
21.   The Less I Know the Better – Tame Impala
22.   Victor Jara, Finally Found! – Comet Gain
23.   I Work in Retail – The Magic Wizard
24.   Kicking Leaves – The Pastels


When the Scottish footballer Joe Jordan moved to AC Milan from Manchester United in 1981, he was surprised to find – not unpleasantly, it should be said – that his new work colleagues spent time in museums, galleries, restaurants, cafes. One can probably imagine the sort of thing Joe might have been more used to in Manchester, where footballers would routinely round off an afternoon’s football with an evening out on the lash. This is was back when the word ‘student’ was employed as a term of abuse. Or rather, university students were abused purely for being students. Such inverted snobbery wasn’t aimed exclusively towards those in higher education and was emblematic of a wider issue. A social conservatism held sway and anyone who stood outside of the mainstream was vulnerable to ridicule, even if you actually didn’t but just looked like maybe you did.
It’s different now. A trip to the Tate Modern is a family day-out. Students are harder to spot, and people aren’t so bothered by them anyway. Men will wear clothes that could have got your head kicked in back in my day; they may even moisturise. Yet the UK doesn’t feel any more European than it used to (or, rather, didn’t). There are certainly more Continental Europeans living in Britain than there were 20-odd years ago, but the reception they receive is mixed. Opinion polls have ascertained that of the 28 member states of the European Union we feel the least kinship with it. There’s still something within the British psyche that’s profoundly suspicious of the idea of culture and of intellect, and thus of Mainland Europe.

Working at The National Archives was supposed to be a temporary measure until such time I found better paid work, of a tolerable nature, elsewhere. But I liked working at The National Archives and I also wanted to see how 'Brexit' panned out before making my next move. The girl who used to operate the Bookeye® 4 (an industrial-sized book scanner) got wind of my Liner Notes, recognised common musical ground and put together a CD of stuff she thought I might like. Veronica Falls stood out, to my ears reminiscent of the some of the groups that were signed to Sarah Records (which I never mean as anything other than a compliment). Follow Me is the first tune off their second album, 2013's Waiting for Something to Happen.
Actually, for a while I wasn't working at The National Archives I was at Royal Holloway, sent there by the company I worked for to digitise a collection of early 20th Century pamphlets and tracts gathered together under the name The War on Poverty (the content of which seems as relevant now as when it was written). No sooner had I started and I found advertised a better paid position, working for a different subcontractor, back at The National Archives. I applied for the job, was offered it, accepted the offer but felt bad about the whole thing and so asked my prospective employer if I could serve four weeks' notice rather than the contractually obliged two. This would allow enough time to handover to whoever was going to continue with the assignment I was working on and also accommodate the five days’ holiday in Croatia I had coming up.
And so it was agreed. On returning from Split I set about training my replacement, who brought with him a portable speaker and access to Spotify. There was no way of telling what music my bearded, cap-wearing, millennial friend was into, but he kicked off with The Beatles. A bit of Led Zeppelin then more Beatles. He really liked The Beatles. My generation was brought up on the Fab Four, yet only certain albums hold for me any specific connotation. Their early material reminds me of the family home, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and Abbey Road recalls my halls of residence, whilst 1967–1970 (widely known as ‘The Blue Album’) and The Beatles (widely known as ‘The White Album’) bring back memories of living in Hounslow during my third year at university. I’ve almost certainly listened to Abbey Road and Revolver in equal measure, but I do not associate these records with any singular time or place. These were two of the Beatles’ albums enjoyed in Egham, and it is for this reason that I feel justified in including a tune that I’m already very familiar with – If I Needed Someone – on this compilation. Besides, it complements the song that precedes it.
Whenever I travel somewhere I try and listen out for new sounds so as to establish an aural connection with the place. It rarely happens but in Split it did. Where it happened specifically was in Caffe Bar La Bodega, the sort of drinking establishment mainland Europe does very well – all bricolage and dim lighting. When my lady friend and I went there for the first time they were playing poppy, new wave stuff from the early 1980s. The song that left an impression, on the both of us, was Wot by Captain Sensible. We didn’t know who it was at the time but guessed correctly from the chorus, which goes, ‘He said Captain, I said Wot’.


