Spanish Debate: The Best Stadium In La Liga

Ewan Macdonald casts an eye at five of La Liga's finest arenas and asks the readers to decide which is the best of all...
Even if you watch your Primera División action via television signals from thousands of miles away, you cannot help but notice the difference between the stadia.

From the unspeakably massive Bernabéu and Camp Nou right down to the tiny Pajaritos of Numancia, there is no shortage of variety. But with that is some mediocrity: running tracks and identikit stands abound.

Still, some stadiums stand out, and here are just five. Why not pick your favourite out of these, or suggest your own?

Stadia are listed in no particular order.

REYNO DE NAVARRA - Osasuna - Pamplona/Iruña, Navarre

Crumbling? Yes. Out of town? Yes. A masterpiece of 1960s concrete? Yes. Why, then, is the Reyno de Navarra on this list?

Simply because it is a stadium of such atmosphere that it cannot be ignored. Sandwiched incongruously between a univeristy and some fields, it is a cauldron of noise right in the heart of Navarre.

The stands are ever so slightly elevated above the pitch, and - unusually for Spain - each has a roof. But the key aspects are that the corners are filled and, above all, that this is one steep stadium. Indeed, individual rows come with barriers to prevent careless fans from tumbling down to the pitch. This means that the fans are uncommonly close to the action and, barring those behind the odd pillars at the back, are afforded a great view.

With no running track, a fully enclosed arena, and some hardcore fans behind the goals, this is a stadium that makes up for its lack of aesthetics with pure intimidation value.

CAMP NOU - FC Barcelona - Barcelona, Catalonia

It's often observed that one of the most beautiful, heart-lifting arenas in world sport has the most boring name: the "New Field".

Still, a fancy, poetic name is hardly required, because this structure speaks for itself. Opened in 1957 to replace the Camp de Les Corts, Camp Nou is as impressive now as it was then. Seating 98,772, the ground has played host to more than a few six-figure crowds during its storied history; even at two-thirds full, as it often is today, its allure is undeniable.

What's more, it's going to get better yet. With some parts of the ground uncovered, a multi-million euro renovation plan is underway to roof the entire stadium and also add a further 10,000 seats, well and truly cementing its place as Spain's biggest - and some might say best - football stadium.

SANTIAGO BERNABÉU - Real Madrid - Madrid, Community Of Madrid

Slightly smaller than Camp Nou, the Bernabéu manages the odd trick of being both older and slightly more modern-looking than its Barcelona counterpart.

Opened in 1947, Real Madrid's home has been rejuvenated and restructed countless times, but its reputation has always gone before it.

Unlike many grounds its upgrades have been relatively seamless, too: the third tier, added in the 1950s, rose the capacity to a six-figure level, and although that has since decreased the stadium still has a tremendous atmosphere to it.

Its location is a double-edged sword: being in the middle of a wealthy business district just north of downtown Madrid it is easily accessible by the excellent city metro, but it lacks the homespun neighbourhood charm of the Vicente Calderón, which sits in a gritty residential area.

Still, what matters is on the inside, and here - aside from the slightly shallow lowest tiers - the Bernabéu is an absolute triumph of a stadium.

EL MOLINÓN - Real Sporting de Gijón - Gijón, Asturias

El Molinón does not sparkle. It lacks symmetry. Its expansion areas look as if they were put together over a weekend. Yet somehow it remains an incredible stadium.

Fully 91 years old, photos exist of rustic setting in the early part of the century with a large, dignified stand and three fenced areas, signifying the ground as it was then.

Today the ground itself is extremely different, but the unique charm of 'The Mill' remains, partially due to the piecemeal construction that has left corners filled in the most haphazard fashion.

But it is the atmosphere that this arena is famous for, and while it is the fans that provide it, the stadium's design certainly helps. Being on the rainy north coast it is unsurprising that it was the first ground in Spain to be fully covered - a definitive factor in its legacy of eardrum-bursting crowd noise that continues to the present day.

Never will the stadium win a beauty award, but for atmosphere, charm, and tradition, it cannot be beaten.

VICENTE CALDERÓN - Atlético Madrid -
Madrid, Community of Madrid

I fully realise that this choice will be controversial, for the Calderón is not to everyone's tastes. I, however, love it.

This is a stadium that, if one wishes to see it, must be taken in soon: the Calderón will be gone within a matter of years. Atlético are eager to leave their spiritual home, and it isn't hard to see why: local brewer Mahou want the land, with all the potential lucre that follows; there is no room for expansion; a river runs next to it and a motorway runs through it (right under the west stand, in fact.)

Yet the 'Bombonera'-shaped edifice remains one of world football's most distinguished grounds, and one that - allowing for the absence of the sub-stand road - could well be replicated elsewhere. The bowl of the stadium could do with being ever so slightly steeper, but other than that the three-sided stand and main tribune work together perfectly.

It isn't much at first glance, but this is a stadium that is far more than the sum of its parts. It will be sorely missed.

Honourable Mentions

Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán - Sevilla FC - Seville, Andalucia - Incredibly imposing when full, this is the best stadium in the city of Seville and one of the finest in all of Andalucia.

Riazor - Deportivo de La Coruña - A Coruña, Galicia - Its roof design is bizarre and not the best conduit for noise, while it is blighted by a quite needless running track. Despite this it retains a charm that is hard to explain.

San Mames - Athletic Club Bilbao - Bilbao/Bilbo, Basque Country - Unspeakably ugly on the outside - like a Soviet convention centre built mainly from corrugated iron - San Mames is a world unto itself on the inside, which is capped by an impressive, newly-roofed main stand.

Dishonourable Mentions

Olímpico Lluis Companys - RCD Espanyol - Barcelona, Catalonia - A soulless, joyless, empty bowl at Montjuïc. Espanyol are moving to a new ground, and not a minute before time. Both the fans that sit in the ground and the man whose name adorns the stadium deserve better than this.

Nuevo Colombino - Recreativo de Huelva - Huelva, Andalucia -
From the bizarre French school of stadium design: one huge stand with the rest of a ground as an afterthought.

Estadio de los Juegos Mediterráneo - UD Almería - Almería, Andalucia - As the name suggests, this ground was built for the Mediterranean games, which are primarily athletic in their outlook. For track and field this stadium is fine; for football it is too distant and impersonal.

ONO Estadi - RCD Mallorca - Mallorca, Balearic Islands - San Moix shares basically the same flaws as the Lluis Companys, but it is blighted further than the fact that it is a permanent solution and one that Mallorca probably will not leave anytime soon.

Ewan Macdonald,