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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Fading Elegance (Mouloudia Club Marrakech)

Until the opening of the Grande Stade de Marrakech in 2012, the Stade El Harti was the biggest football ground in this great city. Built in the period of the French protectorate it would still easily hold 10,000 spectators. Situated just outside the old city walls in the Avenue du President Kennedy, the old stadium is the very definition of fading elegance.

Since Marrakech’s biggest club, Kawkab Athletic Club, moved into the new Gregotti Associates designed arena, which is situated some way out of town in Ouahat Sidi Brahim, the El Harti has been reduced to hosting games for Marrakech’s clubs that currently compete in the third and fourth tier competition, the Moroccan Amateur League. Of the tenant clubs, Olympique Marrakech are best placed to bring Botola Pro football back to the El Harti. In fact they only dropped out of the Pro League Second Division at the end of the 2012/13 season when they finished bottom of the table ten points adrift of safety. It was a year that saw Kawkab win the Second Division to return to the top flight. Olympique were formed in 2001 by the owner of the famous Marrakechi restaurant Chez Ali, and currently stand in a promotion place for a return to the Pro League. The city’s other third tier club Najm Marrakech still play at the Stade 20th August which is in Avenue Oued Lmakhazine in the suburb of Menara.

The El Harti’s other occupant is today’s host club MCM Mouloudia Marrakech who play in the fourth tier of Moroccan football, the Amateur League Second Division. It’s been a sharp decline for Mouloudia who spent a single season in the Moroccan top flight in 1980/81 but finished next to bottom of the eighteen team league. The club were formed in 1948 as Alioria Marrakech with most of the team coming from the Bab Doukkala district of the old medina. They initially played at the old Terrain Akecich before sharing the Stade 20th August with Najm Marrakech. All their first team games these days are played on the 3G surface of the El Harti. The Mouloudia club have a currently much more successful handball team.

The Stade El Harti is built from the distinctive terracotta coloured stone associated with Morocco and has an impressive main stand with a roof supported by some seriously reinforced concrete. The stadium in its heyday would have looked great, the external stairways are artistically decorated and the entrance to the stadium is a real masterpiece. Today the fascia of the stadium bearing its name has been smashed and a chunk of masonry has fallen off the stunning arch. It’s a shame big crowds no longer gather here and little maintenance, save for the installation of an artificial pitch, has taken place in recent years. The rest of stadium is made up of two end curves of open terracing and a terrace opposite the main stand which is partially covered to provide some shade from the unrelenting Maghreb sun.

Today’s game sees Hilal Tarrast make the long four hour trip from Agadir for this fixture. No admission is charged and no information is available as to who is playing for either team. There was a goalless first half which was held up for seven minutes when the manager of the visitors was asked to leave the technical area and refused to do so, encouraging his team to leave the pitch instead. Order was eventually restored and the coach cut a solitary figure sat alone in the covered terrace for the remainder of the game. It was the hosts that took the lead after 67 minutes when their captain nodded in a dangerous corner. It looked like that would be the winner until four minutes from time when the opposition’s centre forward, who had spent the entire game play acting and diving, gleefully lashed home a loose ball which really should have been cleared. It was a poor quality game on an artificial surface that has not been maintained well and had some disarming bounce to it.

Should Olympique successfully return to the Pro League it would be nice to think some money could be lavished on the old El Harti in its dotage.

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Moroccan Amateur League Deuxiéme Division – Sunday January 18th 2015 

Mouloudia Club Marrakech (0) 1

Hilel Tarrast Agadir (0) 1

Att: c. 160

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