Caffe Bar La Bodega

The Fall: the group that keeps on giving. I’ve never bothered with the album Hex Enduction Hour because I already possess most of its tracks in some form or other on various compendiums. This was a mistake. Ex-Fall drummer Paul Hanley has written a book about the making of this record, considered to be one of their best. This was brought to my attention by way of Brix & The Extricated’s Facebook page, accompanied by a YouTube link to the track Just Step S’ways. I think I should probably buy the album, and maybe even the book (Have a Bleedin Guess: The Story of Hex Enduction Hour by Paul Hanley).
When its put to me that I might like something or other – like a band or a film – I’m wary. I think a lot of people usually are, out of fear that they won’t, and what then? In early July we visited No Eyes and Teleport Man at their semi-rural Sussex home, whereupon Teleport Man played me Fontaines D.C.’s debut album, Dogrel. Despite the late hour, and the amount of alcohol consumed, I really took to it. Within a week I was watching their videos on YouTube; within two I’d bought the album. Big was the song that I think did it – all 1 minute 46 seconds of it.
I’d buy all my music on vinyl if I could afford it, but CDs are less than half the price of LPs these days. As a consequence I only invest in my preferred format when I’m confident of the quality of the album I’m buying. In February I purchased Eton Alive by Sleaford Mods on vinyl. Musically it’s a smoother, slightly slicker record than their previous works, which is no bad thing. By the time you’ve read this, chances are I’ll have seen them play live again at the Hammersmith Apollo.
In May my lady friend and I journeyed to Brighton to meet the former cohabitant, but before doing so we stopped off in The Quadrant for a quick drink. I recognised what was playing but couldn’t put my finger on it. Then Feels Like We Only Go Backwards came on, and soon after that Elephant, and I realised it was Tame Impala. The former is more indicative of their sound, so it turns out, while the latter is an anomaly. I know this now because I’ve since bought the album Lonerism. The tune I pencilled in for inclusion on my latest compilation isn’t actually included on this record: Let it Happen kicks of Tame Impala’s third record, Currents. In any event, Why Won’t They Talk to Me? is irresistible, whereas Let it Happen goes on a bit.
On establishing that the Captain referenced in Wot was indeed Captain Sensible I also discovered that the backing vocals were supplied by an all-girl group named Dolly Mixture. Categorised as new wave, they sound more like an indie band, before ‘indie’ music had been invented. Unfortunately, their records are very difficult to get hold of. They only (self) released one (double) album: 1984’s The Demonstration Tapes. Bob Stanley re-released this album on his Mint Royal imprint in 1995, and in 2010 the band themselves repackaged the record to include singles, demos and live recordings under the name Everything and More, although I doubt either of these releases are much easier to find. The track I’ve included here – The Same Mistake – didn’t feature on the original album, wasn’t a single, doesn’t sound like it’s recorded live, so might be a demo.
Speaking of Bob, inspiration for the next song came by way of a compilation entitled Tim Burgess & Bob Stanley Present TIM PEAKS - Songs For A Late-Night Diner. After reading through the playlist on Ace Records’ website, I found it incorporated a tune I’d already decided would appear on my compendium. Furthermore, the third side of this double album starts off with Flowers by Galaxie 500, which I’d included on Take a Ride in 2013. I sampled some of other tracks and was touched by I Had to Say This by The Clientele. It’s a very pretty tune, especially to begin with, but with a discomforting undercurrent: a background drone, stuttering drums, a sense of moving backwards.




