By Irene Fogarty
It’s March and for me that means one thing: the 6 Nations. Ireland, England, Wales, Scotland, France and Italy. Rugby! You can have your Ronaldo or Rooney, (just don’t mess with mi Messi), because for me rugby is the game that’s less about money (name one rugby WAG) and more about camaraderie and real sportsmanship. Not easy to find any sport these days.
Rugby is different. It feels like there’s some sort of a fraternal bond where supporters are trusted to watch the game side-by-side without armed police at hand. And drinking, responsible drinking is always encouraged. Like getting plastered in the clubhouse with the opposition’s fans afterwards. Something you’ll never see with football teams. What was it we used to say in Ireland…’soccer is a gentleman’s game played by thugs, and rugby, a thug’s game played by gentlemen.’
I was never more convinced of this than when I went to Stade de France for the first time last month. Scotland Vs France. Before I give you the final score, let me tell you a little about the stadium and why I think you should give it a try if you’re in Paris this season. It’s not your typical touristy spot but I guarantee you’ll come away with a feeling of exhilaration even if you don’t know what a scrum half is or cauliflower ear.
As the national stadium of France, situated in the Parisian suburb of Saint-Denis, (about 20 mins from the city centre by metro), Stade de France has an all-seater capacity of 80,000 – making it the fifth largest stadium in Europe. The idea to have a national stadium came about when France was chosen to host the World Cup in 1998. And on 12 July of the same year, France defeated Brazil 3-0 in the FIFA World Cup Final at the stadium, probably one of the more glorious moments for French football fans. It is in fact, the only stadium in the world to have hosted both a Football World Cup final and a Rugby World Cup final, and also hosted the annual Motorsport event Race of Champions in 2004, 2005, and 2006 before the event moved to Wembley in London. Today the stadium is used by both the France national football team and French rugby union team for international competition.
Even the changing rooms have an air of panache about them. Not that I got a chance to viem them but apparently they’re spacious and conducive to all forms of artistic expressionism the players may feel before or after a game! Designed by Michel Platini himself (a former French footballer, coach and now president of UEFA) the large rooms are located in the lawn, so they’re directly accessible by bus players. The cloakrooms are over 1 200 sqm each (football and rugby), with an athletic locker room of 400 m², two referees changing rooms, two rooms (heated!), offices for the delegates, the local board, an infirmary, and the doping control room. with who need to exert their créative juices, there are spaces specially designed for artists, the boxes and lounges, a rehearsal room for musicians, choirs, extras, a storage room for costumes, a relaxation area, space for sets and instruments. I can just see Chabal painting his impressionism masterpiece before he revs up before the game.
But when you actually go the stadium what strikes you is not only a well-designed dome that has easy and fast access to seats and exits, with organized parking, (they lead you to your designated spot) but the entire atmosphere is electric. There is a general good feeling between the opposing teams as I saw the kilts (Scotland) sashay around Les Bleus (French team) who were decked out in their blue and red scarves. Even children are comfortable running around. Maybe one reason for this is simply because there is only non-alcoholic beer on the grounds. Yuck! Sure you can get a cup of tea (no milk sorry) or a soda, but celebratory beers will have to wait. And as an Irish person I can honestly say it’s a good thing. There is no agro building up and even the half-time is so short, a pint would be gulped down and wasted. Save it for your arrival back into the city centre.
In the end, France were too strong for the kilts and it ended France 34 Scotland 21. Regardless, I left with a more fervent passion for the game and the rugby fans. Of course, if you’re not into the rugger, there’s always concerts, track and field, motorsports, operas, culture, and oh yeah, football. Apparently The Black Eyed Peas are playing in June. For more info go the stade de France website, http://accueil.stadefrance.com/english/homepage.html (in English) and check out the venues for yourself. Hope Les Bleus thrash England on Sunday!
Car: Autoroutes A1 (Paris-Lille-Bruxelles – Exit 2 ‘Saint-Denis Stade de France’) & A86 (Exit 9, ‘Saint-Denis – La Plaine Stade de France’) provide direct access to the Stade de France.
Metro: â€¨Line 13 (to ‘Saint-Denis Universite’). Leave at station ‘St. Denis-Porte de Paris’.
RER: â€¨RER D – station ‘Stade de France-St. Denis’ & RER B – station ‘La Plaine-Stade de France’.
Bus: â€¨Line 139 (from Porte de la Villette), line 350, 153 & 302 (from Porte de la Chapelle), line 255 (from Porte de la Clignancourt) & line 173 (from Porte de Clichy).