In a year, Luzhniki will become the main arena of the World Cup, but since its construction in 1956, the stadium has hosted a lot of international forums and competitions — the Olympic Games, seven Spartakiads, World and European Championships in various sports. Pelé played here, as did Maradona, Messi, and Ronaldo. The UEFA Champions League finals were held here, and the most important matches of the country’s national team were also held at Luzhniki.
Luzhniki’s early days
31 July 1956, a sports festival with gymnasts, acrobats and other athletes celebrated the opening of the Lenin Central Stadium, which was built in 450 days. On the same day, on the Grand Sports Arena football field hosted a friendly match between the national teams of the Russian Soviet Federated Socialistic Republic (RSFSR) and the People's Republic of China (1-0).
5 August, the first USSR Spartakiad started. It was attended by about 10,000 swimmers, track and field athletes, wrestlers, tennis players, football players, and other athletes. There were 33 USSR records and 9 world records. More than 100,000 people came to watch the final Spartakiad football tournament match, in which Moscow’s team defeated the team from Georgia (2-1). Sixteen of the 17 Moscow players joined the USSR’s national team, which won the gold at the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne. Among them were the famous Lev Yashin, Anatoly Bashashkin, Nikita Simonyan, Eduard Streltsov.
6th World Youth and Student Festival
Almost a year later, 28 July 1957, Moscow welcomed the 6th World Youth and Student Festival. The opening ceremony, held at the Grand Sports Arena, included 3,200 athletes, tens of thousands of white doves flew up into the sky, the opening ceremony ended with a dance suite Tsveti, Nasha Molodost (Blossom, Our Youth). “Songs of the five continents, languages of the five continents, music from all over the world, and well-wishing speeches in almost all languages of the world sounded over the Grand Sports Arena,” — this is how Lev Kassil described the event in Literaturnaya Gazeta.
For three weeks Moscow was full of sports events, concerts, films, theatrical and circus performances. The sixth festival became the largest festival in the history of this movement: it was attended by 34,000 people from 131 countries.
Sold out notices at Luzhniki
The late 1950s and 1960s were a prosperous period of national football. Even Luzhniki Arena, with its capacity of 100,000, was not always able to accommodate demand. Moscow broke attendance records. For example, 28 September 1958, 100,572 people were in Lenin Central Stadium to watch the match between the USSR and Hungary. The Soviet national team defeated the rival 3-1. In 1963, the match between the USSR and Italy saw 102,358 spectators, in 1965, nearly 103,000 supporters applauded Pelé and the Brazilian national team. The record attendance was during a football match between Spartak and Torpedo in 1958, which attracted 110,000 football fans.
In 1974, Moscow won the bid to host the 1980 Summer Olympics. After reconstruction, the stadium’s capacity was reduced slightly to 96,000 seats.
1980 Summer Olympics
The Olympics gathered more than 5000 participants, who competed in 21 sports. The games brought 61 Olympic records and 36 World records. These Olympics were very successful for Soviet athletes. The USSR won 80 gold, 69 silver and 46 bronze medals.
Over five million people attended the competitions. Luzhniki Grand Sports Arena came to be the centre of the Olympic Games. The 1980 Summer Olympics closing ceremony is still considered one of the best in Olympic history. The most memorable moment was the famous mascot of the Games — a bear, flying up into the sky over the full stadium. People in 111 countries, where the Moscow Olympics were broadcast, watched this dramatic moment live.
The World Cup finals could have been held in Moscow in 1990, but at the last minute FIFA chose Italy. However, the best football player in the world at that time did visit Moscow. On 7 November 1990, the full stadium watched a match between Spartak and the Italian team Napoli, organised as part of the Champions Cup series of matches. The famous Argentinian Diego Maradona was on the field. Unfortunately, he couldn’t help his team win: the match ended in a 0-0 draw. Spartak won the penalty shootout. Another famous Argentinian was more lucky at Luzhniki in 2012: Lionel Messi, playing for Barcelona, was able to score two goals in a match against Spartak.
In 1995, Luzhniki was closed for reconstruction. The stadium capacity was reduced (first to 84,500 seats, and then, in 2008, following the introduction of VIP seats, to 78,000 seats), but it became more comfortable to watch matches. The old benches were replaced with individual plastic seats; the stadium was covered with a roof eliminating the need for umbrellas on rainy days.
The renovated stadium welcomed the final match of the European Cup, a first for Russia. On 12 May 1999, 61,000 people visited Luzhniki to watch the UEFA Cup final — the first final of a European team tournament in Russia. The Italian Parma played the French Olympic from Marseille. The Italians were lucky and won 3-0. On 21 May 2008, Luzhniki also hosted the Champions League final. On that day, Manchester United, for whom Cristiano Ronaldo played at that time, defeated Chelsea in a penalty shootout. Russian national team matches were also held here, the most important of which were the following: Russia — England in 2007 (2-1), Russia — Germany in 2009 (0-1); these matches were all sold out.
But the peak of Luzhniki’s history will be the FIFA World Cup. In a year, broadcasts from Luzhniki Grand Sports Arena will attract hundreds of millions of people from all continents. According to FIFA, over a billion people watched the final match of the 2014 World Cup.
Photos provided by the Moscow Main Archive Directorate and the press-service of the Luzhniki Sports Complex