For my 21st birthday my best friend and I went to Barcelona. Whilst this sounds epic (and it was) a part of me was pissed that I had arranged to visit footballing Mecca on an international break and Spain were playing in Madrid… Since then I have vowed never to visit a city like that during an international period.
So, it came to great personal annoyance that I realised that our impending trip to Paris came during another international break and I would be able to watch PSG who have dominated the French domestic league over the last 3/4 years.
To my pleasant surprise, France were playing at Stade De France in St. Denis against Bulgaria. What was even more pleasing was the price. Tickets in the North and South stand were just €15 which in Paris is the same as a pint or a main course in a downtown restaurant.
Getting to the Stade De France is easy as it was the same train station (Gare du Nord) and lines (RER B-D) as the train to/from CDG airport. Tickets are about €3.00 each way. I would recommend buying a return to save time on the return leg. I would also recommend leaving early. Due to the terror threats security is at an all time high in France and I would give yourself an extra 30 minutes to get into the stadium. Due to this we actually missed the first goal of the game.
Stade De France is a footballing dream and people of my generation (I am 26) will remember France 98 as their first proper World Cup (England didn’t qualify for USA 94 so it doesn’t count). It was the World Cup of Chubuwumba (I get knocked down), the emerging Michael Owen, David Beckham’s back heel and heart break as we were knocked out by our rivals Argentina. As an England fan it hasn’t got any better since then and I write this at a time when England are reeling from a Big Sam hangover.
France 98 was ultimately won by the host nation lead by the brilliance of Zinedine Zindane who outshone a under performing Ronaldo (the fat one) in what (bar a Euro success in 2000) the last time France has also won anything of note. After a period of civil war (something the French know well right) and rebellions and protests the French team seem to have got their act together under another World Cup winner Didier Deschamps lead by the likes of Antoine Griezmann with United players (past and present) Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial and Patrice Evra all part of the French set up.
Bulgaria, their opponents have no superstars since Dimitar Berbatov’s recent retirement and this was always destined to be a one-sided affair. Even a goal from Bulgaria from a pen after the first few minutes (against all the odds) never changed this outcome and a brace from Gamero supported by goals from Griezmann and Payet turned the game into an easy one.
The French are famous for being fickle fans and are quick to get on the back of their team when the going gets tough. But we saw none of it here!. The only bit of animosity was shown briefly when a Bulgarian sub took the best part of 60 seconds to get off the pitch.
We were also lucky that our seats were in a ‘singing section’ (which seems to be North and South stands) which was orchestrated by 2 animated characters with a microphone at the front. It seems strange that a crowd would need such encouragement (this is not something seen in the UK) but the result was nevertheless effective and the result was nerve-tingling. My favourite was a chant which seemed to pit the 2 polar ends against each other in some form off slagging match. What they were saying is irrelevant, the effect was brilliant.
ALLEZ LES BLUES / ALLEZ LES BLUES
By 70/80 minutes, the game was done, the crowd were more interested in Mexican waves and booing the ‘media/executive’ section for failing to join in so we made our exits to miss the anticipated return traffic at the train station which seemed awfully small for the 81,000 capacity stadium.
Full time France 4 – 1 Bulgaria
I would fully recommend watching a French football game if it coincides with your trip to Paris. You won’t be disappointed.