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