In a week's time the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium will play host to the Philippine Football Peace Cup. Our national stadium was given a makeover last year with a new pitch and better facilities. There has been talk that it will be renovated once again. But that has yet to materialize.
Here's how I'd fix the stadium to make it a truly awesome, fan-friendly mecca for the Beautiful Game.
Keep the main grandstand. The main grandstand of Rizal Memorial is a wonderful example of the Art Deco architectural style that was all the rage before World War Two. It is simply gorgeous, in my opinion, and needs to be restored as much as possible to its original appearance. I would remove those wretched colored balls that blight its facade and restore its original color, whatever that might be. (It's probably close to beige or light brown.) Maybe newer, more comfortable seats could be installed, as well as a refurbished VIP area. Aside from that, it should remain largely untouched.
Get rid of the lights on top of the grandstand roof and replace them with two light towers. A few months ago I watched a friendly game between the Guam National Team and Stallion FC in Rizal Memorial. Balot Doctora muffed an easy header into the north goal off a cross from the left wing. He told me that he lost the ball in the lights on top of the grandstand, making it impossible to head effectively. Loyola keeper Ref Cuaresma has told me that he has also struggled with those lights.
You won't see a modern stadium with this kind of lighting on top of the roof. It's distracting to the players. Modern stadiums have very high towers that cast lights down on the players without blinding them. Two more such towers need to be erected beside the main grandstand.
Scoot the field right up beside the grandstand. I would move the field right up a few meters beside the grandstand, over the track. It's time we had a Football-specific stadium in the Philippines. I have nothing against the fine sport of Track and Field but I envision Rizal Memorial as a Football stadium and not a multi-purpose one. We have other stadiums for track like Philsports. Having a track creates too big a gap between the audience and the action. The problem is worse for the fans behind the goals
Check out the Football-specific grounds in Europe. The fans are RIGHT THERE just feet away from the players in some instances. That is how it should be.
Another benefit of a Football-specific, trackless stadium: with the fans so close, the home team can feel the energy from the crowd's cheers even more. It will create an intimidating cauldron of noise that no visiting team will look forward to playing in.
Drop in a top-quality artificial grass surface. I've been told that an artificial grass surface is in Rizal Memorial's future. The purists might be aghast. A national stadium with plastic grass? But those who are familiar with modern artificial turf technology know it's a terrific idea.
Plastic pitches have make leaps and bounds in quality over the years. They now look and feel more like real grass than ever. Ask those of us who have played on Turf BGC. It's like we all died and went to heaven. The bounce is natural and quite consistent, and no mater how hard it rains, it never gets muddy.
True, most top European stadia have real grass, but two Italian teams, Cesena and Novara, have already switched to artificial grass. Cesena and Novara were in the Serie A last season before being relegated. If artificial grass is good enough for teams like Inter Milan and Juventus, then it should be good enough for us.
Our tropical climate and the huge workload we put on our limited fields necessitate that we go plastic as much as possible. We could go natural if we used Rizal just for special matches. No practice sessions, regular league games or Physical Education classes. Then we could preserve it. But with so few fields and so much demand for them, that is impractical.
Limonta Sport, the supplier of the Turf BGC field, has a field that uses organic infill (the soil replacement where the plastic blades of grass rest) instead of rubber. The infill is recyclable, environmentally friendly, and is cooler than rubber. It would be an ideal surface for Rizal Memorial.
Tear down the bleachers and build a new stand facing the grandstand. This new stand can be bigger and higher than the old one since there will be more room. Remember we have shifted the whole field over near the grandstand and have "saved" the width of two tracks. This new stand can have one or two levels, depending on the budget. I suspect one big, steeply-raked terrace will suffice. It should have a roof with few columns that could obstruct the view.
We could make a whole new set of locker rooms, media rooms, concession stands, and luxury boxes here. Perhaps there could also be room for parking in the back. Lord knows Rizal Memorial needs more of that.
In designing this stand I shall reveal my Inner Carlos Celdran. The new stand will be completely modern BUT its exterior will follow the EXACT SAME ARCHITECTURAL STYLE as the original main stand, with the same Art Deco touches and color. It would be a perfect nod to the timeless elegance of the original stand. And besides, putting a modern stand beside an 80-year-old one is just wrong.
This new "East Stand" will have its first row of seats elevated by about 7 feet. This will have two purposes: one, to give even the folks on these seats a better view, and two, to eliminate the need for that awful fence that currently rings the field and ruins the view of some spectators.
I presume the fence is designed to keep fans away from the players. Now fans who want to invade the pitch can do so, but pay the penalty of broken legs.
Create two stands behind the goals. These stands don't need to be made at the same time as the new East Stand. They can be built one after another as funding comes in. The naming rights of the stands can also be sold to raise funds. Of course, like the East Stand, these stands should also have the same architecture as the main grandstand and will be elevated and fence-less. Unlike the East Stand, perhaps these stands won't need roofs.
I would set aside section behind one of the goals for the Kaholeros, the official cheering squad for the Azkals. There could also be a special Supporter's Gate just for them on this stand. This area will be directly behind the goal.
In the beginning of a match a team chooses which goal to defend. The Azkals can choose to defend the Kaholeros goal in the first half then shoot towards it in the second half, happy in the knowledge that their most ardent fans will be cheering them on from close quarters. This is how many "ultras" or rabid fans of clubs and national teams operate within their home stadium.
Make a huge scoreboard with a videowall on one end. An electronic scoreboard that shows the game time, time of day and score should be constructed. A video wall could display highlights of plays and give other info, like starting lineups.
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I'm no architect nor am I an expert in stadiums. But I am a fan and I know what I would like from a Football stadium. I think my plan would create a sensational atmosphere for Azkals home games and other big matches. I am not sure what the exact minimum seating capacity is for Suzuki Cup games, but I believe this design could comfortably reach it, which means we could host semifinals games.
If only a few of my suggestions were included in the renovations, I'd be happy.
All I need is several Billion pesos to donate to the PSC to turn my dream stadium into reality.
You can follow Bob on Twitter @bhobg333.