Bordeaux Diary: The spirit of ’38, ’84 and ’98


THE morning after the night before. If you happened to wake up Hungarian, you also opened your eyes with a desperate need for coffee and headache pills. Apparently, Hungarian fans had really laid siege on the city centre of Bordeaux and also enjoyed Iceland’s shock 1-1 draw with Portugal.

Euro 2016 was taking shape. Predictably, the English fans had dragged their country’s name through the mud, Russian’s hardcore pointed to World Cup 2018 and sent an invitation that read along the lines of, “come and see us if you’re hard enough”, and Germany and Spain started with wins. Hungary’s 2-0 victory against Austria was, before Iceland’s draw, the shock of the tournament.

The crowd for the game was below capacity (34,424) which suggested that there were around 7,000 empty seats. Bordeaux, we were told, was the most isolated of the Euro 2016 cities, which must have pleased the locals looking at the sort of attention that Marseilles, Lens and Lille was getting.

The local side, Bordeaux Girondins, usually play in front of 25,000 at the Matmut Atlantique. In 2015-16, Bordeaux finished 11th in Ligue 1, but attendances went up by 9%. They moved to the new ground from Stade Chaban-Delmas, one of the best examples of 1930s art deco football stadium design. In typical white concrete, it has all the trimmings of the period, complete with huge arch and Greco-Roman imagery that portrays health and vitality.

We took the tram out to see a stadium that now plays host to the local rugby team (Bordeaux is a big rugby city). The underlying tension in France came to the fore when a local character, Faginesque in appearance, decided to start shouting at a dog on the tram. People looked up, slightly startled, but then realised it was not a more serious problem.

The area around the old stadium seems to have an issue with drains, although it may have been something they were spraying on the pitch. The stadium, then known as Parc Lescure, was built in 1930 and upgraded for the 1938 World Cup, during which it hosted three ties including Brazil’s 1-1 draw Czechoslavakia which became known as the “Battle of Bordeaux”. Three men were sent off in that game. In its day, Parc Lescure must have been an impressive sight, but like most relics from that period, it looks tired. It’s still worth a look, though.

By the time we got back to the centre, Irish fans were arriving for the next game in Bordeaux. Hungarians were heading back to the airport and we shared a cab with two Frenchmen on route to Paris. We spoke about France’s chances of repeating the feats of 1984 and 1998 when they won major silverware as host nation. We also relived the glory days of St. Etienne and players like Rocheteau and Janvion. “France had a good side in those days,” I said. “But they are not what they were.” He looked a little sad and responded: “I have news for you, my friend. France isn’t what it was then.”

There was a pleasant surprise on the journey home – Game of the People quoted in the EasyJet in-flight magazine. An article on the Euros in 1960!


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