Sport, by its very nature, is competitive. Artistic endeavour isn’t, so why the need for awards and prizes? The Mercury Prize looks down its nose at the Brit Awards. The Ivor Novello Awards looks down on them both, yet all three are engaged in the same bogus racket. Gold and Platinum discs are all right because they’re based purely on sales, which is unequivocal. But who are these arbiters of taste who get to decide what the best records of the year are, and why do they even bother?
Three of the acts included on this playlist were also nominated for the 2019 Mercury Prize: Idles, Fontaines D.C. and Cate le Bon. (I don’t care that Sleaford Mods weren’t also put forward, and I hope they don’t either, but it seems odd given the comprehensively positive reviews Eton Alive has received.) Cate le Bon’s album Reward certainly deserves recognition, which is the best I can say for the whole charade. I encountered it playing in Eel Pie Records as Magnificent Gestures kicked in, which is a strange song. You Don't Love Me followed, and my ears were pricked.
Time Moves Slow is by instrumental jazz-improv group BADBADNOTGOOD (all caps artist’s own). I heard it playing in The St. Margaret’s Tavern on a Sunday evening whilst reading Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell over a pint. I wouldn’t describe Time Moves Slow as jazz and it’s certainly not an instrumental – Sam Herring of synth-pop band Future Islands provides vocals. It’s more accurately soul music, possibly of the Memphis variety, like something William Bell or Bill Withers would do. (I am also reminded of Stuart Staples from Tindersticks.)
Deep Six Textbook is taken from the anthology the girl who used to operate the Bookeye® 4 put together. There's a trip-hop vibe to this strangely moving song, which is incredible considering that Let's Eat Grandma – two teenage girls from Norwich – were something like 15 when they wrote it. Apparently, it's about playing truant, but to me it sounds like heartbreak. Not to disparage them, but their other songs don’t.
I wonder whether Ian Svenonius might be done with Chain & the Gang? They’ve not released a record since Experimental Music in 2017 and haven’t toured since 2018. Meanwhile, Ian Svenonius has been busy promoting the ‘found-sound-dream-drama’ he calls Escape-ism. When I saw them play at The Islington in 2017 it was just Ian with a microphone, guitar and drum machine. In 2018 he brought along his muse/partner/photographer Alexandra Cabral, on keys, to The Moth Club in Hackney. They toured again in 2019 in support of the same album – The Lost Record – playing at the same venue, so regretfully I passed. Alphabet’s Gotta be Changed is a strange tune, even by Ian’s standards, and I’ve deployed it as a kind of bizarre intermission, to arrest the descending mood that was fast encroaching.
I chanced upon Primitive London 1 Basil Kirchin whilst listening to Vic Pratt (of Dylan Rabbit fame) and William Fowler discussing their jointly written book The Bodies Beneath on BBC Sounds. Made in 1965, Primitive London is actually a documentary, directed by Arnold Miller, produced by Stanley Long (the producer and director of low-budget sexploitation movies). Iain Sinclair posits that the film could be seen as, ‘nothing more than a location-hunting expedition for Blow Up.’ I’ve not seen it, but it is clear that Sinclair thinks there’s more to it than that: something stranger, darker, more revealing. The music itself could be described as lounge-music, in the best possible sense. Brian Eno, amongst others, has acknowledged Kirchin’s influence.

My first personal cassette player was the size of 500 page novel. I can’t remember the make but I loved the thing. I was about eleven years’ old when it was given to me and used it mainly on car journeys. When I moved on to secondary school I quickly decided that something more portable was in order and opted for the smaller Toshiba KT- 4127. This lasted me until I was about sixteen whereupon I acquired an actual Sony Walkman that was slim enough to fit inside my blazer pocket.
But all personal cassette players were walkmen regardless of who made them, just as all vacuum cleaners are Hoovers. Sony were right, though, to call it that because music played through headphones is best listened to when walking, as opposed to in a car or on a train or even running. When you walk to music, rather than cutting you off from your environment it connects you to it. I guess it has to do with movement and being more or less in time with the beat.
Walworth doesn’t have a train station of its own. The nearest tube stop is Kennington on the Northern Line, while Elephant and Castle is the closest rail link. Neither are very convenient if you are travelling in from St Margarets in West London, as I was in early August. I could have gone as far as Waterloo, changed onto the Northern Line and gone south to Kennington, but figured I may as well disembark at Vauxhall and walk from there – about one and half miles.
The journey presented the opportunity to test this compendium, which at this point was a work in progress consisting of approximately 12 tracks. Somewhere around Oval Equinox by John Coltrane came on and continued to play as I turned down St John Ruskin Street, complimenting the post-war modernism of Aberfeldy House. Still on St John Ruskin Street, Equinox ended. I became impatient and skipped to Colossus by Idles, a tune I’d only recently added to my playlist. The jump from jazz to the opening rimshots that introduce Colossus worked very well and I at once resolved to alter the running order to allow for it.
I'm not sure how I came by either track, which means it was probably the work of the internet – YouTube making suggestions on the basis of what I'd been listening to or looking for. Equinox was recorded in 1964, and it’s easier going than much of Coltrane’s later work. McCoy Tyner's accompaniment on piano is especially satisfying. By contrast, Colossus is a tense, harrowing experience, very different to the Idles’ song that my bouldering buddies played to me in Fontainebleau, with lines about Mary Berry liking reggae and having a degree.

