Football is one of the most popular sports around the world. Its simple rules and the need for very little equipment to participate in it make it a sport that is very easy to take part in, regardless of your social class. Because of this, professional football has had a huge following since its inception and the number of fans has grown over the years thanks to, among other things, major technological advances such as the invention of the Internet.
Since its beginnings, football has been a sport that has generated a great deal of excitement and has always needed large venues to accommodate the goal-hungry, thrill-seeking public. In order to bring the teams’ supporters together, football stadiums began to appear. Here, large numbers of fans could gather to enjoy the weekend match of their favourite team live. They were and are also used to socialise and enjoy the company of other football fans.
Of all the great football stadiums around the world (Santiago Bernabéu, Camp Nou, Old Trafford, Anfield, Giuseppe Meazza, Saint Denis, Maracaná, La Bombonera…) there is one that is particularly special for all football fans: Wembley Stadium.
Wembley: the cathedral of football
Wembley Stadium is undoubtedly the reference stadium for football worldwide. It was built in 1923 and was the venue for various international competitions such as the London Olympics in 1948 and the 1966 World Cup.
The nickname “the cathedral of football” is due to the fact that the footballer Pelé, also known as O Rey (The King), decided to rename it as such.
The stadium was inaugurated in 1923 for the FA Cup Final between Bolton Wanderers and West Ham United of London. As a curiosity about this match, the final was christened “the final of the white horse”, since, in the middle of the match there was an invasion of the pitch by the fans of both teams that ended when, in order to end the invasion of the pitch, a policeman crossed it on the back of a white horse called Billie.
This stadium was demolished in 2002 to build a new Wembley Stadium, which ended up being one of the main venues for the London Olympics in 2012. The last football match to be played at the football cathedral was a match between the German and English national teams, ending, unfortunately for the English, with a result in favour of the German team.
This stadium, as well as being the home of many of the great figures in the history of football, has also been the venue for major concerts and events, such as the farewell concert for Freddie Mercury in 1992, where some of the most important figures in music at the time gathered to pay tribute to the leader of the band Queen, who died in London in 1991 at the age of 45.
San Mamés: the cathedral of Spanish football
On the other hand, if you are a Spanish football fan, you will have another stadium in mind when talking about “the cathedral”: the San Mamés stadium.
The San Mamés stadium is the home stadium of Athletic Club de Bilbao, was built in 1913 (more than a hundred years of history, despite its several refurbishments and the construction of a completely new stadium in order to accommodate a larger number of fans) and is located in the city centre.
The reason why this stadium is nicknamed “the cathedral” derives from the custom of the Bilbao fans to qualify where they were going when they said they were going to San Mamés, since, for many years, there was an asylum with the same name.
One of the reasons why this nickname has been maintained over the years is due to the dignity of the Bilbao fans, always ready to cheer on their team until the end of the match, but also capable of recognising the greatness of the rival who comes to their stadium.
The words of great footballers such as Xavi Hernández, former FC Barcelona player and recognised as one of the greatest midfielders in the modern history of football, support this idea: “I am very grateful to the San Mamés fans, they have always treated me very well there and you get goosebumps when they give you a standing ovation”.
Moreover, this stadium was built in the same space where there would have been a chapel dedicated to San Mamés, which, when it was demolished (and according to the story that has been passed down among the fans), someone said: “A cathedral is going to be built here”.
It is curious how Athletic Bilbao fans come to support their team in a way comparable to that of those who profess a religion, always understanding and devoted to the players who defend their colours. They accompany the team wherever they go to play and offer an unrivalled atmosphere in all the stadiums they visit.
A museum about Athletic Club de Bilbao and the San Mamés stadium itself has now been installed, which tells the history of the club, its achievements and its most representative players, as well as the evolution of the stadium, from its beginnings to the current San Mamés, passing through the different remodelling works that have taken place over the years. In addition, you can see the cups corresponding to the multitude of titles won during the more than one hundred years of history of this team: leagues, cups and Spanish Super Cups.