Category Archives: France

RC Lens

RC Lens v Gazelec Ajaccio: Ligue 2

Saturday 17th December, Stade Bollaert-Delelis

Ch’ti may look like a urbanite contraction of “shitty” but a visit to RC Lens really is anything but.  The stadium looks like it belongs in the English Premier League, the fans create an atmosphere that could rival most Bundesliga teams and yet the whole experience is so French that you expect the stadium to ask you if it can borrow a cigarette.

Try seeing a match underneath this

For anyone who has a level of French that goes beyond asking for a croissant, directions to the tourist office or nasally whining “haw hee haaww or Sacre Bleu” in a casually racist way, watching Bienvenue Chez les Ch’tis is an uplifting and wonderfully light-hearted story of a man who, as a punishment for lying in a job application and interview, is redeployed in the north-east of France.  As the story evolves, this punishment turns out to be a blessing, and our protagonist accepts he held many misconceptions about the people, the region and about what he wanted from life.  He finds much of acclimatisation overwhelming and surprising, and is taken to the passionate pit of Stade Bollaert to see Racing Club Lens play.  He has the look of a CEO who has dozed off in a meeting and woken up at an illegal (are they ever legal?) dog fight.

“Ch’ti” may look like a urbanite contraction of “shitty” but a visit to RC Lens really is anything but.  The stadium looks like it belongs in the English Premier League, the fans create an atmosphere that could rival most Bundesliga teams and yet the whole experience is so French that you expect the stadium to ask you if it can borrow a cigarette.  And despite Lens’ proximity to the Belgian border, being caught up in the middle of a strike reminded me that I was very much in France.

Getting there

The drive from the leafy outskirts of Brussels was damp, unremarkable and punctuated with roadworks and a corrugated surface that frustrated like a moguled piste.  All in all, the kind of drive that makes you think “in what way is this fun?”  After passing Lille, the last fifteen minutes of the drive was like a montage of post industrial despair: sculpted slag heaps, crumbling red-brick houses and pessimism, deep-fried into the faces of the of the abandoned.

Yet, this area also has the feeling that it’s recoiling before it springs back to success.  There is the sense that the magma is close to the surface and ready to erupt, and that the landscape, smothered by a metaphoric lava of yesteryear, is fertile again.

Resisting the urge to be hypnotised by the windscreen wipers, I found myself sitting in a queue to a “he who dares, wins” roundabout  near the town centre after about one hour and forty five minutes of driving.  Whilst trying to decipher the local language of the road, I noticed that the train station was 400m from this point.  Police were stopping some motorists, asking for documents, but this was probably to ascertain that they were comprehensively insured before navigating the pedestrian-populated road to the stadium.  Whilst romanticising about taking the train and having a few beers, I remembered that Lille is the main transport hub, and city, in this area and that connections to Brussels were both expensive and infrequent.

Tickets and Lens

Tickets for RC Lens league matches (Ligue 2) range from 10 Euros behind the goals to 30 euros in the centre of the main tribune.  They can be bought online at http://billetterie.rclens.dspsport.com/dsp/WEB/Site/index.htm?wId=RCL&rId=Ticketing and printed at home.

Having seen that the ‘fankurve/kop’ area of the stadium was along the long side of the pitch (Section ‘Marek’), I thought that being close to this area without being in it – it’s season tickets only in it – would be the best compromise of view and atmosphere.  So I plumped for 22 euro tickets in the ‘Xerces’ stand, in the tier above ‘Marek’.

The website allows you to choose your seat and is perfectly functional.  One word of warning though – it is very unclear how or where one reserves parking.  The result: people abandon cars in every unsafe nook and cranny and the car parks next to the stadium are virtually empty.  I asked a steward how much it was for the car park only to be told I had to reserve in advance.  I tried to explain that I tried to do this but couldn’t see an option but that I could pay the correct price in cash.  He simply shrugged indifferently, like I was disturbing him from his job of telling people that these car parks were not for people to park their cars in.  If the club charged let’s say 5€ per car, they could easily rake in around 10000€ per match just in parking.  Has to be said that their rivals in Lille have this down to a tee; prepaid and no fuss.

