The shutters came down on Spotify Camp Nou on Sunday as Spanish champions Barcelona beat Mallorca 3-0 in the penultimate LaLiga game of the season (stream the replay on ESPN+). The stadium that has been the home of Johan Cruyff, Diego Maradona, Ronaldinho, Lionel Messi and many other legends of the game will be redeveloped over the next 18 months following years of decay. Barca president Joan Laporta says once the revamp is finished, the Catalan club will have "the best ground in the world."
Over 88,000 fans were present to bid farewell to the ageing stadium, which originally opened in 1957. Barca commemorated the occasion with a video of some of the venue's most historic moments -- with Messi's showreel enticing fans to bellow his name around Camp Nou in the hope of seeing him back at the club next season -- before signing off with a pitch display, dance routines, live music, confetti and fireworks.
The renovation work actually started during the midseason break for the 2022 World Cup. A large section of a stand behind one of the goals was removed, reducing the capacity in the second half of the season from 99,000 to 94,000. Now, with the campaign ending, the much-needed modernisation of the stadium will be set in motion.
Camp Nou history
Barca moved into Camp Nou in the Les Corts area of the city 66 years ago, inaugurating the stadium with a series of friendlies involving a Warsaw XI, Flamengo, Burnley and Borussia Dortmund.
Years of history have followed. In 1960, they became the first team to knock five-time winners Real Madrid out of the European Cup there. A decade later came Cruyff, who changed the club's history and starred in many memorable moments, such as his incredible acrobatic goal against Atletico Madrid in 1973. There have been epic European comebacks, against Anderlecht in 1979 and Goteborg in 1986; against Milan in 2013 and Paris Saint-Germain in 2017, when celebrations after Sergi Roberto's winner were so loud they registered as a mini-earthquake.
There has been plenty of Brazilian magic: Romario's cowtail turn against Madrid in 1994, Ronaldo's 47-goal campaign in 1996-97, Rivaldo's bicycle kick against Valencia in 2001 and all sorts of sorcery from Ronaldinho.
It's not always been all smiles, though. In 1970, supporters filled the pitch with the cushions from their seats in protest at referee Emilio Carlos Guruceta's decision to award Madrid a penalty. In another game against Madrid years later, in 2002, fans pelted objects at Luis Figo, including the now infamous pig's head, after he betrayed the club by leaving for their Clasico rivals.
More recently, Camp Nou has provided the stage for Messi's mastery, a manita (a five-goal win) against Madrid in 2010, the Pep Guardiola years and then the coach's return as Bayern Munich boss in 2015 and, last year, the stadium twice broke the attendance record for a women's football game. The current record, 91,648, was set in the UEFA Women's Champions League semifinal against Wolfsburg.
There have been non-Barca moments as well. The opening game of the 1982 World Cup was played at Camp Nou, as was the final of the men's football tournament at the 1992 Olympic Games. It also hosted Manchester United's remarkable late turnaround against Bayern Munich to win the 1999 Champions League final and become the first English club to win the Treble.
Why is Camp Nou closing?
Appearances are deceiving with Camp Nou. A drab concrete bowl from the outside gives way to a steep, imposing stadium when you step inside. But while Europe's biggest ground remains impressive, especially on the biggest occasions, it has faded and degraded. The need for redevelopment has been obvious for a decade as new stadia have been built by some of Barca's biggest rivals -- Real Madrid, for example, are now playing in a redeveloped Bernabeu.
In the background, there have even been some serious issues with the stadium. Barca played 21 games there in 2019 and 2020 despite serious structural problems. La Vanguardia published reports that showed there was a "risk of fragments falling on supporters in walkways" and called for "immediate action." Grave hygiene breaches were also uncovered, as another report flagged pigeon nests covered in excrement which were attracting swarms of flies and mites, bird droppings all over the concourses and an accumulation of dirt that had been expanding for years.
Laporta admitted the stadium was in state of decay in 2021 when he was elected for his second stint as president and that the club needed to take immediate action to pass security checks despite the looming revamp.
What plans do Barca have for Camp Nou?
Plans to renovate the ground were first approved by Barca members in 2014, but due to myriad issues -- financial problems, the COVID-19 pandemic, a change in president -- the project, which includes the redevelopment of the area around the stadium, is only just getting started. Over 20 different lenders are helping fund the €1.5 billion project, which will see the capacity expand to 105,000.
"The club will start to repay the operation once work has been completed on the stadium, using income generated by Camp Nou, which is forecast to be around €247 million per year," Barca said last month.
The bottom tiers of the stadium, which Barca claim will be "at the avant-garde of technology," will be revamped rather than replaced, but the plan is for a new third tier to be put in to increase the amount of VIP seating and, therefore, revenue. The naming rights deal with Spotify, already in place, will also increase in value progressively.
The new stadium will boast a roof covered in 30,000 square metres of solar panels -- no more getting wet when it rains. This energy will be used to power the new 360-degree screen that will run around the entire interior of the stadium, as well as various security systems. In another effort to improve the ground's sustainability, rainwater will also be collected and recycled.
Outside, the concourse will feature a raft of new office complexes and green spaces, as well as an on-site hotel, event spaces, an ice rink and the "Palau Blaugrana" -- a smaller pavilion arena that is primarily the home of the club's basketball team.
Where will Barca go?
In the meantime, Barca will be reluctant tenants at the Olympic Stadium in the Montjuic area of the city, where rivals Espanyol played between 1997 and 2009. The move, Barca estimate, will cost them around €90m in revenue annually, in part due to the massively reduced capacity of only 50,000 -- almost half the number of spectators that the Camp Nou can hold.
Other qualms include the location of the arena, which was built in 1927 and renovated in 1989 to be used for the Olympic Games in 1992. It sits at the top of a hill in the middle of the city and is difficult to reach by public transport. Many season-ticket holders will take up an option offered by the club to sit the season out, returning to Camp Nou when the work is finished.
Barca coach Xavi has expressed concerns about having to relocate, saying they will need supporters more than ever to help them avoid losing that feeling of home advantage. "It won't be easy," he said last weekend.
Xavi's side lost only one league match at home this season -- a 2-1 loss to Real Sociedad on May 20, the week after they had been confirmed as champions of LaLiga for the first time since 2019. If Barca are to retain the title, they will need to find a way to make Montjuic as much of a fortress as their beloved Camp Nou.