Well Red (Valenciennes AFC)

Valenciennes Football Club was first established in 1913 just before resources would become meagre due the outbreak of the First World War. This resulted in a merger three years later which produced the new combined name of Union Sportive Valenciennes Anzin. After a modest start in local amateur football the club turned professional in 1933 and engaged several foreign players including the Englishmen Peter O’Dowd, previously with the likes of Chelsea and Burnley, and George Gibson who had struggled to make the grade with both Sunderland and Leicester City.

The club gained promotion to Ligue 1 for 1935/36 but struggled in the exalted company and were promptly relegated. It was the first of 38 seasons in the top flight enjoyed by “The Athénians”. The intervening years passed relatively unremarkably until 1993 when Valenciennes were caught up in the Marseille bribery scandal which let to OM being stripped of their European Cup win. The man at the centre of the scandal was Marseille chairman Bernard Tapie who was found guilty of bribing Valenciennes players, Jorge Burruchaga, Christophe Robert and Jacques Glassman. The three accepted the bribe to “take it easy” against Marseille as they had the European Cup Final just a few days after a league encounter.

Players left the club in droves out of embarrassment or not wanting to be tarnished with the scandal and subsequently Valenciennes dropped down in successive seasons to the third tier. By 1996 the club were bankrupt and reformed as Valenciennes AFC in the fourth tier Championnat de France Amateur.

The road to recovery started in 2004/05 when the club won the Championnat National and a year later captured the Ligue 2 title as well. After eight season in the top flight Valenciennes were relegated at the end of the 2012/13 campaign and with came a new financial plight. The club were threatened with a return once again to the amateur ranks at level four before a last minute takeover by Jean-Louis Borloo steadied the ship sufficiently to allow the club to continue at level two.

The Stade du Hainaut was opened in July 2011 at a mind boggling cost of €75 million. It holds 25,000 people but at Ligue 2 level the capacity is never tested. Previously the club had played at the adjacent Stade Nungesser, which was demolished in 2012, except for the entrance gates at the Avenue de Reims end of the old venue. The Nungesser had been opened in 1929, named after after Charles Nungesser a locally born fighter pilot, and was pivotal in the clubs ascent into the professional ranks.

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The remains of the entrance to the old Stade Nungesser

The Stade du Hainaut is quite magnificent, a space age chrome wrap is the only deference to an ocular assault in vivid red. With 25,000 seats it is undoubtedly too big for the club while the club languish in the second tier but the latest man tasked with changing that is the respected Bosnian coach Faruk Hadžibegić. He joined the club in January 2016 but could so little to stop the team finishing in mid table.

Today’s match against Stade de Reims is a turgid affair in stultifying heat. The two sides cancel each other out with the contest bogged down in midfield skirmishes and a considerable amount of stoppages due to injuries. Both goalkeepers were rarely tested with anything resembling a goalscoring chance and therefore it was no surprise that at full time neither side had troubled the scoreboard operator.

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Ligue 2 – 13/08/2016

Valenciennes 0 Stade de Reims 0

Att: 6,727 (at Stade du Hainaut)

Admission €17 Programme free

Gallery

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Valenciennes ticket

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Rimet’s Boys (Red Star FC)

Red Star were formed in 1897 by Ernest Weber and none other than Jules Rimet. The clubs anglicised name is a little bit of a mystery with two theories existing for its origin. The first theory is that it was chosen in recognition of the symbol sported by William “Buffalo Bill” Cody who relentlessly toured his “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World” show throughout western Europe during the 1890’s. The other theory for calling the club Red Star rather than Étoile Rouge is that in the early days the club adopted a English governess known as “Miss Jenny” as a sort of matriarchal figure, and when the name of the new club was debated she suggested calling it after the Red Star Line, a well known shipping company.

The club was hugely successful in the 1920’s with four of its five Coupe de France wins coming during that decade. The club also won Ligue 2 twice before the Second World War.