Dan Reeves is the Soft Walls. I’d not heard anything out of him since 2014. Then in August, online music and pop culture magazine The Quietus reviewed his latest offering, Not as Bad as it Seems, with a link to the lead-off track, Misperception, which I very quickly appended to this playlist. Although downloadable, the album itself was only made available on cassette, which is indicative of Soft Walls’ delightfully lo-fi sound, but hardly convenient. I may look back upon tapes with a degree of nostalgia but they were in truth cumbersome and temperamental devices with a tendency to literally unravel. That said, the format did install a sort of discipline, in that you couldn’t skip tracks at the press of a button and so were more inclined to listen to a tape in its entirety.
Our Girl by Our Girl is taken from the 2018  album Stranger Today. There is evidence here of the ‘loud-quiet’ dynamic commonly found in indie music during the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Our Girl sounds like something The Tony Head Experience might have put out, but we might also consider The Breeders, The Pixies, Madder Rose. It would be interesting to know if such influences are directly felt or have been filtered down by way of other artists that maybe I’m not aware of. (It might not be typical of the group’s broader sound in any case.)
Different Now by Chastity Belt was the song Bob Stanley and Tim Burgess chose for their compilation that I’d already decided would feature on mine. I encountered it in Palermo whilst pausing for an afternoon beer in Chimica 40 Drinks & Records, a wonderful bar-come-record shop on the corner of a cobbled square in the district of La Kalsa. It is a subtly uplifting tune with neat harmonies that befitted the moment: the stillness and the warmth of Piazza Cattolica, and the fact that we were the only people drinking there.
Different Now dates back to 2017. As does Quiet Ferocity by Brisbane act The Jungle Giants. The Jungle Giants have got a sort of Hot Chip, LCD Soundsystem type of thing going on: alternative dance or dance rock, whatever you want to call it. It doesn’t really get going until 3 minutes and 45 seconds in, but the groove that ensues is quite something.
Kevin Parker is Tame Impala. His third album, Currents, is a move away from the neo-psychedelia that characterised his previous works, although it’s still very recognisable as being him. The production is more polished, for sure, and his guitar is made to jostle with synthesisers and more disco-orientated arrangements. This is why you find The Less I Know the Better here, following on from Quiet Ferocity, rather than earlier, foreshadowing Dolly Mixture. I like putting stuff like this towards the end of my playlists, as a buffer against waning concentration spans.


Chimica 40 Drinks & Records

As we all know, Brexit was supposed to be done and dusted by 29 March 2019. As that date approached it became clear the UK needed more time. On the 20th March, then Prime Minister Theresa May requested an extension until 30 June 2019, was rebuffed and offered 12 April 2019 instead (or 22 May 2019 should a withdrawal agreement be worked out in advance). Neither deadline was met and so Theresa May again asked if the UK could work towards 30 June 2019. The EU still said no and gave the UK until 31 October 2019 to sort its mess out. Frustrated, May jacked it in and Boris Johnson was elected in her place. Johnson, who is a reprobate, was determined that the UK would meet this revised target date and not defer for a third time. Fortunately, something called the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act 2019 (or the ‘Benn Act’) was passed in September preventing this from happening in the event that a withdrawal agreement hadn’t been ratified in the intervening period, which it wasn’t. As such, Johnson was obliged to request a further extension, giving the UK until 31 January 2020 to get its house in order, pending the result of a general election on 12 December 2019.
None of this has escaped the attention of Comet Gain. Their excellent album Fireraisers, Forever! opens with We Are All Fucking Morons, a punk tirade pointing a finger at those who fomented this situation, as well as the rest of us who stood by and watched: ‘Bystanders of disaster, liberal spectators, box-set inhalers.’ The track I’ve added to my compilation – Victor Jara, Finally Found! – does not concern Brexit, but it's clearly political. Victor Jara was a Chilean singer-songwriter, poet, teacher, and a communist, who ended up being tortured and executed in the aftermath of the Chilean coup d'état of 1973, by General Pinochet's mob.
The Magic Wizard's gripe is rather more quotidian. He works in retail, ‘with Martine and Michelle,' which, 'isn’t very nice.’ The Magic Wizard is in fact Dan Laidler, formerly of the group Tiger whose 1996 album We Are Puppets offset the monotony of Britpop very nicely. Mr Laidler has posted I Work in Retail on YouTube. I found this out by way of Twitter, contacted him to ask where I could get hold of a copy, and he simply emailed me one. What a guy.

