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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Dig Your Own Hole (FK Partizan)

Having attended the Belgrade derby at Red Star’s stadium last season I was keen to see the reverse fixture at the Stadion Partizan, known as the JNA Stadium until 1989. Partizan then bought the arena from the army, their long term benefactor. The background to the 146th “Eternal Derby” was an interesting one. In the table Red Star had taken a six point lead with five rounds left when Partizan unexpectedly lost to Napredak in the midweek round of games. A defeat in the derby would leave them nine points adrift with just 12 points left available, Zvezda would surely be crowned champions of Serbia.

Partizan have won the Serbian League for the past six seasons, last season’s title was won at a canter, by a margin of eleven points from their cross city rivals. However, they have not had everything their own way this season with the January arrest of club president Dragan Đurić who now faces indictment for corruption. Unrest has been rife with Partizan arguing that penalties are being awarded against them for no reason. Red Star claim that for once the playing field is level. The red and whites though have their own issues, mounting debts may prevent them from playing in Europe next season unless money can be raised.

The stadium is busy when we arrive and try and locate our entrance vomitory, we pass a mass of Zvezda fans who appear to be prevented from entering the ground. It transpires police and officials had been trying to remove a flammable paint that the Grobari had painted on the fences at the Red Star end in an attempt to make the visitors inadvertently set fire to their own flags. The ruse failed but tempers flared as the delays continued and there was a brief scuffle between the Delije and the riot police.

Once inside it was someone strange that security allowed rival fans to swap sections unchallenged although there was no real aggression just mounting tension and excitement. The game kicked off in daylight and it was interesting to hear that the Grobari, for today’s encounter, had seen the warring factions of Alcatraz and the Zabrenjeni agreeing to lay their differences aside for 90 minutes in pursuit of the greater good of their club. Their noise and synchronised bouncing was truly deafening. Red Star, more renowned for their visual tifos, produced thousands of red and white balloons surrounding a huge, and I mean huge, flag of a tank with a Zvezda flag atop of it. The tank picture was an abiding memory of the Balkan War as the JNA (the Yugoslav People’s Army) rumbled into the devastated Croatian town of Vukovar in the early days of that most shocking of recent human tragedies. The Delije’s message to their rivals was simple, it implied that the Grobari were “Ustaše” (the Croatian Nazi Movement). Politics aside it was a top notch display. It was also the first time I have ever seen a drone flying across a stadium to monitor the crowd.

The first half was truly dramatic, 23 minutes in Zvezda were awarded a penalty but Ninković’s tame shot was easily saved by Lukač in the Partizan goal. Barely had the excitement died down when the home side took the lead with a sensational free kick from Nikola Drinčić. The Grobari went into overdrive, some of their number scaling the huge electronic scoreboard equipped with giant flags, arranging themselves in some sort of semaphore insult to the visitors. Incredibly Zvezda were then awarded a second penalty, and opting to change their kicker, Nikola Mijailović was entrusted with levelling the game. To their utter astonishment Lukač saved again to preserve the slender lead.

Darkness enveloped the stadium at halftime and to rally their team Zvezda launched into a dramatic pyrotechnic display, flares, flames and red and white smoke engulfed the away end and the neighbouring Church of Saint Sava. It was a mightily impressive display. It seemed to galvanise the visitors and ten minutes into the second half they pulled level. Dragan Mrđa, often the playmaker in the open period, finished coolly after jinking through a sleeping Partizan defence. This was a cue for further flares, one of which struck their own player, Darko Brašanac, singeing a hole in the back of his shirt.

The remainder of the second half was a tense affair, Zvezda seemingly happy with a point that would take them seven points clear, and Partizan looking defeated and short of ideas. Step forward substitute Nemanja Kojić. As the clock struck the 90th minute Mrđa had clumsily lost possession and Vulićević put in a decent cross more in hope than expectation. Kojić superbly controlled the ball to slot home into the corner of the Red Star net. A pitch invasion ensued and the stadium erupted with a mixture of relief and joy for the black and white of Partizan.

So there it was, another thrilling encounter illuminated by two of the best sets of ultras in world football. Serbia is a great country with a population working hard to fix its image problem. This is classic footballing encounter, you must try and go at least once in your lifetime.

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Saturday April 26th 2014 – Jelen Super Liga

FK Partizan (1) 2 (Drinčić 27, Kojić 90)

FK Crvena Zvezda (0) 1 (Mrđa 56)

Att: 30,000 (at Stadion Partizan)

Partizan:

25. Milan Lukač , 15. Branislav Trajković , 3. Vladimir Volkov, 4. Miroslav Vulićević , 6. Vojislav Stanković , 20. Nikola Drinčić , 17. Andrija Živković , 11. Nikola Ninković , 8. Darko Brašanac , 27. Danko Lazović , 32. Petar Škuletić .

Subs: 1. Živko Živković , 7. Predrag Luka (for 17,65 mins), 9. Nemanja Kojić (for 27,71 mins), 21. Saša Marković , 26. Milan Obradović , 29. Filip Malbašić (for 11,67 mins), 55. Danilo Pantić .

Crvena Zvezda:

1. Boban Bajković , 5. Nikola Mijailović , 14. Savo Pavićević , 44. Dejan Kelhar, 33. Milos Ninković , 10. Nenad Milijaš (c), 11. Nejc Pečnik, 8. Darko Lazović , 26. Goran Gogić, 55. Aleksandar Kovačević, 84. Dragan Mrđa.

Subs: 2. Marko Petković (for 8,69 mins), 6. Jovan Krneta, 7. Đorđe Rakić (for 27,71 mins), 17. Filip Kasalica (for 33,88 mins), 28. Vukan Savićević, 35. Predrag Rajković, 39. Ifeanyi Onyilo.

Missed Penalties: Ninković 23 mins, Mijailović 34 mins (both Zvezda)

Yellow Cards: Trajković, Stanković, Brašanac, Lazović (all Partizan), Mijailović, Kelhar, Milijaš (all Zvezda)

Gallery

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