Nicknamed the 'Georgian Garrincha', Mikheil Meskhi was a star winger for FC Dinamo Tbilisi in the 1950s and 60s, who earned 35 caps for the Soviet Union and appeared at the 1962 FIFA World Cup.
Although he passed away in 1991, his name lives on in the eponymous stadium in Tbilisi which, as the new flagship football ground for Georgia, will open its doors to the European football family when it hosts the 2015 UEFA Super Cup.
It is a stadium with a colourful past, originally built in 1956 by German settlers (after the Second World War). By the end of the old century – and having gone through several changes of name and ownership – it was still staging top-class football matches, but with limited facilities and wooden-bench seating it would often play second fiddle to the more prominent Boris Paichadze Stadium.
Today, by contrast, the Mikheil Meskhi Stadium is a place transformed following a renovation project begun in June 2011, after Tbilisi city council had transferred the stadium's ownership rights to the Georgian Football Federation (SFF). UEFA provided approximately 80% of the necessary funding via its HatTrick assistance programme, the remainder coming from the SFF and its principal sponsor SOCAR (State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic).
Domenti Sichinava, president of the SFF, said: "The stadium had tremendous potential, but we needed to define the quality criteria and priorities for renovation. There is still work to be done, but we now have a top-class stadium where football is played and watched in a safe, modern environment."
The ultimate aim is for the arena to fully comply with all relevant UEFA regulations; in the meantime, the major construction work has been completed and the venue is in full use again for national teams and local clubs, as well as sometimes hosting other sports such as rugby, plus social events. "Stadiums should serve the community as a whole and be designed as family-friendly locations for football matches and other events. This is the concept for the Mikheil Meskhi," said Revaz Arveladze, SFF general secretary.
"The stadium now accommodates up to 26,000 spectators in new individual seats, and with 32 entrances or exits we can fill or clear the ground in five minutes," he added. The new facilities in place include a VIP area, media centre and underground car park while for the players the dressing rooms have undergone a complete refit and a new pitch has been laid.
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