Juventus’s Stadio Delle Alpi: A home that never was

Words by Harvey Sayer Illustration by Philippe Fenner
July 24, 2018

For almost an entire century, Juventus football club yearned for a stadium they could call home, their dream was to construct a venue that matched the side’s ambition as Italy’s most consistent force. However, the reality was that they endured years of compromise, remaining shackled to local rivals Torino as multiple sites failed to provide the solution.

Finally, on the 8th September 2011, Juventus would be granted their wish, and they haven’t looked back since. The chasm between the Italian champions and the rest of the field appears wider than it’s ever been. To understand the degree to which the Juventus’ stadium has affected the club – but could also radically shift the landscape of Italian football stadiums – it’s essential first to analyse the Bianconeri’s previous grounds and why their latest finally feels like home.

Early in their history, The Old Lady bounced around stadiums before finally settling into the Stadio Comunale in 1933, built for the Student Games that year, but would go on to host several matches at the 1934 FIFA World Cup, as Italy lifted the Jules Rimet trophy for the first time.

Initially, the stadium was considered grand, and although Juventus enjoyed substantial success throughout their 57-year stay at the Stadio Comunale – winning the Italian top flight on 16 occasions – however, by the time the mid-1980’s came around, the venue needed significant renovation to retain its modern image.

When Italy won the right to host the 1990 FIFA World Cup the solution appeared obvious; plans were quickly established for the construction of a concrete colossus known as the Stadio delle Alpi (Stadium of the Alps) in Turin, to be used as one of the host venues for the tournament, with Juventus and Torino becoming tenants the following season.

The tournament might have divided opinions as football begun a radical modernisation, producing a far more tactically astute and defensively conscious mindset in most countries’ approach. Unfortunately though, the Stadio delle Alpi didn’t divide opinion amongst the Juventus faithful. Its enormous capacity of 67,000 was plentiful for the World Cup, but always appeared ambitious to fill on a regular basis – especially for Torino. Combine this with catastrophic design errors that severely detracted from fans experience and a fractious relationship was quickly established between supporters of the Bianconeri and the cathedral in which its disciples worshipped.

The Italian model for stadium ownership is inherently different from its English equivalent. In Italy, stadia are built and owned by the city council and clubs who choose to play there must pay rent to do so. A negative of that model, however, is that it’s cost effective for councils to construct multi-purpose stadiums, explaining the culture in Italy of ellipsoidal stadiums with running tracks surrounding the pitch.

The Stadio delle Alpi was constructed in the same manner, and the increased distance fans found themselves from the pitch reduced visibility, though even more frustrating was the fact that due to a lack of a warm-up track, the ground wasn’t fit for purpose and never hosted any significant athletics event. This, of course, did not sit well with supporters.

Article: Juventus require major investment this summer.

Then there was the added frustration that any attempt to counteract the distance from the pitch by buying the closest seats created another obstructed view, with the ball scarcely visible over the height of the perimeter advertising hoardings.

Bizarrely this left Juventus in the position of being the best-supported club across Italy based on television audiences and away support, but unable to regularly fill their stadium.

Luckily the steadily dwindling attendances throughout the 90’s didn’t translate onto the pitch.

Giovanni Trapattoni guided Juve past Borussia Dortmund in both legs of the UEFA Cup final in 1993, in the process delivering the first piece of silverware to display at the new ground. Juventus’s stellar line-up featured the mercurial Roberto Baggio, who thrived as a trequartista, later collecting the Ballon d’Or for 1993. Michel Platini would go on to describe Baggio as a “nine and a half” due to his insatiable appetite for goal scoring, while still maintaining a sizeable creative influence on the side, by virtue of his vision and passing range.

The following season under Marcello Lippi’s stewardship, Juventus were scintillating, securing their first Scudetto in nine years to complete a Serie A and Coppa Italia double. During the campaign Baggio would sustain a knee injury that kept him out of action for three months, Alessandro Del Piero was promoted from the youth team in his place and proved an excellent and exciting understudy. Those appearances – including a hat-trick on his full debut – marked the emergence of Del Piero, who would go on to score a record 290 times for the Old Lady.

The Bianconeri were denied a historic treble after defeat to Parma in the UEFA Cup final that year; but their decision to play both their home semi and final legs at the San Siro in Milan was justified by filling the stadium on each occasion – something they had been unable to manage previously at the Stadio delle Alpi in spite of its smaller capacity.

By this time the Turin city council had increased the rental costs on the Stadio delle Alpi to extortionate amounts, due in part to massively exceeding the budget for Italia 90’. Despite having only been at the ground for five years, Juventus had already begun plans to relocate, investigating how much it would cost the club to build a stadium.

Although that didn’t slow the team’s ascent to the summit of European football. At the beginning of the 1996 season, Lippi controversially decided Baggio no longer featured in his plans, instead focusing on Del Piero’s flourishing talent. There was an understandable uproar from the Juventus faithful as their idol was sold to title rivals AC Milan, but the Bianconeri’s run to the Champions League final justified the decision, there they would play defending champions Ajax in Rome’s Stadio Olimpico.

The final was a nervous encounter with a catalogue of missed chances, extra time finished 1-1, and both goals were the product of defensive errors. Ultimately leaving penalties to produce a victor.

Edgar Davids immediately put Ajax up against it by missing the first spot kick, and outstretched Edwin Van Der Sar was unable to prevent Juventus dispatching their initial three penalties. For the Dutch champion’s fourth effort, Sonny Silooy’s weary legs could only yield a soft spot-kick that was comfortably kept out by Angelo Peruzzi, and this presented Vladamir Jugovic with the opportunity to regain the Champions League for Juventus 11 years after their first triumph. Jugovic’s resulting strike was a furious blow into the bottom left corner, causing the Stadio Olimpico to erupt with elation.

The summer arrival of French prospect Zinedine Zidane from Bordeaux signalled the Italian giant’s intent to cement their current standing. Zidane would formulate a near-telepathic relationship with Del Piero and future signing Filippo Inzaghi during their time together, generating an rich seam of opportunities for the pair.

Zidane’s aura on the pitch was occasionally languid, usually rugged but consistently mesmerising and he was pivotal in securing back to back Scudetto’s for 1997 and 1998. Meanwhile, Juventus were unfortunate to taste defeat in consecutive Champions League finals; nevertheless, this remains a rich period of success for the Turin club.

However, a continually expanding trophy cabinet did nothing to attract a greater audience to the Stadio delle Alpi, and by the turn of the century, the average attendance had dropped to approximately 42,000. But by the turn of that century though, the Turin side had formulated a plan to alter the trend of that diminishing support.

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