It’s 30 years since Barcelona hosted the hugely successful 1992 Summer Olympic games which transformed the fortunes of the city. The main stadium used for the events where British athlete Linford Christie won gold in the 100 metres and his compatriot Derek Redmond pulled up in the 400 metres but iconically hobbled to complete the race assisted by his father, is back in the news.
Barcelona will play their home games in the 2023-24 season in the venue known to the world as the Olympic Stadium but to Catalans as Montjuic. Barca’s usual 99,000 capacity Camp Nou home, which has been showing its age, will be redeveloped, covered and expanded into a 110,000-seat stadium – the biggest in the world used by a major football team.
Montjuic seats half that amount, but Barca were fortunate to have it as an option, although they did consider expanding their 6,000 capacity Johan Cruyff Stadium which is used by their reserve and women’s team. The club estimates that it will cost between €15-20 million to bring Montjuic up to the level needed to stage major football matches, though it successfully staged Espanyol’s home games between 1997-2009.
Espanyol fans never loved their temporary home, with its running track on top of the Montjuic. They felt it was cold, especially when half full, with the pitch too far from the stands, but it should be full for every Barca league game.
Montjuic has seldom been loved by the public, but it occupies a prestigious site overlooking Barcelona on one side and the Mediterranean sea on the other.
The stadium was built to be the main stadium of Spain under the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera. Opened for the 1929 International Exhibition and the centrepiece of an unsuccessful Olympic bid in 1936 (Berlin staged those games), the stadium hosted several cup finals but it remained underused and it fell into a state of gradual disrepair.
Barcelona’s triumphant 1992 Olympic games was its saviour. Only the shell was retained and the inside rebuilt and filled with seats. The 18,000-capacity Palau St Jordi and Olympic swimming pool, with a stunning view over Barcelona, were built nearby in an area known as the Olympic Ring. The area remains popular with the tourists who’ve made Barcelona one of the most popular cities in Europe to visit.
Barca’s average crowds of 75,000 before covid will struggle to be accommodated within Montjuic’s 55,000 seats, but staying at Camp Nou, where work will begin this summer, was impossible.
The club will only leave for one season of the remodelling of Camp Nou, which is set to be fully ready for the start of the 2025-26 term. Rivals Real Madrid left the Bernabeu for a season while their own home was rebuilt, a project that make the home of the European champions arguably the best stadium in football.
Some Barca fans will miss out on watching their temporary team in the stadium where Lionel Messi made his competitive debut in a Catalan derby against Espanyol in 2004, with president Joan Laporta saying: “All members and season ticket holders who want to come to the stadium will be able to do so by means of a democratic system on a rotation basis so that as many people as possible get the chance to be here at the Olympic Stadium.”
After several false starts, fans will want to first see construction start at Camp Nou, soon to be known as Spotify Camp Nou, though Barca now have funding for the project via a separate mortgage.