Girondins de Bordeaux 2-1 Montpellier
Nouveau Stade, Ligue Un, May 23rd 2015
It may seem like something of a back-handed compliment, but one of the great things about living in northern Spain is being close to France. Whether an unplanned day-trip or a short weekend break, my wife and I have been able to take advantage of our geographical fortuity several times over the past nine months and it’s also allowed me to watch a bit of French football, too. Back in January I crossed the border for a Basque derby in the French lower leagues between Bayonne and Genets d’Anglet, while a month earlier I was able to visit Bordeaux’s Stade Chaban-Delmas.
During that trip I noticed that the team were due to open a brand new stadium towards the end of the season. It’s a lovely city, Bordeaux, so I kept my eye on developments with the hope of returning there to visit the new ground.
Eventually, it was announced the inaugural match would be the season’s final home game versus Montpellier. Tickets went on sale on April 22nd and I spent a few hours in an online queue before the website crashed due to unprecedented demand. A re-launch date of April 29th was announced and again I registered my interest. By bed time the on-screen countdown placed me several-thousand people away from a ticket and when I woke up the situation wasn’t looking much better. I went off to teach my lunchtime class, but on my return home the countdown had reaced three figures. A couple of hours later, despite claims to the contrary on Twitter, I was presented with a digital stadium showing a very small number of empty seats. €52 was taken from my bank account and an e-ticket was deposited in my inbox. It had taken a week and many, many hours of online queuing, but I was going to the historic first game at the Nouveau Stade de Bordeaux.
Or was I? Train fails have been a recent theme of Lost Boyos, but the most embarrassing of all almost scuppered this trip. The train tickets were booked immediately after the match ticket was confirmed, using the same bank card. However, at the SNCF desk at Hendaye station, our point of departure, I couldn’t remember my PIN. The SNCF lady dealing with us was suddenly looking at me suspiciously. We walked away certain that the code, a code I have used several times a week for the past nine months, would come to me. It didn’t and, as I finish this write-up two days later, it still hasn’t (I can only presume the stress and utter embarrassment of the situation has permanently erased it from my memory). Fortunately, we were able to re-book our tickets and the trip was back on.
Due to my own embarrassment and my wife’s, what I ´m hoping was tiredness, but was more likely anger, the two and a half-hour train journey was spent mostly in the solitude of our respective iPods. Gladly, that was just enough time for both of us to get over the ridiculousness of the morning and, once we had arrived, enjoy our afternoon in Bordeaux. That included pizza, a pleasant stroll around the city and along the river, and craft beers at the Frog and Rosbif pub. Now, it was time to bid her a good evening and chase after the C-Line tram heading towards the Parc des Expositions.
The tram headed north out of the city centre and the 20-minute ride passed housing estates, business parks, supermarkets and IKEA before reaching the lake, terminating at its northern edge. I followed my fellow dark blue-shirted commuters, ignoring those making a last minute plea for tickets, hoping everyone knew their way to their new home.
They did, and what a striking new home they have. As yet unnamed, Bordeaux’s stadium is currently known simply as Nouveau Stade. My architectural knowledge doesn’t extend very far, but the name Herzog & de Meuron is one I have heard of, having been responsible for designing and building Beijing’s Bird Nest and Bayern Munich’s Allianz Arena. The new stadium´s most noticeable feature is the 644 metal columns around its exterior. The stadium´s website says their inspiration lies in the pine trees of the surrounding Landes countryside. As well as housing Bordeaux (at a cost to the club of €3.85m per year, according to the day´s L´Equipe), the new stadium will host three group matches and a quarter-final at Euro 2016.
The Fan Park had been open since 5pm and even now, with the 9pm kick-off a little over 30 minutes away, it was still extremely busy. Kids were enjoying themselves in the various football-themed play areas, while adults queued up for burgers, chips and beer. I headed straight in, hoping to get a snack and a cold beverage inside.
Walking around the outside of the stadium was strange. Although technically a bowl, the endless columns give it a square feel and it doesn’t necessarily feel like a new stadium. The club shop certainly is new, and there were no end of season bargains to be found. A retro 90s Bordeaux shirt worn by the World Cup-winning trio of Lizarazu, Zidane, and Dugarry was the most tempting piece of merchandise, but at close to €50 I walked out empty-handed.