So, I parked up in a tight space on the High Street, causing all manner of disruption as I required 3 attempts to park my seven-seater in a space designed for a 2CV or Twingo.  Next step was find the parking meter.  The meter has a card slot but, upon closer inspection, it is for residents to insert their resident card into for discounted parking.  “Out-of-towners”, like me, have to pay cash.  So, I scrabbled around for all of my change, thinking that it would be enough, to discover that the places have a maximum of a two-hour stay.  This was one hour before kick-off.  Again, a little joined up thinking here could pay dividends for the town council: there is an undercurrent of perverse logic running through this place, which I will allude to later.

Lens only has a population of 36011 yet it has a stadium with a capacity of 41233.  Therefore, it is unreasonable to assume its infrastructure and amenities will be comparable to, say, Lille.  That said, there was a Christmas Market and a reasonably busy high street and there was a hubbub about the place that contrasted with the desolation of the residential areas on the way in to the town.  There are a couple of bars near the Roulette Roundabout, where a pre-match tipple appeared convivial and colourful.

Stade Bollaert-Delelis

The stadium is set in a residential area close to the town centre although it is surrounded by trees.  This was a Euro 2016 Venue and hence the stadium was refreshed in advance of this.  The four separate stands and proximity to the pitch reminded me somewhat of Villa Park.  It all sits and comes together a little oddly, like one of these composite faces made from the eyes of one celebrity and the jaw of another.

Security was in place around the perimeter of the stadium fencing and again at the turnstiles under the stands.  There are plenty of street food purveyors in residence, all selling pretty much the same thing.  I bought a merguez and chips combination, which seemed expensive at 7 euros, but there was so much of it that I didn’t eat again all day. The chips (fries, for the non-Brits) were fantastic and that they are a local speciality kind of sums the place up.

That the stadium is many shades of grey is a little disappointing, especially when the blood and gold colours that abound are so vibrant.  If I was designing a stadium, especially one that has only one tenant, I would want it to be characterful and memorable as opposed to being magnolia, concrete and anonymous.

Once inside, the ‘no frills’ feel is tangible; from the unfinished paint jobs to the cavernous nature of the concourse in Xerces, as though there should be more amenities there but somebody ran out of interest or money.  I ordered a 25cl of beer, Kronenbourg I was assured, that induced a stream of grumbles, huffing and sighs from the attendant.  It was almost as though I wasn’t allowed to order this; like I’d given the wrong answer.

My seat was in row 19 of Xerces – second row from the rear.  The row behind had what I thought was a massive dust sheet on it, as though the chairs were out of order.  Turns out this was a tifo that would engulf most of the stand later on.  This thing caused chaos.  Person after person came up, looked at this huge obstacle, glanced back at the ticket quizzically and had their suspicions confirmed that their seat did infact have this huge tifo on it.  No stewards in sight and me at the end of the row, I was the guy getting asked “what are we supposed to do?”  At least with this being France, I was able to converse with the confused masses instead of my ‘just landed from the moon’ stare that I do when I get asked questions in Germany.

The view was excellent, once people stopped milling around looking for seats, although I could only see the front few rows of the tier below, which was a pity as it is undoubtedly the most animated and colourful.  This disruptive sequence played havoc with my normal pre-match photography, tweeting etc.

RC Lens v Gazelec Ajaccio

The Corsican visitors had eight fans.  However, given the time of year and that the two teams weren’t exactly neighbours (only the length of France and a big blue sea between them), this wasn’t unexpected.  So, when the teams were announced, the lack of interaction from the Lens fans disappointed and desperation from the stadium announcer made me think I was at a Premier League match.  However, the confuddlement at the complete silence as the teams emerged from the tunnel was just unsettling.

I could search through all known memes and vines and still not find a face or expression that adequately described this event or my thoughts.  The teams emerged in almost total silence.  Something was wrong, it had to be.  Nobody else seemed that confused.  Maybe the Lensois are just bored, I mused.