In April my bouldering chums and I travelled to Sheffield to climb up rocks in the Peak District. I was quite taken with the city and so returned with my lady friend in late October. On both occasions I found myself contemplating the band Pulp and their relationship with the place. I wondered if Jarvis Cocker ever drank in The Brothers Arms, The Rutland Arms, The Fat Cat and The Shakespeare, or whether those pubs were different then and he steered well clear. And what did he think about what’s being done to Park Hill Estate? I considered resurrecting an old Pulp tune for inclusion on my compilation but decided against it. Too many connotations already exist: Plymouth in the summer, Hounslow in winter, National Express coaches in between. But I did find myself listening to Pulp in the wake of these trips and to reading interviews to see if I could gain insight into how Sheffield informed their music. In doing so, I happened upon an anecdote regarding the group The Pastels.
The Pastels is another band that reminds me of Hounslow, principally the period in 1995 when I resided in a terraced house around the back of the High Street, listening to Mobile Safari, Truckload of Trouble and Up for a bit With The Pastels. Illumination followed in 1997 – still in Hounslow, occupying a semi-detached dump off of Hanworth Road. By the time they’d released their fifth studio album, Slow Summits, I’d moved to St. Margarets, but 2013 was shaky for me financially and I didn’t buy many records that year.
So yeah, I’ve just discovered Kicking Leaves, it’s Autumn, and I’m in the throes of a Pastels’ revival.


Park Hill Estate



[This playlist can be listened to here - tracks 8 and 23 excepted.]

Sunday, 22 September 2019

STADIA: STADIO RENZO BARBERA, PALERMO







Palermo’s Stadio Renzo Barbera is located in La Favorita, a district to the north of the city centre overlooked by Monte Pellegrino (the most beautiful promontory German writer Johann Goethe reckoned he ever saw). Not far from here begins Viale della Libertà, a road that runs south-southeast, joins Via Ruggero Settimo, which in turn continues into Via Maqueda, before terminating finally at Piazza Giulio Cesare about 4km later. Viale della Libertà is unremarkable, although you might like to live along it. There are banks, low-rise tenements, an English Garden, and, where the street widens on the approach to Piazza Castelnuovo, smart looking restaurants, boutiques selling high-end designer gear, and a hammam. To the east is the city's port, which was bombed heavily during the Second World War and could explain the more open and modern feel in and around Palermo’s ‘New City’.
Via Ruggero Settimo carries on where Viale della Libertà left off. The road here is narrower, livelier and the shopping more affordable, and in the evening it is closed to traffic. About 400 metres farther it turns into Via Maqueda – alongside Piazza Guiseppe Verdi where you will find Teatro Massimo, the largest opera house in Italy and the fourth largest in Europe. This boulevard hasn’t been formally pedestrianised but it may as well be as its ends have been closed off to traffic with substantial blocks of concrete. Via Maqueda cuts across the old town, riddled with irregularly shaped side streets, Sicilian Baroque architecture (San Giuseppe dei Teatini), Byzantine (Martorana), Arab-Norman (San Cataldo), Gothic (San Francesco d'Assisi), and even Modernist (Banco di Sicilia). It’s not for everyone; these backstreets and alleys are shabby and littered, especially in and around Albergheria and Kalsa, but the piazzas and main thoroughfares are generally tidy. Giardino Garibaldi is very neat, the grounds of Palermo Cathedral immaculate.




Stadio Renzo Barbera’s immediate vicinity is mostly residential, and a certain type of residential comprising of high-rise apartments. This is the fate of continental stadia that aren’t built in or around out-of-town industrial estates, which is no bad thing. The apartment blocks themselves may not hold much in the way of architectural interest, but at least people live here. Moreover, the pot plants that populate the spalled balconies suggest that they like doing so – that the tenants take pride in their surroundings.
When Stadio Renzo Barbera opened in January 1932 – called then Stadio La Favorita – the area very likely wasn’t residential, but maybe not industrial either. Photographs from around the period suggest a sort of pastoral urbanism. The ground as it was back then comprised two stands, an athletics tracks and curved banks behind each goal-end making do as terraces. Palermitani engineer Battista Santangelo was responsible and he covered the west-sided tribuna with an impressive concrete, cantilevered roof – a nod to the modernist style of his antecedent Ernesto Basile, the architect responsible for Teatro Massimo. By the season’s end Palermo had been promoted as champions to Serie A, only to be relegated four years later.
In 1948 Palermo topped Serie B for a second time and immediately set about developing La Favorita, possibly with a view to establishing a surer footing in Serie A. By 1952 the athletics track was gone and the end terraces had been built up to join the existing stands, enclosing the ground completely and providing capacity for 41,595 spectators. In 1954 Palermo were relegated once more.
Le Aquile (The Eagles) vacillated between the top two divisions for the next three decades, whereupon they found themselves demoted to Serie C. That same year – 1984 – the stadium was enlarged significantly with the addition of a second tier, supported on a steel framework reaching around from one end of the tribuna to the other, increasing the overall capacity to 44,860. In 1986, just as the club declared itself bankrupt, floodlights were installed.
If it wasn’t for the 1990 World Cup then that might have been that. Indeed, if it wasn’t for the fact that political expediency demanded Sicily play a part in the tournament, that might have been that. And it nearly was. In 1989, less than a year before the Word Cup was due to commence, two of the tribuna’s new roof supports collapsed, resulting in five fatalities. Another seven beams fell the following day, and had the site not been closed down by the local magistrate then the death toll could easily have been higher. The World Cup organising committee was reluctant to deprive Sicily of its chance to host world cup football but it looked like they might. FIFA, appreciating the gravity of the situation, and perhaps aware of how scarce rain is in Palermo over the summer, made an exception and gave permission for games to be played at La Favorita whether there was a roof in place or not. In the event, there was a roof.
The reason why a new roof was being assembled in the first instance was because the tribuna was to be demolished and built anew – only the protruding, middle section of the original façade would remain (deemed a “valid example of colonial architecture”). The new structure would house two tiers, effectively doubling its size, which in itself would not be enough to satisfy the minimum all-seated capacity required to accommodate world cup football. Consequently, the second ring of terracing that had been added in 1984 was extended upwards, contiguous with the upper tier of the new tribuna. These extensions were to be supported by Y-shaped steel beams running around the circumference of stadium, while the present framework supporting the lower portion of the second tier was to be partitioned off from view. Other improvements would include a new ‘Cell-System’ pitch, an electronic scoreboard, improved hospitality and press facilities, and a general tidying up of the surrounding precinct. The refurbished stadium was inaugurated on the 30th May 1990, nine days before the World Cup was due to commence.




