With more than 3.5 billion fans on a planet of 7.5 billion, football is the world’s most popular sport by a mile - a billion ahead of cricket, which has an estimated fan base of 2.5 billion.
Given its popularity, football clubs and nations invest huge sums of money into their stadiums and surrounding infrastructure, in order to provide their numerous fans with adequate spaces to watch their teams’ play.
You’re probably thinking that the biggest stadiums surely belong to the world’s most successful and most supported football teams - the likes of Spain, Brazil, Real Madrid and Manchester United. However, while the best sides possess some of the most beautiful stadiums in world football, they aren’t necessarily the biggest. In fact, you may be surprised by how few of these huge football stadiums you have actually heard of.
Here are the 11th biggest football stadiums in the world, by spectator capacity:
11. Republic of Ireland’s Croke Park
11th place on the list goes to Croke Park, which sits narrowly ahead of Borussia Dortmund’s iconic Westfalenstadion home by less than 1000 seats. In total, Croke Park holds approximately 82,300 spectators, 73,500 of which are seated, having grown from a small plot of land purchased in 1908 to the huge stadium that it is today.
However, it isn’t predominantly a football stadium - it serves as the headquarters of the Gaelic Athletic Association, who often stage athletic events at the arena. Likewise, it has also played doubled up as a stage for pop stars such as Beyonce, One Direction and Robbie Williams. However, it is most often used to stage Gaelic football matches.
Only a handful of association football games have actually been played at the stadium. The Republic of Ireland national team played four Euro 2008 qualifying matches at the ground while they awaited the completion of the 51,700-seater Aviva Stadium. Yet, given its hefty space for spectators, those few matches made Croke Park one of the biggest football stadiums in the world.
10. Australia’s Stadium Australia
Western Sydney Wanderers have been one of the most successful clubs in Australian football following its creation in 2012, having won the 2012/13 A-League title, as well as the 2014 Asian Champions League. However, they aren’t exactly a club that you would expect to have one of the biggest homes in football. Yet, Stadium Australia is currently ranked as the world’s 10th biggest football venue, with a capacity of over 84,000.
The huge stadium was constructed in 1999 at a huge cost of $690 million, as Australia prepared to host the 2000 Olympic Games. The original capacity stood at 110,000 - the largest Olympic venue ever build. However, the capacity has since dropped, due to renovation work to add moveable seating, which helps the stadium to accommodate numerous sports and events.
Since its construction, it has been home to rugby league side Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs and the New South Wales cricket team, as well as many other sports, clubs and events, from motorsports to concerts.
9. Egypt’s Borg El Arab Stadium
After the FNB Stadium, Egypt’s national stadium, the Borg El Arab Stadium, is the second largest venue in Africa. The impressive stadium was initially commissioned in 2006, as Egypt battled with Morocco, South Africa, Libya and Tunisia to host the 2010 World Cup. Egypt eventually lost out to South Africa, but they were left with a truly spectacular sporting stadium, which eventually served as one of the venues at the 2009 Under 20s World Cup.
With more than 500 parking spaces and a bordering airstrip, the scale of the stadium and its surrounding infrastructure is truly breathtaking. With a total capacity of 86,000, the Borg El Arab Stadium now serves as the home of the Egyptian national football team. Egyptian heavyweights Al Ahly SC also play some matches at the national stadium. However, as the club has it’s own 75,000-seater stadium nearby, the Borg El Arab Stadium doesn’t see as much action as it deserves.
8. Mexico’s Estadio Azteca
Mexico’s national stadium, Estadio Azteca, has hosted some of football’s biggest events over the years, while also serving as the home of Liga MX side Club América, the South American league’s most successful team.
With a total capacity of 87,000, the Estadio Azteca is the largest stadium in Mexico and the ninth largest in the world. However, the iconic stadium is best known for the parts it has played in football’s biggest event, the World Cup.
Build in 1966, ahead of the 1968 Olympics, the Estadio Azteca has since become the first stadium to host two World Cup finals. The first came in 1970, when Brazil destroyed Italy to claim their third World Cup win in four attempts, before the stadium played host again in 1986, when Argentina triumphed over West Germany.
Likewise, it is also the venue that saw Diego Maradona break English hearts with his infamous ‘Hand of God’ goal.
7. Malaysia’s Bukit Jalil National Stadium
The Bukit Jalil National Stadium is thought to have recorded crowds of more than 110,000 spectators for some events. However, its official capacity stands at approximately 87,400, making it the seventh biggest football venue on the planet.
The venue, which is also the largest in Southeast Asia, is most frequently used to host football matches for the Malaysia national team. However, it wasn’t initially built as a football ground.
The Bukit Jalil National Stadium was initially constructed in 1995 as a multi-purpose stadium to serve as the main venue for the 1998 Commonwealth Games, replacing the aged Stadium Merdeka as the country’s national arena. Various other events and competitions have since gone ahead at the spectacular stadium, but football has taken centre stage in recent years.
