It is always nice to visit a shiny new stadium in its nascent year and this was the case with this Friday night trip to Nord Pays de Calais and the city of Lille. Well actually it’s not Lille but the neighbouring town of Villeneuve D’Ascq where this shimmering edifice, built by architect Pierre Ferret, is situated.
The history of Lille OSC and its grounds is worth a few lines in itself. The current club were formed in September 1944 from a merger of Olympique Lillois and SC Fives, hence the OSC as the current club’s suffix. Five years earlier Lillois had tried to merge with Fives but on a breakdown of discussions they merged instead with Iris Club Lillois. Therefore the current club traces its ancestry to a triumvirate of local clubs.
The newly merged club played initially at a modest stadium called the Stade Henri Jooris which was replaced in 1974 with the Stade Grimonprez-Jooris built by architect Roger Taillibert. The new stadium opened with an official inauguration match against Feyenoord in September 1975. In 2003 the City of Lille announced that the Grimonprez-Jooris would be demolished and replaced with a brand new stadium for LOSC. This necessitated a “temporary” decampment to the neighbouring town of Villeneuve D’Ascq to use their Stade Lille-Métropole will the construction work took place. Except it never started, bogged down with red tape and political constraints it was shelved and the Grimonprez-Jooris was only demolished as recently as 2010. As France were awarded the 2016 European Championships, budgetary concerns were shelved and the new stadium would be one of the host venues for the tournament.
Built a mile or so away from the old Lille-Métropole the new stadium is an imposing structure seating 50,000, wrapped with fluorescent tubing and sheltered from malevolent weather by the seeming now obligatory retractable roof. It has of course won the required UEFA 5 star grading and has also drawn critical approval from design gurus. But what is it really like? The outside is impressive, neon messages and images sparkle on the back of the north stand as the evening crackles into life. The tubular casing around the exterior promise of a light show worth remembering after the final whistle. The double win of League and French Cup in 2010-11 is amply celebrated with decorative murals.
Internally the immediate impression is the vast symmetry and the blandness of the grey seats chosen for a club fiercely proud of its red shirts and mastiff logo. These are missing from the interior and the spectator gets three tiers (the middle being the corporate boxes and seats), in three varying shades of grey, darkest uppermost. One can’t help thinking that red and liberal use of the unusual club logo would have been far more eye-catching. The new pitch is already in poor condition, rutted and patchy in places. Staging a Stade Français v Toulon rugby match shortly will surely only compound this particular issue.
The roof is not needed tonight on a cold but dry evening, the football on offer is disappointingly low on quality. This was amply highlighted by the opening goal, a visiting defender lying pole-axed and face down in his area diverting a fierce cross into his own goal. The result is put beyond doubt with a second Lille goal half way through the second period. Disappointing Rennes, in fifth place at the start of play, mount little in the way of response and seem accepting of their fate. One sad aspect of the match was a season ending cruciate ligament injury to the visitors exciting prospect Romain Alessandrini.
Upon leaving the exterior has an ethereal white glow, not from electricity coursing through the external tubing but from the interior stadium lighting reflecting outwards through the casing. It is impressive enough but a red pulsing exterior like a landing alien space ship would have set the stadium off a treat. With impressive crowds already doubling the 18,000 capacity of the old stadium, the move is one of common sense and pragmatism and LOSC now have a home to suit their undoubted ambition.
February 15th 2013 (kick off 8.30pm)
Lille OSC (1) 2 (Mavinga og 24, Payet 61) Stade Rennais (0)0
Attendance: 36,929 at the Grand Stade Métropole
16.Steeve Elana; 25.Marko Baša; 18. Franck Béria; 22. Aurélien Chedjou (c); 3.Lucas Digne; 4.Florent Balmont; 10. Marvin Martin; 5. Idrissa Gueye; 7. Dmitri Payet; 8. Saloman Kalou; 20. Ronny Rodelin.
Subs: 9.Túlio de Melo; 14. David Rozenhal (for 7, 89 mins); 15. Djibril Sidibé; 17. Benoît Pedretti; 26. Nolan Roux (for 20, 84 mins); 30 Barel Mouko; 33. Divock Origi (for 10, 90 mins).
1. Benoît Costil; 23. Hérita Ilunga; 29. Romain Danzé (c); 2. Kevin Theophile-Catherine; 3. Chris Mavinga; 5. Jean-Armel Kana-Biyik; 6. Alou Diarra; 15. Jean II Makoun; 8. Julien Féret; 19. Romain Alessandrini; 9. Mevlut Erdinç.
Subs: 4. Onyekachi Apam; 10. Sadio Diallo; 16. Abdoulaye Diallo; 18. Chieck Diarra (for 9, 74 mins); 22. Anders Konradsen (for 6, 70 mins); 24. Dimitri Foulquier; 27. Abdoulaye Doucouré (for 19, 36 mins).
Yellow Cards: Martin (LOSC), Makoun (Rennes)