In 2002, Stadio La Favorita was renamed Stadio Renzo Barbera in honour of the club’s former chairman, who died that same year. (During his tenure as president Palermo reached two Coppa Italia finals, losing narrowly to Bologna on penalties in 1974 and to Juventus in 1979 after extra time.) The ground as it stands today is worthy of his name.
The tribuna’s roof is supported by four concrete towers that double up as stairwells, providing access to the amenities within. They resemble the sort of thing you might see on the side of a multi-storey car park or shopping mall: a 1980s take on modernism not quite resisting the pull of post-modernism. In between the two middle towers is the smooth concrete façade of the original entrance hall. Either side of them, tinted glass. The upper tier leans backward, its concrete underside left exposed. A teal coloured, metal-clad rim runs around the top of it. The rear of the roof juts backward slightly and then slants diagonally forward – or rather the teal cladding does, obscuring the cantilevered beams that support the roof beneath. The stadium’s name is appended in yellow lettering, contrasting nicely against the teal facing.
Inside, the stadium is awash with green seats. The back walls are painted pink, the colour of Palermo’s shirts. Monte Pellegrino’s presence is in no way diminished, and the viewing angles are about as good as they can get. Stadio Renzo Barbera may be the least architecturally curious of the grounds used at the 1990 World Cup but it may be one of the most practical, and it has weathered well, perhaps due to the climate.
As is generally the case these days, there’s talk of building a new stadium elsewhere, down-scaling the existing one for municipal use. Since Unione Sportiva Città di Palermo’s liquidation – for the second time – and their reformation as Società Sportiva Dilettantistica Palermo, such schemes must surely be on hold. In the meantime, Stadio Renzo Barbera is more than capable of doing the job.


Saturday, 31 August 2019

THE SARTORIAL ELEGANCE OF SERIE A: A.S. BARI, 1990-92





Adidas has been a provider of football kits since such firms made it palpably clear that they were providing them (in the 1970s). Indeed, Adidas were one of the first companies to do so, appending their three-striped motif to the shoulders of the football shirts they provided, as well as their instantly recognisable ‘trefoil’ logo to the chest (as distinct from the rather bland ‘3 bar’ emblem they’ve been utilising since the early 1990s).
Despite a visible presence on the international scene, Adidas were not back then the dominant presence they are today, and this would have been especially true in Italy. That said, by the early 1980s there were three Italian teams of reasonable repute being supplied kit by the German conglomerate: Hellas Verona, Torino F.C. and A.S. Bari. Verona won their 1984/85 scudetto wearing Adidas – and very nice shirts they were too – in an association that lasted from 1983 through to 1987, whereupon the Veronese switched allegiance to Hummel. Torino worked with Adidas from 1984 to 1988 before hooking up with ABM, winning nothing. But Bari got there first and stayed with Adidas for the longest: from 1981 all the way through to 1997.

