When Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow stood ready in in July, 1956 it was clear for everybody that it was a unique stadium. Back then the stadium was known as Central Lenin Stadium, and it was built after the Soviet Union had experienced great success at the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki. The USSR won 71 medals, only five less than the United States, and it was decided that the country should have a stadium that would allow them to host the world’s biggest sports competitions.
Since then the stadium has hosted the 1980’s Summer Olympics, the 1999 UEFA Cup Final, the 2008 Champions League Final, the 2013 Worlds Athletics Championships and in 2018 it will host the biggest sport event of them all, the World Cup final. When the World Cup is over, Luzhniki will join an exclusive club of stadiums who have been the main stadium at the Summer Olympics, and have hosted the Champions League Final and World Cup final. The other stadiums are Wembley in London, Stadio Olimpico in Rome, Olympiastadion in Berlin and Olympiastadion in Munich.
When Russia was awarded the World Cup the Moscow city authorities had to make a difficult decision as they wanted to get more seats into the stadium. I recently went on a personal tour of the Luzhniki Construction to learn more about how the Moscow authorities planned to make changes to the stadium in the leadup to the World Cup.
Anastasia, the press officer at the construction company who works on Luzhniki, explained to me that they had to choose between three options. The first one was to completely demolish the stadium, like they did with Wembley in London. Number two was to dig the pitch lower into the ground, in order to make room for more rows of seats. The third and last option was to get rid of the running track around the pitch, and thus transform Luzhniki into a prober football stadium. The authorities chose the last option, as the historic façade of the stadium is an iconic part of Moscow’s city picture. Furthermore option number two was quickly ruled out, as the Moscow River makes the soil beneath the stadium too soft, which would ruin the pitch if they lowered the stadium.
It is however only the outside of Luzhniki that have been allowed to survive for the World Cup. The entire inside of the stadium has been demolished, and it will be completely modernized by 2018.
During my last trip to Moscow in the middle of August I was lucky enough to get an exclusive tour around Luzhniki to observe how the construction work was going. Anastasia explained to me that the construction was ahead of schedule, and that they hoped to be ready to plant the grass next year. On top of this she made it clear that around 1,500 workers work 24 hours a day at Luzhniki, something that is possible because the stadium isn’t located near where people live. These workers are split into two teams who work in 12 hour shifts.
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Author: Toke Møller Theilade
Brøndby supporter, groundhopper and more importantly Editor-in-Chief at Russianfootballnews.com. As a hopeless romantic, I still believe Fyodor Smolov and Viktoria Lopyreva has a future together.