Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Stadio Sant' Elia - gone but not forgotten

Back in the 1999-2000 season when I lived in Sassari I went to most home games of Sassari Torres. At the time they were in Serie C2, but were on the way to a promotion. That was all well and good and I had many a good time there, but after a year of being in Rome with Stadio Olimpico in walking distance I'd got used to the heights of Serie A. Therefore my real treat was always getting on the long bus journey across the island to see Cagliari play at Stadio Sant' Elia in the top flight. At the time the team were struggling at the wrong end of Serie A and the club definitely had some desperate problems. However, Cagliari is a fine city and even if the local Ichnusa beer is pretty foul it was always a good day out and felt like a bit of an adventure. Driving through the mountainous regions of Sardinia, getting into Cagliari as the sun came out, going for a walk around the old city, lunch in a bar and then picking up tickets and watching the away fans arrive by boat. What a great way to spend a Sunday, just a pity the football at the time was so bad and the fans were generally revolting in more ways than one. That said you could always go down there and see some of the best players in the world for £8. I know that is going back a bit, but you have to consider at the time Wycombe bloody Wanderers were asking for £14. Typically though in that season one of the few home games that they won was against Roma when they got a jammy 1-0 win on the one occasion that I was in the away end.

So what has this all go to do with the end of Sant' Ellia? Well, I read last night that Cagliari were now playing their home games at some stadium on the edge of the city rather than their grand old ground near the city and the sea, and as it happens this new stadium is not safe and the game against Milan at the weekend is in doubt. That said one of the excuses that they had for leaving Sant' Elia at the end of last season was safety. Someone more cynical might think playing Milan and the referee, as it seems to be lately would be enough reason to call the game off.

The stadium was opened in 1970 following Cagliari's spectacular and only Scudetto. At that time the capacity was 60,000 and they even managed to get 70,000 in there at one time for a game against St.Etienne. There was however a major reconstruction for the World Cup of 1990 and the capacity was brought down to 39,905. It was in this incarnation where England and Italy played out a 1-1 draw and the incarnation in which I used to watch them. There was always a slightly amateur feel to the place though that had its own special charm. For example, I remember one time when I had the equivalent of a £50 note and the club ticket office didn't have the change. It ended in me having to change it with a hot dog seller, who gave me a load of counterfeit notes, but that's another story. The away fans were greeted by a character who looked like Norman Wisdom, who used to sell the tickets to the away fans one by one.

In 2002 - 2003 the stadium was reconstructed again, due to them not being able to fill it, although I think that was more to do with the poor quality of football rather than the questionable way of distributing tickets, and the capacity was brought down to about 24,000.

Unpopular club president Massimo Cellino wanted to move the club to a new ground in 2007, but the council put a block on it and the club stuck it out at the now fading Sant' Elia. However, last year the club finally completely fell out with the local council and after playing a few games in far off Trieste settled at the new stadium, which doesn't seem adequate.

It's with a bit of nostalgia that I feel the passing of Sant' Elia in the same way as when CSKA Kyiv left their old stadium before the club itself disappeared into history. At least Cagliari Calcio seem like they will carry on despite the closing of their old grand ground.

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