There have been a great many innovations in football since the advent of the professional game.  From the crossbar, goalkeeping gloves to 4G plastic pitch the game has moved into the digital age harnessing the use of technology towards the advancement and enjoyment of the game. Today major fixtures can be decided by goal line technology which can provide an accurate decision on a goal to a referee within seconds.  Big data and analytics packages are used by the media and governing bodies to create match statistics.

Ironically, one of the football’s greatest innovations is now something of a thing of the past at least at the top levels of the game. Many of the most well-known clubs now have high-powered lighting built into the roofs or upper tiers of new all seated stadia. The floodlight that we first came to know in the post-World War II era – that of 4 multiple electric powered lamps on permanent 100ft high mast pylons – have almost disappeared at the highest levels of the game.

Just as technology has advanced the game so it has meant that in many grounds a once all-pervading romantic symbol of evening football ‘the floodlight’ is becoming a thing of the past.

Early Floodlights

The use of floodlights was opposed by game administrators for many years at least in the United Kingdom. Moreover, the industry had thought that evening football would keep working men from the family home.  The costs associated with powerful lights were also an expense many clubs could not afford.  However, there is some evidence to suggest that the first ever football match to be played under temporary floodlights was in England at Bramall Lane in Sheffield at 7 pm on 14th October 1878.

After this period very few games were played using floodlights in Britain up until the outbreak of World War I.   Permanent floodlights were simply not in use or part of stadium infrastructure.  The organisers of the game refused to allow them to be used for anything other than friendly or charity exhibition matches. Safety and cost concerns, as well as traditions, meant such an innovation was frowned upon.

By the 1930’s football clubs in England started to argue for the use of floodlights for evening football.  Arsenal FC noted the use of temporary floodlights at soccer grounds in Belgium and Austria and called for the introduction.  At around this time, the game was also worried about losing fans to other sporting past-times.  Greyhound racing, which would take place in the early evening, used trackside lighting bringing excitement to the event.

The growth of foreign football tours also saw a change in momentum towards floodlights being installed. English teams began travelling for challenge matches to the United States where lighting had been part of the most noted sporting stadiums even by the late 1930’s.

Trial installations of equipment started to crop up around Britain and by the early 1950’s they began to come into use for competitive football in both Scotland and England.

Football under Floodlights

Wolves switched on floodlights at Molineux in 1953 and played famous friendly games against Moscow Dynamo and Honved. Soon these friendlies were codified into organised competitive football matches and the advent of UEFA competition such as the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup and the European Cup.

Hibernian of Edinburgh played a European Cup game in 1955 under floodlights.  Suddenly it seemed that the theatrical qualities of football under artificial lighting had caught the public imagination.

Early floodlights structures were far from reliable in design, operation and features.  However, even to this day floodlights can fail the highest profile of football matches in the biggest of football theatres.  A 2014 UEFA Europa League fixture between Spurs and Besiktas in Istanbul witnessed failing floodlights.

Floodlighting therefore by the 1970’s had become effectively a necessity for organised football whether for television camera purposes or the interested visiting spectator. Fans would use the sight of the tall floodlights as a guide to ground location long before the advent of satellite navigation and Google maps became the norm.

Significant advancements in lighting technology have meant that several stadiums have lights that are highly powerful and bring new detail to the pitch and each event was shown on television.

Yet across Europe there are still huge differences in the appearance of floodlights.  Many clubs still retain all or some of the original floodlight pylon structures first erected at stadiums in the 1950’s.  Across Europe, different styles can be seen from the cylindrical design common in the Czech Republic to the tall imposing leaning style common in the former municipal sports parks of the DDR.

The pace of stadium design and build has hit new heights since the mid-1990’s.  Many clubs have moved into installing LED roof lighting.  New digital lighting systems provide a higher quality of broadcast lighting as well significantly reducing the amount of energy used by clubs when compared to traditional pylon floodlights.

Upper stadium roof structures now take the added weight of new floodlight systems allowing the standard levels of lighting required to be beamed onto the field of play.  Depending on the level of play football lighting design, installation and maintenance are governed by various national (FA) and International (UEFA) regulations.  Lighting systems at the top clubs work in tandem to the needs of HDTV television coverage and global competitions such as the Champions League.

While open terracing is going slowly across Europe, many clubs still have huge original floodlights which lean perilously on huge pylons reaching high into the skyline and illuminating the football field below.

Floodlight Installations around Europe – Timeframes

Royal Antwerp: Bosuil Stadium (October 1961)

Weiner Austria: Sportklub Platz (1975)

Anderlecht: Parc Astrid (6th March 1954)

Denmark: Copenhagen Idraetsparken (October 1955)

Helsinki: Olympic Stadium (1940)

Ajax: Stadion De Meer (1974)

Feyenoord: De Kuip (1957)

Scotland: Aberdeen (24 Oct 1959)

Budapest: Nep Stadion (1977)

Budapest: Ferencvaros (1978)

Budapest: MTK (1987)

Budapest: Ujpest Dosza (1972)

Belfast: Glentoran Oval (1964)

Poland: Gornik Zabre (1970)

Poland: Stadion Legia (October 1960)

FC Porto: Das Antas (1960’s)

Dublin: Dalymount Park (7th March 1962)

Moscow: Lenin Stadium (1980)

Valencia: Luis Casanova (March 1959)

Bilbao: San Mames (April 1962)

Sweden: Malmo Stadium (1960)

Grasshoppers Zurich: (April 1956)

Stuttgart: Necker Stadion (1962)

SV Hamburg: Volksparkstadion (1961)

You can see the album with floodlights from around Europe here