But then, just as the match kicked off, so did the cheerleader man in front of me.  Just like an orchestra has a conductor, a denim-clad heavy-set man normally fulfils a similar role in most Ultra or Fankurve areas, with a megaphone or microphone.  This has mixed results: sometimes it really adds something e.g. Hertha whereas in other places, such as Lille, it can feel like remote trepanning.

However, he didn’t kick-off in the normal fashion. No, he explained why the fans were going on strike for the first half.  His announcement (rant) lasted about three minutes, and the short version is that they weren’t happy with the board.  So, to show how much ‘Marek’ is needed and would be missed, they urged the stadium to stay silent for the first half.  No walk-out, no staying at home and hurting the club pockets. No, like an infant giving the silent treatment after falling out with an older sibling, they milled around quietly.  It was quite possibly the perfect manifestation of being French that I had seen in a long time.  This part of the collective psyche that turns everything into a binary conflict is surely culturally endemic. Even the football fans go on strike.  The magma really was bursting through.  The atmosphere felt malignant.

One small group behind the goals started to cheer and sing and they were swiftly admonished for their show of support.  So, in amongst this Nihilist theatre, a game of football broke out.  The standard was patchy, with moments of classed woven together by the threads of mediocrity where athleticism suppresses talent.

However, in order to see a rainbow, you need to withstand the rain.  On the 12th minute, Cristian scored a delightful back heeled volley to put the home side 1 up.  A polite spattering of applause ensued.  The man next to me came with his son, who was maybe nine or ten, and just after the goal he gave his son a look that said ‘yes I know we would normally celebrate this goal, but not today.  We must show solidarity’.

The match continued to follow the pattern of Lens controlling the play with Gazelec countering until the 27th minute, when a world-class volley flew into the top corner from Yohan Court’s laces.  It was one of the best goals I’ve ever seen.  I would say that the home fans were stunned into silence but, in all honesty, there was no perceivable difference.

The match ebbed and flowed until half-time rather uneventfully.  So, in advance of the teams emerging for the second half,  the tifo was unfurled. Being underneath it, I didn’t get to see how it looked for myself, but a couple of photos from the Lens official site have been included to illustrate its size.  The unfurling of the tifo was the watershed moment.  From this point on, I was treated to an atmosphere that was surely as fabulous as it could be in these conditions, on this day.

The fans in Marek led the stadium into song, generating a great noise, bouncing around without regard to their own safety (which is why all stadia should have some standing areas!).  Les Sang et Or suddenly felt like a soulful club, followed by a passionate people, hurting from perceived mistreatment and prolonged disappointment.  It felt like the start of a revolution.

There were 26460 in attendance for this match.  Lens went on to win 2-1 and should have won more comfortably.  However, this match won’t really be remembered for the football, Yohan Court’s strike notwithstanding.  It will be remembered, by me anyway, as the day when football was reminded what it would be like without fans: hollow, flaccid and benign.

RC Lens are known as the blood and gold.  Their fans are like gold to the club: owners know this.  However, blood brings oxygen to organs around the body.  Its role may not be glamorous, but it is life-sustaining.  This is a club that, if it can stop bleeding, can go from strength to strength, giving a passionate community hope again.

By the way, I didn’t get a parking ticket.

Stadium Ratings

  • Quality of match:  ***
  • Stadium character: ***
  • Stadium atmosphere:  ****.5
  • Hospitality: ***
  • Ease of access: ***
  • Things to do around the stadium: ***
  • Overall: ****

Verdict: I have to go back and sample this place when the fans are not demonstrating.  It’s vibrancy is infectious.  It makes you almost forget the little niggles about the stadium and the average football on offer.

 

 

Euro 2016: Ireland v Italy

Euro 2016: Republic of Ireland v Italy

Stade Pierre Mauroy, Lille

“The atmosphere inside the stadium was fabulous in spite of UEFA’s attempt to sanitise it to better fit their purported ethos of inclusivity. Allow football fans to create atmosphere organically and they do it fantastically well.”

