The sad tale of a World Cup final venue

colombesstadiumThere have been only 18 football stadiums that have staged the World Cup final. These represent hallowed ground for the enthusiast. History has been made at the se venues, from the Estadio Centenario in Montevideo to Soccer City in Johannesburg.

Some of these sites are no longer with us, such as the Stadio Nazionale PNF in Rome, which became a monument to Italian fascism and dismantled in 1953, 42 years after it was built. Others, such as Berne’s Wankdorf, the old Wembley and Stockholm’s Rasunda, have also gone the way of the demolition ball. Brazil’s Maracana, which will hold forever the record for the biggest World Cup final attendance, has been overhauled for 2014.

But there’s one pre-WW2 stadium that looks as though it is going to decay until it becomes completely unusable. It’s the Stade de Colombes in Paris, which for the past 40 years, has been in slow decline. Shabby and near derelict in many places, it’s hard to believe that this iconic yet neglected stadium has played host not just to the 1938 World Cup, but also the 1924 Olympics, the games famous for the romantic Chariots of Fire tale of Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell. When it was upgraded for the 1924 Olympics, it had one of the fastest cinder running tracks around and was billed as a “sporting Versailles”.

Today, Stade Yves-du Manoir (named after a tragic rugby player who died in action in WW1) is the home of Racing Colombes 92, or to use a name that may be more familiar to students of the game, Racing Club Paris. Racing Club, who were one of the leading lights in French football in the 1940s, have as miserable a recent story as the stadium they play in. During the club’s troubled history, they have had nine different names and for years labored in the desert that was, for some years, Parisian football. The likes of Pierre Littbarski and David Ginola have played in the famous sky blue and white hoops.

olympics2Stade de Colombes went into decline when Parc des Princes was built. Until then, it was the venue for French cup finals and internationals. Today, sections of have been pulled down, while others are no-go areas. Around a decade ago, the ground was going to be bulldozed, but it was saved at the eleventh hour. There was talk that if Paris won the 2012 Olympic bid, Colombes would benefit from a massive refurbishment to the tune of EUR 200m, but given that London won the day, it never happened. From its peak capacity of 60,000, today just 7,000 are allowed in, not that Racing need anything like that number. They were relegated from CFA2 (Championnat de France amateur 2) – the fifth level of French football – in 2012-13. Where next?, you may ask.

If Racing’s future is fragile, the stadium that once saw great athletes and footballers in action may not have long to live. It’s a shame and about time that bodies like FIFA and UEFA did something to protect their heritage. Stade de Colombes may not be Old Trafford or the Nou Camp, but it in its day, it was one of the best in the world. Good enough for a World Cup final. Surely that’s worth preserving in some shape or form?

Footnote: I visited the Munich Olympic Stadium a couple of years ago, scene of the 1974 final. It wasn’t hard to imagine Gerd Mueller turning and scoring the matchwinner. These sites have history ingrained in every inch of concrete, every blade of grass.

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