Initially the nascent club played at Champ de Mars however this proved to be an unsuitable home and the club quickly secured rental of a field on a flat terrace in Meudon adjacent to the River Seine. By 1904 Jules Rimet has become president of the club and three years later the club moved to Grenelle following a merger with Amical Football Club. The club really found it’s home, however, in 1909 when they moved to the working class banlieue of Saint-Ouen.

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Share certificate for the Stade de Paris

The Stade de Paris, as it was known, was inaugurated in October 1909 with a match against Old Westminsters and was to remain the home of Red Star for more than  a century. It was used in the 1924 Olympics and after the Second World War the stadium became known as the Stade Bauer, after the resistance leader Dr. Jean-Claude Bauer who in 1942 was arrested and shot by the authorities. The road outside the stadium was also renamed as a mark of respect of his bravery during the Nazi occupation.

In the immediate post war years the stadium was enlarged and in 1948 an all time record crowd of 23,000 gathered for the visit of Olympique Marseille. In 1971/72 the Stade Bauer also staged the matches of the newly formed Paris St Germain while the Parc des Princes was rebuilt.

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Stade Bauer

By 1999 the stadium was a pale reflection of its former self. Lack of investment followed by a damaging storm left the stadium with a licensed capacity of only 3,000. Aside from a synthetic pitch laid in 2010 little had been done to improve the stadium. So when Red Star somewhat unexpectedly won the Championnat National (third tier) in 2014/15 elevation to Ligue 2 presented a huge problem for the club.

Promotion was a huge surprise for the club who had languished in the sixth tier as recently as 2005, and the Bauer was clearly not going to be permitted to host second tier games. The back up plan was also a shock for the clubs’ small but loyal band of supporters. The club announced that for the 2015/16 season the clubs home matches would be played some 48 miles north of Paris at the Stade Pierre Brisson, home of AS Beauvais Oise. The move to Beauvais saw the club have a dramatic season under the management of Rui Almeida. Red Star challenged for promotion to the top flight all season before fading in the final straight. The Greens eventually finished fifth, ten points behind champions Nancy. Despite a great season on the field at Beauvais the experiment was not attractive to supporters, Red Star only averaged 1,915 supporters through the gates. The board decided that the club needed to be playing in Paris in order to sustain a real tilt at promotion.

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Stade Pierre Brisson – AS Beauvais Oise

The club decided to groundshare at the Stade Jean Bouin, home to Stade Français rugby, a venue itself that had been completely rebuilt during 2010-11 and now holds 20,000 people. From a neutrals perspective the fact that Red Star now play home games right next door to the all conquering behemoth of PSG is highly intriguing let alone amusing!

Given that the opening game against Auxerre attracted 6,193 and tonight’s game against Stade Brestois saw 3,467 through the gates, if the figures are to be believed (and I really doubt the validity of tonight’s figure) then the move back to the capital should be an unqualified success. However, a repeat of last seasons promotion push is looking less likely with Red Star well beaten tonight and failing to even score a goal in their opening three fixtures. Last season’s twin goal threat of the Equatorial Guinean striker Anatole Ngamukol and the Algerian international, Hameur Bouazza (once of Watford) cannot find their shooting boots quickly enough to get the Greens’ season going.

While the Stade Bouin will never be truly home for Red Star, its eye-catching external wrap and sweeping modern roof makes it a suitable venue for someone of the stature of their founding father, Jules Rimet, a man who left his indelible mark on the game in so many ways.

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Ligue 2 – 12/08/2016

Red Star 0

Stade Brestois 3 (Maupay 40, Grougi 44, Labidi 83)

Att: 3,467 (at Stade Jean Bouin)

Admission €10 Programme free

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Goodbye Gerland (Olympique Lyonnais)

The magnificent Stade de Gerland has a history long before Olympique Lyonnais took up residency in 1950 when the club was formed after a splintering of the Lyon Olympique Uninversitaire Club, themselves formed in 1899. That club had played at the Stade des Iris so the rebel group needed a new home and they found it across town at the Stade de Gerland.