It is said that the Irish are ‘lucky’.  Licking their wounds from a Bordeaux-based Belgian beating, their army of fans traversed the country to Lille more in hope than expectation. That Italy had already won the group and were able to field the reserves could be classed as lucky but the performance of the team, whose intensity was only matched by the delirium in the stands, was anything but.  Ireland overcame their deficiencies in technical ability through hunger, persistence and playing to their strengths.  It will be a night long remembered by everybody, including some non-Irish like me, who was there and millions who were not.

Do you want a cheek en?
Do you want a cheek en?

How did you get a ticket?

At every stage of the ticket sale process, I dutifully applied for tickets. Tickets for games in Lille and Lens (both less than 2 hours drive from my house), then individual matches, ticking the ‘I’m willing to pay the next category up’ box but to no avail. I have never been awarded a ticket in a UEFA lottery.  Maybe I should change my email address to ‘michelplatinisbigbrownenvelope@gmail.com’ and see if that works?   A guy I met in a pub next to the stadium said he won his ticket in a raffle. It’s an interesting raffle prize – kind of obliges you to take time off work, organise flights and hotels etc.

However, in this instance, I simply refreshed the ticket portal a few days beforehand and found that two tickets were available for the match, so I bought one. All official, easily picked up at the stadium (although be sure to take your passport/National ID card along).  Parking at the stadium can also be booked although at 15€, I did feel a little bit stung.  I was searched as I collected my ticket to be welcomed by an army of bored staff and volunteers. This was the first of three searches undergone pre-match.

Epolortem Ellil
Epolortem Ellil

Pre-Match – Around the Stadium

The area around the stadium has clearly evolved to cater to a different clientele. Rather depressingly, lots of nice bars with interesting wine lists and trappist beers were only selling sponsored products – Carlsberg and Coca-Cola products. Coke has even bought naming rights to the WIFI in the area! Although an exercise in extreme global capitalism, this paradoxically produces the choice and homogeneity one would expect in a communist state.

One guy actually asked the barman for a half-pint of Grimbergen – very common in France – and was told he could only be sold pints of Carlsberg.  He attributed this to this arrival of the Irish but it seemed more like an imposition from The Man.

The atmosphere around these bars in the concourse adjacent to the stadium is how I remember International Tournament Football (as well as distantly, being Scottish) – not the images Lille town centre had experiences the week before and Marseille a few days previously. I wish more of this made the news.

That suit used to fit him
That suit used to fit him
Mixed crowds. No segregation
Mixed crowds. No segregation

DSCN1043 DSCN1042

It was very warm when the sun peeked out from between the clouds, causing the Irish boys to seek shade in the bars while the Italians milled around the terrace in what was more people reverting to stereotype than any kind of segregation.  Another point of note was the number of fans wearing other teams outfits – Portuguese, Belgian, German fans were numerous enough to be noticed.

Whilst watching the Hungary v Portugal match on TV in a bar, these two characters at the bar were commenting on the aesthetic ‘quality’ of the bar staff.  This led to them starting a rendition of “French girls on fire; Irish girls are terrified.”  Had you seen these two mammies boys at the bar, it would’ve only added to the humour of the situation.  They were two forty-something tubby little ginger hobbits from Limerick, both called Eoin. I’m not making this up!

Anyway, just before the 6pm games finished, I made my way to enter the stadium. There was a queue for checking the tickets (in addition to a barcode reader which checked them again), a queue to be patted down and another guy who checked your bags etc.  This whole process did take around twenty minutes although nobody minds because of the purpose it serves.

Pre-match – In The Stadium

Cue: UEFA Grumbling 

Once through the security checks, you are presented with the great corporate monoculture. Selling exclusively non-alcoholic beer is just lame. I understand the reasons why but when you can drink for 12 hours before the game should you really want to, I don’t think banning beer in the stadium is the way to go. It makes fans binge beforehand and wait until the last minute before entering the stadium, causing delays. It’s excessive drinking in a short space of time that is problematic, not beer at football matches.