White football kits aren’t the most interesting and rely upon a tasteful splash of colour, or some other quirk, to liven them up. Real Madrid’s all-white strip was improved immeasurably when purple trim was added in the early 1980s. Leeds United, who modelled their strip on Real Madrid’s at Don Revie’s behest, found salvation by way of the wonderfully bizarre badge they introduced in 1973 (and jettisoned for something more conservative in 1977).
Bari’s colours are white with red trim. It’s not the most exciting of juxtapositions, but in the hands of Adidas it was made to work. Their earliest effort adhered to the traditional format: three red stripes running off the shoulder and the trefoil on the chest. In 1983 vertical pinstripes were added – in red, naturally – to be replaced in 1984 with thicker, horizontal stripes across the shoulders and thinner ones beneath. Then in 1985 – as Englishmen abroad Paul Rideout and Gordon Cowans joined the club – Adidas reintroduced the pinstripes.
Or did they? That season – 1985/86 – Bari were furnished with no less than five different shirts: the default white, pinstriped affair; a red, diagonally pinstriped shirt, presumably to be worn against opposition wearing white (clubs were not obliged back then to wear their second strip away from home); a blue iteration in case the red one didn’t suffice; a white, pinstriped shirt with red shoulder-panelling and sleeves; a red, pinstriped shirt with white shoulder-panelling and sleeves. It appears that those last two were issued for the winter months, but why they were adopted at all I have no idea. All these jerseys were pleasingly sponsored by Cassa di Risparmio di Puglia, written across the chest in an arc to make room for the bank’s insignia.
Perhaps bored of these striated schematics, Adidas then reverted to supplying Bari with an all-white strip (allowing for the three-stripes down the shoulder and the sides of the shorts, the trefoil logo, and a red collar) and would continue doing so for the next four years. The one constant throughout all of this was Bari’s tidy club crest: a cockerel in profile, rendered with modernist simplicity.




In 1989 A.S. Bari gained promotion from Serie B into Serie A. The following year they were hosting World Cup football at their new home, the impressive Stadio San Nicola.
It was around this period that Adidas decided that their three-stripe template needed shaking up. They proceeded cautiously, introducing a variety of configurations, many of which ended up on display at the 1990 World Cup. The strange, fragmented design that adorned the shirts of Czechoslovakia and the USSR, for example, must have been deemed a failure for it was swiftly abandoned. Strangely, the top in which West Germany won the tournament did not prove to be indicative of the direction Adidas wished to take. Nor those provided for Yugoslavia, Columbia, or for the USA and Romania. The shirts given to Cameroon and Egypt, on the other hand, became something of an Adidas staple, worn by the likes of Olympique Marseille, Anderlecht, Bayern Munich, and the Republic of Ireland (although not at Italia ’90). And then there was what the United Arab Emirates were wearing, which was also what France, Poland and Ghana wore, except France, Poland and Ghana hadn’t qualified for the 1990 World Cup. It was this template that Adidas would use at Bari for the next two seasons.
In truth this new wave of football shirt couture rarely delivered – overly complicated patterns rarely do in this context. Yet it somehow worked at Bari. In fact, Bari’s strip was pretty much identical to that of the UAE and is almost impossible to describe. The body of the shirt is white but the area covering the shoulders, and running diagonally towards the neck, is red, except on the top of the shoulders, which is white save for three red (Adidas) stripes sublimated over the top. Along the boundary between the red on the shoulder and the white of the trunk there are three hollow parallelograms running diagonally upwards either side of the chest, their outlines inverted. Sleeves are red on the outer side and white underneath the arm. Shorts and socks are white and exhibit Adidas’s obligatory red trim.
What really sets the kit off nicely, though, is the sponsor’s name, Sud Factoring, all lower case, printed in what looks like Goudy Heavy Face. And Bari’s badge, positioned just below the clavicle so as not to interfere with those parallelograms (as is Adidas’s trefoil geometrically opposite).


David Platt

Bari’s tenure in Serie A would be short-lived. In 1990/91 they finished in 13th place, four points above the relegation zone. They had some fairly decent players – Giovanni Loseto in defence, Pietro Maiellaro in midfield, João Paulo up front – and in ’91 brought in Daniele Fortunato from Juventus, Zvonimir Boban on loan from AC Milan, and David Platt from Aston Villa. To no avail. A. S. Bari were relegated, Adidas hung around for a couple more seasons, whereafter Lotto filled the void, and the shirt went downhill from there.


