Temples of The Cult: San Siro, The “Scala del Calcio” in Milan

It took a while, but we are finally here. Our journey across the Italian stadiums wouldn’t be complete without mentioning this one. A synonymous for ageless football, for classic and ancient, but also modern and current. The latest rumors on the subject have it that its demolition could happen at some point – which we believe would further enhance its status as a mythical playing ground.

There are only a few stadiums as emblematic as this one (perhaps Wembley?). This is a stadium of two names, of four Champions League finals, and of thousands of Derby della Madonnina. Today, at last, we are talking about the Giuseppe Meazza Stadium in Milan or, as the other half of the city calls it, the San Siro Stadium.

The history of “La Scala del Calcio” (a reference to the Teatro Alla Scala, the elegant opera house of the city of Milan) began in 1925, when the then-president of Milan, Piero Pirelli (yes, a member of that same Pirelli Family whose company has been Inter’s main sponsor for over two decades!) came up with the idea of creating a new city venue that could finally host the local games of his team.

Milan were over 30 years old at the time and had been wandering through almost every playing ground available in the city (Campo Trotter, Campo Acquabella, Campo Milan di Porta Monforte, Velodromo Sempione, Campo Pirelli, Campo di Viale Lombardia and even the Arena Civica – before it became Inter’s home).

The dream came true thanks to architects Ulisses Stachini and Alberto Cogini. The San Siro neighborhood was chosen as a location and the construction figures looked unreal: It is said that it cost about 5000 Italian Liras to build the San Siro (translated at current currency exchange rates, that would be a little over 2000 euros), which was completed in just 13 months, had a capacity for 35000 people, and only required 120 workers.

The result, however, was not what the San Siro looks like nowadays. The stadium was designed mainly for football, with four stands directly overlooking the pitch – which all got filled on the inauguration day on September 19, 1926. The match could not be other than a Milan-Inter derby, which saw the “local” Rossoneri lose 3-6.

This is how the San Siro in Milan looked before its major restructuring. Notice how the stadium had no roof, but could already boast a pretty modern outlook – considering it was built back in 1926

A few years later, the San Siro was one of the venues for the first World Cup hosted by Italy in 1934 and, in particular, the scenario of the legendary Semi-Final between Italy and Austria that resulted in a 1-0 victory for the Azzurri – who were on their way to conquering their first world title.

In 1935, Milan ceded the ownership of the stadium to the City of Milan, which still owns it today. The Comune was the driving force behind the first renovation works, which lead to the creation of two curve linking the four stand sections, thus increasing the number of seated spectators.

After World War II, cross-town rivals Inter left the Arena Civica and started to play their home games at the San Siro as well. That was the beginning of the stadium hosting the much-famous Derby della Madonnina – the “Our Little Lady,” a statue of the Assumption of the Virgin standing at the top of the Duomo of Milan.

As of today, Inter have a slight advantage in the all-time record, having won four more derbies than their Rossoneri rivals. The Derby di Milano with its stunning supporter choreographies is a much-awaited event every season, though some of its editions were stained by fans’ bad behavior – a situation summed up by a famous picture of Marco Materazzi and Manuel Rui Costa looking impotent as the stadium is filled with flares’ smoke after a flare had hit Milan’s goalkeeper Dida during a Champions League Quarter-Final.

This picture of Marco Materazzi and Manuel Rui Costa became a sad memento of how much damage can some bad supporters’ behavior do to the beautiful game. It needs to be said, however, that the Derby of Milan has in general always been less fierce than some other cross-town battles in Italy…

Two years after Inter’s arrival, lights were installed at the San Siro for the first time. It was something quite unprecedented for its time since it made it possible to play matches also in the afternoon and at night. It was also a way to mitigate the effects of the ill-famed nebbia di Milano (“mist of Milan”) that often made it difficult to watch the games.

The San Siro reached another milestone in the middle of the ‘60s with the installation of a video scoreboard that gave it a more modern look.

With the death of Giuseppe “Peppino” Meazza in August 1979, the Comune of Milano decided to honor his memory by naming the local stadium after him. Meazza had been an emblematic figure for the city, a two-time World Champions who had played for both the Nerazzurri and the Rossoneri.

The new denomination became official in 1980 even though, 40 years later, there is still much controversy surrounding it. So, let’s try to shed some light on the matter.

Watching a game at the San Siro on a sold-out day – better if in the occasion of a Derby della Madonnina – is an experience every football fan do at least once in a lifetime

While it is true that Giuseppe Meazza played for both city clubs, his period at Inter was much longer, fruitful, and prolific. Meazza made his debut with the Nerazzurri, played there for more than 10 seasons, won 3 Italian titles, and was the Serie A top scorer in 3 seasons (scoring a maximum 31 goals in one of them). Meazza’s experience at Milan, on the other hand, was fleeting – only one-season long, where he collected 37 caps and scored 9 goals.

It is then understandable why the Rossoneri fans are reluctant to adopt the Giuseppe Meazza denomination and they still prefer to call the stadium San Siro when they play there.

In view of World Cup 1990, the now Giuseppe Meazza was subject to a major restyling. According to the project, the stadium’s characteristic structure, with the access ramps on the outside, was meant to change radically. That was not without controversy and it took a lot of work from the city council and the two teams to agree to it. Milan were even considering going to play elsewhere but an agreement was eventually reached and the restructuring could begin.

The final decision was to build 11 cylindrical towers to support the brand-new terzo anello (the third ring of the stands), as well as the now-iconic red beams that would carry the almost integral roof of the stadium. This is how the Giuseppe Meazza gained the very characteristic aspect that turned it into one of the major stages for European and world football.

As part of its mid-’80s restyling, the San Siro was provided with a peculiar red roof, supported by 11 cylindrical pillars, which gave it the outlook we are all now accustomed to

From the first one in 1965 to the most recent one played in 2016, the Giuseppe Meazza was chosen four times by UEFA to host the Champions League Final. The black-and-blue side of Milano will remember the first one most fondly as Inter won against Benfica to conquer their first international title.

Then came the agonizing Final between Celtic Glasgow and Feyenoord in 1970, with the Dutch side scoring a winner right before the end of extra time; Valencia’s second defeat in a Final in a row as they succumbed on penalties to Bayern Munich in 2001, and – most recently – the 2016 Madrid Derby replay as Real beat Atletico again like two years earlier.

It is hard to think that, at some point, a stadium that is the living history of the sport and of the city of Milan itself may no longer be standing. However, the time has taken a toll on it and the structure is no longer as safe as it should be.

So, while you still are in time, we recommend that you visit it, so that you can one day tell your grandchildren that you have stepped on the legendary Giuseppe Meazza Stadium – or San Siro, depending on which side you lean on.

Click Below to Visit Some More Temples of The Italian Football Cult:

The San Paolo Stadium in Napoli
The Luigi Ferraris aka Marassi in Genoa
The Stadio Olimpico in Rome
The Renato Dall’Ara Stadium in Bologna
The San Nicola Stadium in Bari
The Renzo Barbera or La Favorita in Palermo
The Ennio Tardini Stadium in Parma
The Artemio Franchi Stadium in Florence
The Late Stadio Delle Alpi in Turin
Atalanta’s Gewiss Stadium in Bergamo
The Cibali or Angelo Massimino In Catania
The Stadio Adriatico Giovanni Cornacchia In Pescara
The Stadio Friuli or Dacia Arena In Udine
Sassuolo’s Mapei Stadium In Reggio Emilia