Lisbon: Demolition began at Benfica’s Stadium of Light on Monday, bringing to an end half a century of glorious football at one of the world’s greatest arenas.
Dubbed both the “cathedral” and “inferno” for the fervour of its fans, the stadium was home to Portugal’s most successful club and its greatest player Eusebio and was the launch pad for George Best’s rocket to stardom in the 1960s.
The new Luz stadium, being built next door, will host the final of next year’s European championship.
“I have a lot of nostalgia for the old stadium because there were so many great victories here,” vice-chairman Mario Dias said during a tour of the 65,000-seat new site.
Eusebio said he had wept at Benfica’s last game in the old stadium, a 1-0 win over Santa Clara on March 22. “I couldn’t hold back the tears even knowing that this ‘light’ was going out so that the Luz of the 21st century could go on,” he said.
Built in 1954 with 30,000 seats, the old stadium was expanded to a maximum of 120,000 seats in 1985 — Europe’s largest stadium. Renovation and the destruction of one end as part of the new building had, however, cut the number of seats. Benfica, two-time European Cup champions, still has the country's biggest fan base.
Best, the Manchester United winger, marked one of the greatest moments at Luz with a stunning performance in a European Cup quarter-final in 1966 that established him as the “fifth Beatle”.