Girondins Bordeaux FC versus FC Lorient
Stade Chaban-Delmas, Ligue Un, December 6th
While it hasn’t been the most difficult transition to a new job and a new country, a three-day weekend so close to the end of term was very welcome. With three days of things mostly being shut, the wife and I decided it was a good time to head over the border and into France. We booked a TGV from the border town of Hendaye up to Bordeaux and, as has become habit with these kind of trips, I followed up the booking by checking the football fixtures. And I was in luck; Girondins Bordeaux FC were home to FC Lorient in Ligue Un.
We arrived in the capital of the Aquitaine region around lunch time and headed into to the city centre for some lunch and Christmas shopping. Just as on her last Lost Boyos appearance, Kathryn and I dined on Japanese noodles, before taking in Europe’s longest pedestrian shopping trip, Europe’s largest square and the city’s Christmas market. The afternoon ended with beers- which aren’t cheap in Bordeaux- in a pub at La Place de la Victoire where the many large TVs showed Ospreys playing Racing Metro and PSG versus Nantes, Zlatan scoring and celebrating an equalizing goal in one single motion (he later scored a winning free-kick, too)
I escorted the wife back to our nearby hotel and went out into the chilly evening to get a tram to the football. The city’s tram system is great- reasonably cheap, frequent trams, and lines that stretch out around the city, including to the Stade Chaban-Delmas.
Formerly known as the Stade du Parc Lescure, the stadium has hosted games in two FIFA World Cups (1938 and 1998) and two Rugby World Cups (1999 and 2007). The first and second games at the stadium were both World Cup quarter-finals between Brazil and Czechoslovakia in 1938. The first has become known as the ‘Battle of Bordeaux,’ a game that featured three red cards, several injuries, and ended in a 1-1 draw. The replay two days later was, according to Brian Glanville, ‘as proper and placid as the first match was violent.’ Brazil won 2-1. Sixty years later, the stadium hosted five group matches- including the redemption of Roberto Baggio, scoring a penalty against Chile four years after missing in the final in Los Angeles- and Croatia’s Last 16 win over Romania. In non-football-related trivia, I also read somewhere it was the first stadium to be fully-covered with a roof without the support of standing pillars.
Girondins Bordeaux FC first came to my attention in the mid-90s when their team, including Bixente Lizarazu, Christophe Dugarry and a certain Zinedine Zidane reached the 1996 UEFA Cup Final. They lost 5-1 to Bayern Munich over two legs and in fact won nothing with their three future World Cup winners. Sylvain Wiltord, however, did fire them to the title in 1998-99, while Yoann Gourcuff was the star of their most recent triumph in 2008-2009 under the stewardship of Laurent Blanc.
The stadium name change came between those titles, in 2001, to honour Jacques Chaban-Delmas. Chaban-Delmas was a French resistance fighter who spent 50 years as the city’s mayor and three years as the Prime Minister of France. He even, in 1945, played rugby for France against a British Empire XV featuring Bleddyn ‘Prince of Centres’ Williams and other Welsh stars of the day.
I didn’t get to the ground until around 20 minutes before kick-off and the bars and cafes along the short walk from the tram stop to the entrance were already mostly empty. I’d had to purchase a subway sandwich (it was the only thing open) near the tram stop to get some change, meaning I didn’t have the appetite for one of the delicious looking/smelling sausage sandwiches on-sale inside the ground. I did have a €6 pint of non-alcoholic beer, however.
The stadium is in pretty good nick for having hosted football for 76 years. However, there are signs of age and it’s no surprise that the city and the club are taking advantage of the 2016 Euros to build a new stadium.
My seat was in the eastern stand, close to the decent away support caged in the north-east section. The seats were low-backed plastic affairs, but the gently-rising rows gave a good view of the pitch. Bordeaux’s loudest, flag-bearing supporters were down in the busy-looking south stand.
On the train up, I’d try to re-tune my brain to my university-French- 11 years ago now- by checking out the day’s L’Equipe. Much praise was being lavished on Bordeaux striker Cheik Diabate. He was a player I was entirely unfamiliar with, but given what was being said about him, I was surprised not to see him in the starting line-up. In fact, there were few familiar names to me in either starting XI. Jaroslav Plasil seems to have been around for an age (and his curtained hairstyle looks stuck in the mid-90s) and he started in the midfield for Bordeaux. I had read praise for Diego Rolan, a Uruguayan attacker, for how he started the season, while in the Lorient attack was Ghanaian international Jordan Ayew.
Another was Cedric Carrasso, but he was substituted early on while injuring his shoulder making a save. He was replaced by the interestingly-named Abze Jug, and it wasn’t long before he was picking the ball out of the net. Jordan Ayew was a constant menace and when he was softy (in the eyes of the home fans, anyway) fouled on the edge of the box for a third time, the resulting free-kick deflected off the wall and into the path of Jeannot to open the scoring. Some Lorient fans, despite the cold, had been shirtless for a while and two of their group celebrated by leaping onto some very unstable looking netting in place to prevent falling to the tier below.
Left-sided forward Nicolas Maurice-Belay had come closest for the home team before that, cutting in from the right and curling an outside of the boot shot just over the bar. Bordeaux’s pacy front four were a constant threat, and the overlapping full-backs, particularly Mariano, helped create several chances. Frustration with the referee was growing as two penalty appeals were waved away and a goal was disallowed for an overhead kick that was adjudged to be a foul. Whabi Khazri did scramble an equaliser following a short corner and a weak punch, but the boos rang out for the referee at half-time.
I was pretty cold by now and took a little wander to try to warm up. I contemplated another non-alcoholic pint, but figured it would do nothing to stem neither the increasing cold nor my decreasing funds.
Further boos greeted the officials’ return to the field and the Bordeaux fans were even grumpier when Le Goff put Lorient ahead again. The away fans clearly had more faith in the shaky netting than I did, as this time five or six jumped on it in celebration.
On the hour, Diabate finally arrived and six minutes later he had helped himself to a brace to put his team ahead. The chap sat in front, whose cigarettes had a strong herbal aroma and who had had a smile on his face all game, was now positively beaming. Bordeaux didn’t really ease off and Diabate missed two decent chances for a hat-trick. Un triple seemed inevitable on a late break, but Lecomte in the Lorient goal pulled off a remarkable triple save, twice denying Diabate and also stopping the impressive Thomas Toure.
The whistle went a few minutes later and I headed for the tram. One, two trams passed full of fans, but I managed to squeeze into the third. The bars at La Victoire were quieter than I was expecting for a Saturday night, so I went straight back to my hotel where there was warmth and cheap Alsatian beer in the fridge.
Five goals (maintaining my Ligue Un average of five goals per game following a Zlatan-inspired PSG win back in August) and five stars from L’Equipe in the following day’s paper. It was certainly an entertaining game to watch and Bordeaux was a lovely city to visit. With a new stadium coming in the spring, there’s a great reason to return.
GOOD POINTS: Great game; nice, central(-ish) old ground; decent noise from a small crowd; reasonable ticket price (€26); Cheik Diabate; lovely city
BAD POINTS: What is it with the lack of beer in continental football grounds?; Lots of empty seats; €6 non-alcoholic beer