Anyway, you would be relieved of six euros for a pint of pretend beer, in addition to 6.50€ for merguez and some reheated chips. Actually, LOSC have a reasonable buvette for snacks and drinks and generally sell better than this.

Having advanced past this to my rather good seat, I was overcome by the damp smell in the stadium. It reminded me of when I used to wash my rugby kit and not dry it for a few days. However, this was just ‘in the air’ as opposed to emanating from a poorly-laundered fan in the vicinity.  I was intrigued to see the roof closed (a step taken to prevent the pitch becoming even heavier) but then the sprinklers turned on. I’m no horticulturist but this seems counterintuitive.  The stadium was also very warm with the roof shut.

One part of the pre-match ritual I usually enjoy is the announcement of the teams, where the fans reply with the player’s surname. However, doing this a full hour before the match when the stadium is only about quarter full is just rubbish.  It’d be like Blur sound checking with Song 2 and then not playing it during the set.  This was followed by UEFA Karaoke, where the ‘Fields of Anthenry’ was played at a pedestrian pace and the fans that had arrived couldn’t sing it that slowly.

All this Superbowlification of football is not required, nor is it desirable. It all seemed to be aimed at people who don’t go to football matches, dreamt up by a marketing consultant who only goes to the football for the prawn sandwiches.  The organic atmosphere created by the fans was fabulous and this ‘forced fun’ reminded me of a student Nursery Teacher who tries to teach one-year olds Frère Jacques,  despite the fact half of them can’t speak, and carries on regardless of the feedback received.

DSCN1061 DSCN1062 DSCN1068

The atmosphere inside the stadium was fabulous in spite of UEFAs attempt to sanitise it to better fit their purported ethos of inclusivity. Allow football fans to create atmosphere organically and they do it fantastically well.  Ireland don’t have many songs, and Italy have even less, but they do belt them out with gusto and joy.

The Match

Ireland’s selection, Shane Long excepted, seemed to have been made on the basis of height: Duffy, Keogh, Murphy et al were not picked because of their passing ability. However, Ireland’s challenge would be to get the best out of these players in a way that they failed to do against Belgium. Italy really did field a reserve XI and, if nothing else, that was cause for a little optimism.  However, I don’t think even the most optimistic fan would have expected such a spirited, intense and accomplished performance.

The first half was one of frustration for Ireland. Despite completely dominating the match, they didn’t have many clear cut chances.  Again, Italy’s shape forced them into some of the ‘negative-U’ passing that Belgium did in their first match.  However, Ireland generally don’t have 50 pass build ups, meaning that their directness kept Italy on their toes. Indeed, Italy had James McClean off of his toes and onto the ground with a very clumsy-looking challenge that the referee deemed to be acceptable. Ireland had been unlucky, but had lacked that bit of guile or class to unlock Italy.

Some of the Italian players should have been out to impress their coach but few will have done. Zaza was a no-no, Thiago Motta barely broke sweat and Barzagli and Ogbonna seemed intent on racing to the first yellow card.

The introduction of Hoolahan and McGeady had the feel of desperation about it but it did change things a little. Hoolahan has a glorious chance to score when everyone seemed to think play had stopped, but shot straight at Sirigu.  McGeady did what he does, dribble nicely then play an ineffective cross or off-target shot. However, when the breakthrough finally came, even the Italians applauded and agreed that it was deserved. Robbie Brady had spent the whole second half moaning at Ward for not hitting him early with throw-ins and hadn’t done much else but became the hero after 84 minutes when he unconvincingly headed past an off-balance Sirigu.

Lille had exploded into shouts of joy, relief and disbelief. Now all they had to do was hold on. Despite substitute Insigne’s wasp-like movement in Ireland’s half, he was unable to sting and ended up embodying everything that is annoying about a Vespa.  In injury time, a whistle was blown and Irish substitutes and coaching staff ran on to the pitch, only to realise it was a free kick. D’oh! However, there was no way they were going to give up what they had fought so hard for all night. When the final whistle was finally blown, the Irish fans descended into delirium.