Sunday, 30 June 2019

STADIA: STADION POLJUD, SPLIT







When Simon Inglis penned The Football Grounds of Europe, Croatia was still part of Yugoslavia. As such, the former Socialist Republic constitutes the book’s final chapter, and Inglis elects to use Split’s Stadion Poljud as a sort of lament for football stadia as they once were: utilitarian, in service to the local community. He paints the Poljud as an example of modernity, alludes to its costly upkeep, an atmosphere-inhibiting running track, as well as nostalgia for Hajduk Split’s former home, a ground the locals referred to affectionately as Plinada (Gasworks). I take his point, but there were/are probably more pertinent examples with which to labour it – just none to be found in countries beginning with the letter Y.

Stadion Poljud was conceived of with the 1979 Mediterranean Games specifically in mind, and I suppose this might be more indicative of the theme that Inglis was warming to. As with Munich’s Olympiastadion, Seville’s Estadio La Cartuja or London’s London Stadium, Stadion Poljud caters for athletics first and football second. In modern parlance, one might say such grounds offer integrated solutions designed to maximise functionality. In any case, the implication is that the football supporters who inherit them are merely incidental. Or worse, that sentimentality plays no part in sport, when in fact without it sport is nothing.
Whilst I’d go along with all of this, I’m not so sure it applies to Stadion Poljud. It may have once, but not now, and not even in 1990 when Inglis’ hallowed tome was originally published. For starters, with a capacity of just under 35,000, Poljud isn’t that big. Moreover, the sight-lines are good and the running track doesn’t seem particularly intrusive. It’s the done thing these days to bemoan the presence of running tracks, yet nobody minded the old Wembley, with its greyhound/speedway circuit and ridiculously shallow rake. Nor will you often hear anybody berating the atmosphere at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico or Belgrade’s Stadion Rajko Mitić. Might the problem be, then, not so much the athletics’ facilities themselves but the sort of structures built to accommodate them?




The elliptical nature of a running track precludes the incorporation of rectilinear terraces and advances the case for constructing something seamless. The architect may endeavour to disturb the monotony – for example, the breaks in the two upper tiers at Turin’s ill-fated Stadio delle Alpi, or the single gap present in Berlin’s Olympiastadion – but these are mere gestures that do nothing to detract from the uniformity of the thing. They remain, in essence, rotationally symmetrical forms. Stadion Poljud, on the other hand, exhibits a very obvious reflective symmetry (plenty of stadiums do: Porto’s Estádio do Dragão; the Olympic Stadium of Athens, Marseille’s monstrous Stade Vélodrome). This has the effect of dividing it into four distinct sections – or rather two pairs – generating a more open sense of space.
Actually, the Poljud is very much a unified structure. Circular from without, elliptical from within, the stadium’s form is that of an undulating concrete bowel, its outside edge rising gently on both sides culminating in two indistinguishable grandstands. These stands, which contribute the bulk of the ground’s capacity, are covered with crescent-shaped roofs arcing upward on a gracile latticework of steel. They are impressive feats of engineering, even if the translucent Lexan panelling – a polycarbonate developed specifically with the US space programme in mind – that forms the actual canopy has become drably discoloured over time.
The shallower areas behind each goal have been left exposed, offering views towards the Dinaric Alps to the north and the Marjan Peninsula to the south (or a large block of apartments, depending on your position). The northern sector provided for standing room only up until the late 1990s, and it is where Hajduk Split’s hardcore supporters – Torcida Split – like to vociferously congregate. At the opposing end an electronic scoreboard, various utilities, and what could reasonably be described as landscape gardening.




And what of the Poljud’s exterior, its setting, its milieu? To maintain a relatively low profile, the lower half of the ground – including its offices, gyms and ancillary facilities – is subterranean. Despite this, the stadium’s exposed, parabolic concrete shell is an imposing sight when approached head on. The building’s periphery has been sculpted to create a sort of verdant concourse, as well as access via a series of tunnels. To its left, docks, harbours, jetties, and the Gulf of Kaštela beyond. South-west, the aforementioned Marjan peninsula, peaking at 178 metres and strewn with Mediterranean pines. To the north, the twin peaks of Kozjak and Mosor, with Klis Castle, and the pass it was built to protect, in between. Split’s old town centre is about 15 minutes’ walk away in a south-easterly direction. All in all, it is a very attractive setting.
Whether the Stadion Poljud enhances its environment or brings it down might depend on how the individual feels about raw, reinforced concrete and Lexan panelling. The stadium does look tired in places, yet it is well maintained generally, and the amenities are good. But in terms of atmosphere I get the sense that the place isn’t short on it, especially at night when the whole thing glows and the full weight of Hajduk’s support is thrown behind its football team.