The field of dreams – and the story behind it
Of all the eight World Cup venues, each architecturally imaginative and groundbreaking in its own way, the most talked-about is Stadium 974. And for very good reason. A pop-up football ground fashioned from boxes, due to host seven games over the course of a fortnight and then be packed up and carted away, never to be seen again, is such a revolutionary yet simple idea, you wonder why it wasn’t used sooner.
Then again, World Cups usually take place in countries with a long football heritage, where the club based at the stadium in question has a history and a home dating back generations, or where the arena will continue to fill to the brim several times a year.
Qatar, of course, is a case apart. And, actually, these boxes, all 974 of them, may well be seen again, one proposal being to ship them across the South Atlantic to Uruguay, to be reused should the centennial World Cup take place there in 2030.
Fans coming here, Brazilians, Argentinians, Mexicans and Poles, among others, shouldn’t worry that they’ll be watching their team do battle in the equivalent of an IKEA showroom, all in the name of a lighter ecological footprint.
Once they pass through an exterior of numbered, multi-coloured shipping containers, along corridors and up staircases like the hull of a car ferry, they come out into what seems, for all intents and purposes, like any other modern-day football stadium.
The maritime analogy is no coincidence. Stadium 974 stands, until December 5 at least, right on Doha’s waterfront, the nearest stadium to the centre of town and a short hop from the airport. Incoming passengers with a window seat on the plane will see Stadium 974 as they descend into Doha. The shipping containers, in which much of the building material was transported, echo the surrounding industrial and seafaring heritage.
They also required far less water to use in construction than, just by random example, concrete. This is also because the stadium interior, a seemingly standard-issue structure, has been made from modular steel, much of it recycled. And the engineers behind it, Schlaich Bergermann Partner, have form in this field.
Founded half a century ago by two Stuttgart graduates of civil engineering, they have long had a holistic approach to their projects, which have recently included the rebuilding of Real Madrid’s Bernabéu, Tottenham’s new stadium and, here in Doha, Zaha Hadid’s Al Janoub Stadium in Al Wakrah.
Architects Fenwick Iribarren, also responsible for the Education City Stadium, the so-called Diamond in the Desert in Al Rayyan, are no strangers to pushing the envelope either, having designed numerous cutting-edge constructions during Spain’s boom years of the 1990s. The new Valencia stadium, now slated to open in 2025 after nearly two decades of managerial dithering by the club, is also theirs and, should votes go Spain’s way, a 2030 World Cup venue.
While the Nou Mestalla will feature the largest roof with solar panels in Europe, solar panels feel so last Tuesday when compared with what’s going on here. Even the incoming sea air is a factor, the gaps around the steel structure allowing nature to provide maximum ventilation. Quick assembly and, naturally, disassembly are also obvious immediate benefits.
This moveable feast sits on an industrial zone, site for Doha’s first power station and desalination plant. This is Ras Abu Aboud, the name of the nearby metro station and, before someone savvy realised that 974 was also Qatar’s international dialling code, the original one of the stadium itself.
Given its proximity to town, crowds came in decent numbers for the venue’s coming out party, the Arab Cup of December 2021. Nearly 31,000 witnessed Qatar’s win over Egypt in the third-place play-off, and over 36,000 for Egypt’s semi-final with Tunisia. Capacity is the World Cup minimum of 40,000.
What happens to the site, as opposed to the stadium, isn’t yet clear. It’s certainly a prime location, although the airport on its doorstep would surely prevent any larger structures going up. Cyclists have been enjoying the seafront bike path that now skirts what were once probably attractive beaches before industry moved in.
Leisure would seem the most obvious option, the National Museum of Qatar close by, all facing the F-shaped jetty that accommodates the marina and cruise terminal.
The 48 teams (!) taking part in the 2026 World Cup in North America, increased from Qatar’s 32, will play in 16 much larger stadiums already in place, so the eco-friendly pop-up idea illustrated by Stadium 974 may have to wait until 2030.
But with a dozen men’s, youth and women’s tournaments being organised on a rotating cycle, spread across the globe at recent locations such as India, Indonesia and Costa Rica, the concept should have legs in years to come.
Going to the stadium – tips and timings
From the nearest metro station of Ras Bu Abboud, the eastern terminus of the yellow line, the stadium is so close there’s no need for shuttle buses to reach the arena. The Last Mile walk starts when you exit the station building, allowing for all kinds of on-site street entertainment.
It also means that those coming for the three late kick-offs here should reach their post-match destination pretty quickly, with no queuing for their seat on a bus.
The full schedule – who's playing and when
Tournament favourites Brazil, Argentina, Portugal and France all play group matches here, along with in-form Denmark and Serbia. Mexico and Ghana should bring a lively crowd with them, while Poland and Switzerland will be looking to progress into the knock-out stage. The Round of 16 game here involves the winners of Group G – possibly Brazil – against the runners-up in Group H, perhaps Uruguay, after which the stadium will be collapsed and shipped away.
November 22, 7pm: Mexico-Poland (Group C)
November 24, 7pm: Portugal-Ghana (Group H)
November 26, 7pm: France-Denmark (Group D)
November 28, 7pm: Brazil-Switzerland (Group G)
November 30, 10pm: Poland-Argentina (Group C)
December 2, 10pm: Serbia-Switzerland (Group G)
December 5, 10pm: Round of 16, 1st Group G-2nd Group H
All times are local. CET is 2hrs behind Qatar, UK 3hrs behind.