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As much as I was enjoying the celebrations, I did have work the following morning and had to get back to the car, get out of Lille and get home.  This was easier said than done. All the stairs were blocked with dancing Irish. I had my sweaty head kissed twice by total strangers, before finally leaving the party early.

Just outside the ground, the party was kicking off and was set to extend well into the wee hours. I heard one guy on his phone just outside the stadium saying ‘look, I’ll book the hotel, you get train tickets and we’ll come up with some bullshit story for the wives and work’. I’d suggest he wasn’t the only one having these thoughts.  Maybe these are the Irish girls Eoin said were terrified.

Whether or not they’ll get past the French seems irrelevant – Ireland have already somehow won. Looking on as a lonely Scot, it occurred to me that all three teams who qualified from Scotland’s group are in the last 16: Germany, Poland and Ireland. Lyon will be the next city whose pubs will be in profit.  I’m looking forward to a few days excitement, with O’Neill being diplomatic and Roy Keane saying how Pogba wasn’t fit to clean his boots etc.

 

 

Lille OSC

Lille OSC v ESTAC Troyes

23rd January 2016: Ligue 1

Most people will tell you that the best nights out are often spontaneous and serendipitous.  No build-up, no disappointment, no anti-climax, no expectations.  I had done very little research on Lille or Troyes other than to establish that Lille were struggling and Troyes were already as good as relegated having not won a game all season.  Given the proximity of Lille to Brussels, it seemed like a good way to spend a free Saturday night.   I left the stadium with a stupid half-grin on my face having witnessed a bizarre event, from the pre-match ritual to the game itself.  Bonkers!

Stade Pierre Mauroy
Stade Pierre Maury

Getting There

The stadium is only 85 minutes drive from my house and is well situated for access by car from the motorway.  Those taking public transport can take any number of high speed trains to Lille and there is a metro station at the stadium.  The tickets were 15€ each, plus 4€ for parking and 1.50€ for the ‘print-at-home’ ticket option.  The club website ticket portal is easy to use  (https://www.billetterie.losc.fr/fr) and offers you a view from the seat you select.  This is the benchmark in terms of how tickets should be sold online and the club deserve praise for offering this.

The parking was less than ten minutes walk from the stadium and was covered and had secure access.  It was very simple and efficient. When the stadium was being designed and built, somebody clearly thought about these kind of auxiliary services and their importance for the general fan experience.

View from just inside the Turnstiles
View from just inside the Turnstiles

Stade Pierre Mauroy

The outside of the stadium has the shell which makes it infinitely more interesting aesthetically.  The lighted shell covers what could otherwise be characterless, concrete and almost communist collection of cuboids.  The stadium entry is quite inviting and you don’t feel like a criminal on the way in.  Yes, there is security and yes, you are patted down before proceeding to the turnstiles.  However, this process often seems like you are entering and emerging from a cage.  There is an excellent openness about the place which puts you at ease.

There is a selection of bars and food stalls where you can buy hot drinks, food and beer and the prices are OK.  5€ for a pint of Kronenbourg plus a 2€ deposit for the plastic glass which makes a nice souvenir if you aren’t desperate for the refund.  The concourses offer plenty of toilets and space for milling around before taking your seat.  The views from the seats are universally fantastic.  We had the cheapest seats in the house but the views were more the satisfactory.

View from the cheap seats
View from the cheap seats
The seats are Lille-y grey
The seats are Lille-y grey
How many away fans? Un, deux, Troyes?
How many away fans? Un, deux, Troyes?

The pre-match goings on were …..very French.  The lady pre-match announcer, who was meant to be building up the atmosphere amongst the fans, sounded like she was trying to sell me Nutella-filled biscuits in the local supermarket.  It was all very convivial and tension-free.  When the Lille XI was being announced, she did the fairly universal thing of saying the player’s first name and letting the fans respond with the surname.  However, she then repeated the surname like a Primary School teacher correcting the class.  It had the air of a lethargic response given by a hungover congregation from the early morning mass.

