Gelredome Arnheim (NL)
An old dog comes to learn new tricks
Let’s just think of the downside of football: the turf drenched by continuous rain, the spectators wet and shivering. It reeks of sweat and you miss the winning goal because there’s a huge pillar in the way. Kind of daft, isn’t it? Football’s different in Arnheim. In the thick of it, and yet dry, not too hot and not too cold. You could say it was as cosy as on your settee at home, and the entertainment as varied as a live event, a stroll through town and a trip to the theatre all rolled into one. And that’s all thanks to the Gelredome – the first football ground with a sliding pitch, total roof covering, air-conditioning and shopping arcade! The Gelredome, home to the Dutch premiership team Vitesse Arnheim, is the paradigm of the new generation of arenas. When the stadium was first opened in March 1998 at a cost of Euro 72 million, it was the first in the world to have a playing surface that could be rolled out. The turf, which weighs 11,000 tons, is moved at a speed of almost a metre a minute in either direction. Whilst the turf is recuperating, concertgoers can carry on the party inside without the footballers having to pay the penalty of a ploughed up field next game. The 800-ton roof construction is equally spectacular: the roof can close over the entire stadium within 20 minutes. It then becomes dark in the Gelredome, as the roof is different from the transparent arena roofs such as the one at Schalke. This allows various displays of visual effects to be created depending on the event, even in daytime. The Club was unable to finance the reconstruction of an out-and-out football ground on its own. ‘We don’t have the stream of spectators they do at, say, the arena in Amsterdam’, says the Chairman of Vitesse Arnheim. ‘That’s why we need other events.’ Finance events, for instance, which can be accommodated in the building’s 2,000-m² Conference Centre. The interior of the arena is highly versatile: Events ranging from well-kept grounds of the Tennis Davis Cup to knee-deep mud of FIM World Supercross show that the Gelredome is far more than a football stadium. The idea of a multifunction arena with a sliding playing surface came to the executives on a trip to the USA. Since then the Americans have been coming to Arnheim to have a look at the wonder that is this modern stadium ‘We taught the Gelredome a thing or two, but we’ve learnt just as much from the Gelredome’, says American stadium expert Neal Gunn. Vitesse Arnheim has been one of the top teams in the Dutch league for some years now. The team’s success on the field helps fund the stadium. ‘Of course a football club’s dependent on what happens on the pitch. Nothing’s ever going to change that’, says the Vitesse boss. But the easier you make it for people to feel at home in the stadium, the less reliant you become on sporting events. We want to be more than just a traditional club.’ Vitesse has plans to attract women and families into the arena as well as the conventional fans. So a visit to the stadium becomes an event. The arena, which is 43 metres tall and over 200 metres long, holds up to 32,500 spectators. There’s extra comfort for visitors to the 49 VIP boxes, each measuring 40 square metres, and the stands are encircled by a boulevard with shops and cafés. So what does all that have to do with a classic football stadium? Quite a lot, actually. ‘The atmosphere here is just like at a British ground’, says the chairman. That means: no fences or railings obstruct the view from the air-controlled seat, and ‘you can almost touch the players’.