Inside, there is nothing old about the ground. The concourses are huge and well-served with concession stands. Although in the stadium´s interior, you are still outside with only those columns protecting you from the elements (which weren´t a problem on this gentle spring evening). The toilets could not rival those of another new-build stadium I visited recently, but were numerous enough that even at half-time there was plenty of space for all those in need of relief.
The inside of the bowl is spectacular. The vociferous home section are housed in the South Stand and I was sat nearby in the corner of East. In fact, my seat was in the very front row, just about in line with the 18-yard line.
The pre-game festivities involved speeches from local dignitaries, balloons, and the unfurling of a giant home shirt. There was also a ceremonial kick-off, not something I am not really in favour of, but that may be because in South Korea they were regularly performed by middle-aged suits with only loose ties to the game. There could be no question marks over the footballing credentials of this game’s guest of honour, and there seemed genuine surprise when that guest was announced as Zinedine Zidane. “Zizou! Zizou!” rang out loudly around the ground, and the three-time World Footballer of the Year winner seemed humbled by the reception of his former club.
After the real kick-off took place, Montpellier settled quicker than the hosts, but went behind after nine minutes. Uruguayan striker Diego Rolan, who had also scored the final goal at the old stadium, burst onto Plasil´s perfect through ball and fired across Ligali in the Montpellier goal. The crowd, unsurprisingly, erupted. ‘C’est l’histoire!’ shouted the guy sitting next to me.
The rest of the half was almost continual Bordeaux pressure. Rolan, Jaroslav Plasil, and Wahbi Khazri all had decent chances, but were unable to extend the lead. The second finally came when Clement Chantome’s long-range effort was only parried as far as Rolan, whose diving header finally brought the second goal.
I skipped the half-time dancers for the bathrooms and concessions. Despite plenty of stands, queues were long and all the food had been sold. I was never going to get to the front before the second half started, so I forewent a €6 beer and my chance of a commemorative plastic cup.
The change of ends reminded me that ex-Borussia Dortmund and Guangzhou Evergrande striker was playing up-front for Montpellier and he had the first chance of the half, but shot well-wide. He was soon subbed off and his replacement Bakar pulled a goal back just after the hour.
The final 30 minutes were pretty even, but Bordeaux had the better chances. Khazri had a chance well-saved, but he really should have scored. Kiese-Thelin’s header looked bound for the bottom corner, but was brilliantly tipped away by Ligali´s outstretched right hand. Rolan, cheered on loudly for his hat-trick, had a few chances, the best an injury-time effort that was toe-poked wide. Soon after that miss, the final whistle blew. Bordeaux had opened their new stadium with a win.
The busy Plasil had run himself into ground in a strong midfield performance. Full back Mariano was a tireless runner up and down the right flank. Rolan got the first and second goals at this magnificent new stadium. However, if the night belonged to any player, it was Marc Planus. The 33-year old centre back has spent his entire career at Bordeaux winning a league title and three domestic cups. It was announced in April that his contract wouldn´t be renewed for 2015/16. At that point, he had made 298 Ligue appearances for Bordeaux, his final start. A substitute appearance in the final game at Chaban-Delmas brought up 299 and on 79 minutes he took his tracksuit for a 300th and final league appearance. The roars from the fans were louder those for Zidane or even Rolan´s first goal.
Those fans played their part wonderfully throughout, saving some of the loudest chants for those final ten minutes and encouraging everyone around the ground to get involved. Bordeaux and Montpellier were guaranteed to finish sixth and seventh before kick-off, which meant the crowd was able to give this first match a truly celebratory atmosphere. They were brilliant. I hung around for some of their and the players’ post-match celebrations, but eventually decided I had gatecrashed this party long enough and headed for the tram.
The concessions were mostly covered up, but one was open and had a few pre-pulled pints ready for to go. I don´t know if it was alcoholic or not and I didn´t care. I didn´t even mind the €6 because I now had my souvenir cup.
The following day brought an excellent lunch and more excellent beer at the Frog and Rosbif, which also had the final day of the Premier League live on their big screens. The rail-replacement bus was headache we had been aware of since our original booking and at 9:30pm we were back in Spain. This was probably the last big trip of my season on the continent and, after a shaky start, it was one of the best.
GOOD: wonderful new stadium; Bordeaux´s brilliant fans; witnessing history; seeing Zinedine Zidane; my souvenir cup; getting to spend another weekend in Bordeaux
BAD: forgetting my PIN; queuing – online and at the ground ,the season coming to an end