The ‘Ultras’ behind the goal had the right idea but the execution wasn’t quite right.  The ‘lead singer/conductor’ of the choir had been furnished with a microphone.  We debated the necessity of the choreographed singing and I concluded that I quite like it but nobody should have a microphone.  This guy introduced almost every song with a lecture to his disciples.  It grew very tiresome.  The best of it was, all of the songs sounded the same.  Except, that is, the ‘Amazing Grace’ dirge that seems to be a club-sponsored corporately acceptable song.

The Choir
The Choir

The Match

My fellow analyst, Brad from Bury, commented that upon reading the free match programme (entitled ‘reservoir dogues’, a clever play on the club’s nickname), the game had nil-nil written all over it.  There were a lot of nice passages of play between the penalty boxes but the lack of decent final pass or finish suggested that this prognosis may turn out to be correct.

Sofiane Boufal for Lille looked like the only man on the pitch likely to make the breakthrough and, sure enough, he was fouled inside the box and subsequently converted the penalty.  There seemed to be a relieved cheer around the stadium once the lead had been secured.  Troyes had looked very unlikely to score and had a general impotence about their play.  They had a very high defensive line but weren’t pressing hard.  This meant Lille had several chances to double their lead but Tallo’s inability to convert chances or even hit the target ensured that Lille were only 1 up at half-time.

We decided to make the most of the facilities at half time and the toilet experience was correct and rapid.  It was surprisingly freezing in the concourse, given the comparative mildness inside the stadium with its roof closed.  So we decided to have an espresso and ‘the panini of the day’ which were both delicious.  The panini had some kind of generic meat that it would be better to characterise by dimensions as opposed to animal of origin: it was cuboidal and delicious.

The second half started much as the first half finished, with Lille dominating but not converting chances or even testing the goalie.  Again, Boufal was the only player looking dangerous on the pitch but he grew increasingly frustrated.  The match seemed to evolve inexorably towards Lille nicking a second goal and then seeing the game out.  They were however, profligate during their ascendancy and they paid for it.

Penalty to Lille
Penalty to Lille

Within ten minutes, Troyes had scored three of the best counter attacking goals you are likely to see anywhere and Lille were motionless and, to be honest, lacked any fight once Troyes equalised.  Troyes were clearly buoyed by Lille’s lack of response and looked like scoring every time they went up the pitch.  The home fans were ironically cheering when Troyes equalised and by the time Troyes had scored the third goal, half of the home fans were on their way home.

Their was an air of both disgust and resignation about the home fans, bearing in mind they were league champions less than five years ago.  The team are certainly not worthy of the fantastic stadium.  I don’t think though, that I have ever seen a home team’s fans turn on the team so vociferously as I witnessed here.  Sure, boo at the end if you are unhappy, but the reaction to the substitution of Tallo was just ridiculous.  He was poor and I’d imagine that, if he cares, his confidence will be destroyed after his treatment from his own fans.

It is worth noting the Lille were 1 up with 15 minutes to go and took off Balmont – he was knackered – for Amalfitano and that’s when the goal haemorrhage started.

The exit from the ground was smooth and I was back in the car within ten minutes, both delighted for Troyes that they had finally won and pleased to have visited such a fine stadium for so little money.  I also saw four goals, of which three were top quality.  Cabot’s first time volley would grace any stage.  The days of Hazard and Cabaye seem a million miles away for Lille and their fabulous stadium is housing a mediocre team.  I’d quite like to return here, maybe for a game against Lens, PSG, Marseille or a European game (if they ever get there).  The stadium is to be used during Euro 2016 and it is more than adequate: 52000 capacity with a nice feel, retractable roof and excellent transport links, the stadium does the ‘nicer than you might think’ city of Lille proud.

Stadium Ratings

  • Quality of match:  ***
  • Stadium character: ****
  • Stadium atmosphere:  ***
  • Hospitality: *****
  • Ease of access: ****
  • Things to do around the stadium: ***
  • Overall: ****