6. Indonesia’s Gelora Bung Karno Stadium
The Gelora Bung Karno Stadium was one of the largest venue in the world when it was opened back in 1962 with a whopping total capacity of 120,000. Build to host the 1972 Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia, thanks to a $12.5 million loan from the Soviet Union.
It has been home to the Indonesia national team ever since and hosted its first ever major tournament in 2007, when the island country were selected as one of four host nations for the AFC Asian Cup, alongside Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam. However, in order to make the stadium meet regulations to host the tournament, it underwent huge renovation works, eventually bringing its capacity down to the 88,000 mark.
The Gelora Bung Karno Stadium has hosted a number of Asian continental competitions since, but European football fans will best know it as the venue of many of the lucrative pre-season friendlies that have been staged there since.
5. England’s Wembley Stadium
Wembley Stadium is among the world’s best known stadiums, revered by the likes of Brazilian legend Pelé as the ‘capital of football’.
The old Wembley Stadium opened in 1923 as the Empire Stadium ahead of the 1924 British Empire Exhibition. When the event came to an end in 1925, the iconic venue was initially set to be demolished, but after a number of football matches hosted at Wembley proved to be a success, the ground’s owners decided to keep it open.
With a capacity of 127,000, Wembley was the ideal venue for football’s biggest games, having since hosted FA Cup finals, the 1966 World Cup, as well as numerous Champions League finals.
The old stadium was knocked down in 2002 to make way for the new Wembley Stadium, which was opened in 2007 as the home of the England national team. While the renovations brought its capacity down to 90,000, it still stands as one of the biggest football stadiums in the world.
4. The United States’ Rose Bowl
Nowadays the Rose Bowl Stadium, situated in Pasadena, California, is predominantly known as an American Football stadium, hosting the annual Rose Bowl Game played between two college sides on New Year's Day every year since 1902. However, the iconic arena also has a rich football (or soccer to the locals) history.
The Rose Bowl hosted its first football match back in 1968 when it became the home of former North American Soccer League side Los Angeles Wolves for a short while before the club was dissolved in the same year. It then hosted LA’s replacement club, Los Angeles Aztecs, for two years a decade later.
The huge stadium had a break following the club’s exit. However, with the United States set to host the 1994 World Cup, the stadium was reintroduced to football when it hosted the tournament’s final, in which Brazil beat Italy to claim their fourth World Cup title.
LA Galaxy have since called the Rose Bowl home, until their exit in 2003, and little football has been played at the stadium since. However, with a maximum capacity of 92,500, the Rose Bowl is still one of the sport’s biggest and most decorated stadiums.
3. South Africa’s FNB Stadium
The First National Bank Stadium, better known as the Calabash, was built back in 1989 as South Africa’s national stadium. However, it underwent a huge renovation ahead of the 2010 World Cup, both inside and out. The exterior was redesigned to look like an African pot, while works on the interior saw an upper-tier added, taking its maximum capacity to 94,700, making it the largest stadium in Africa and the third largest in the world.
Following the World Cup, the iconic stadium now serves as the home of both the South African national football team and the South African rugby team, as well as South Africa’s most successful club team, Kaizer Chiefs FC.
2. Barcelona’s Camp Nou
Barcelona are one of the biggest clubs in the world, having won numerous La Liga and Champions League titles throughout their long history. With success comes plenty of fans and vast amounts of money to spend on a beautiful home. Unsurprisingly, Camp Nou takes the crown as the biggest club stadium in world football.
The iconic stadium has been home to Barcelona since it was built in 1957 with a total capacity of 93,000. However, it became the largest stadium in the world in 1980, when it underwent major renovations to make it suitable as a host venue for the 1982 World Cup, with its capacity was brought up to the 122,000 mark. However, much of the numbers were made up by standing spaces, which have since been phased out in many countries due to a number of football disasters.
Camp Nou’s capacity currently stands at a total capacity of approximately 99,000, but the club could consider expanding in the future, should their fan base continue to grow.
1. North Korea’s Rungrado 1st of May Stadium
Unexpectedly, given their low standing in the world of football, North Korea’s ‘Rungrado 1st of May Stadium’ if the largest football venue in the world, with a total capacity of 150,000 spectators - miles ahead of its closest competition.
The huge arena is most often used as the home of the North Korean national team and women’s team fixtures. However, that isn’t its main purpose. The stadium was build to host the annual Arirang Festival, a spectacular event which sees hundreds of thousands of performers and spectators gather in the stadium to enjoy a display of gymnastic and artistic celebrations.
Aside from the Arirang Festival and football matches, Rungrado 1st of May Stadium also hosts plenty of of other events, including an annual event in celebration of Kim Jong-il, North Korea’s previous supreme leader, and now his son and predecessor, Kim Jong-un. The event sees tanks and soldiers pass through the stadium, displaying the nation’s vast military capabilities.