The stadium was planned as long ago as 1910 when the mayor of Lyon, Édouard Herriot enlisted one of the nations most esteemed architects and urban planners, Tony Garnier, to build a new athletics track and velodrome in the seventh arrondissement of Gerland. Building got underway in 1914 just before war broke out and promptly bought a halt the plans. By 1920 using the labour of German prisoners of war the stadium was operational although it was not officially inaugurated until 1926. The amphitheatrical design echoed Garnier’s studies of ancient Rome but that in itself would become problematic in later modernisation attempts such was need to preserve his work yet cater for changing needs.

The record attendance at the ground came in 1982 when the derby against arch rivals Saint-Étienne attracted 48,552 to the Gerland.

The stadium and velodrome remained untouched until a revamp was needed for the 1984 European Championships. René Gargis’ plan included two new tribunes named after Jean Bouin (a famous French Olympian) and Jean Jaurès (former leader of the French Socialist Party). The Euros also saw the removal of the cycle track.

The present incarnation of the Stade de Gerland comes from the hosting of the World Cup in 1998 when both end stands were replaced with their twin rakish stands known as Virage Nord and Virage Sud, crafted impressively at the hand of architect Albert Constantin. The second tiers of the virages are particularly eye catching and resemble the opening of the petals of a flower. The entrance to the Stade de Gerland and its neighbouring swimming pool is guarded by two statues of lions.

The Gerland of course was the scene of the tragic collapse and death of Cameroon’s Marc-Vivien Foé during a match in the 2003 Confederations Cup.

Despite an impressive capacity of 40,500 the Gerland only holds a UEFA three star rating and it was this factor that has prompted the construction of a new 60,000 capacity stadium, Parc OL, in the suburb of Décines-Charpieu. This new stadium should be inaugurated when Lyon return to action after the brief winter break in January and it will, of course, be a host venue for Euro 2016. It is thought that the immediate future of the Gerland will be as a rugby venue.

Lyon are attempting a revival after a relatively quiet decade by their own high standards, having fallen behind the moneybags club from the capital, Paris St Germain. The first decade of the new millennium saw “Les Gones” (the kids) win no less than seven consecutive Ligue 1 titles between 2001 and 2008 which was a record unbroken run of titles for the French League.

Today’s game starts with a magnificent tifo in the Virage Sud, a stand covering flag descends as the players finish their warm up. As the players return to the pitch the whole stadium holds up blue and white paper for an “animation” that spells out he words “Stade de Gerland Lyon”. Then just before kick off red, white and blue flags are vigorously waved creating quite a spectacle.

Sadly for the hosts the current surprise packet in Ligue 1 this season, Angers, were in no mood to surrender the points in what was the last League match at this great old stadium. Lyon huff and puff and apart from Mathieu Valbuena’s effort that somehow hits the bar and bounces down the wrong side of the goal line before being cleared, the hosts seem to lack a cutting edge. Current darling of the Lyon crowd is Alexandre Lacazette but he looks desperately out of form. His performance is well and truly eclipsed by visiting attacking midfielder Cheikh Ndoye who scores two identical goals in either half, powerful headers when arriving unmarked in the Lyon goalmouth.

The defeat aside this is magnificent send off for the old Gerland. More than hundred former players are announced as they wonder around the pitch at the end of the match including legends from the seven title years like Juninho Pernambucano, Sonny Anderson and Sidney Govou. How the current team could have done with their creativity earlier!

Then dramatically the stadium is plunged into darkness as the floodlights are turned off. The ultras from the Virage Nord then light hundreds of flares for a tremendous pyro show. Then in the centre of the pitch five stages launch hundreds of fireworks into the night sky. What a rousing finale for this historic old stadium.

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Saturday December 5th 2015 – Ligue 1

Olympique Lyonnais 0
Angers SCO 2 (Ndoye 18,80)

Att: 36,068 (at Stade de Gerland)

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Lyon ticket