On Saturday night I had the pleasure of sitting in the Stade Lille Metropole and watching my team play in person. Not many things get better than that. It was pouring with rain, Lille could only draw with Sochaux and Mathieu Debuchy got sent off. I think I jinxed him by getting his name on my shirt.
You may not know but the Stade Lille Metropole has been Lille’s “temporary” stadium since 2004 I have put temporary in quotation marks as it has been a nightmare of a saga. Simple plans to renovate their Stade Grimonprez-Jooris so that it would be fit for European competition ended up costing the club the home they had resided in for 29 years.
Playing in Ligue 2 the 21,000 capacity stadium was ideal for the club but when they qualified for the Champions League after finishing third in their first season back in Ligue 1 the clubs rise cause a problem. The Grimonprez-Jooris failed to meet FIFA licensing regulations and their home games had to be played at Lens’ Stade Felix Bollaert.
Unsurprisingly plans began in 2002 to build a stadium that would meet UEFA standards. The city tried to persuade the club to refurbish the stadium on the existing site, but they had other plans and wanted to build a 60,000 seater stadium outside the city finances by a mixture of public and private money but willing investors weren’t easy to find.
With their tail firmly between their legs in 2003 the club agreed to a new proposal that would see a 33,000 stadium built in the current site. This was agreed in June and work began with the training ground dismantled to make way for the work. The stadium was proposed to be finished in December 2004 but that was quickly postponed.
During the postponement the funding of the stadium became 100% public when the Urban Community of Lille took over the funding from the council construction was then planned to start in December 2005.
In the meantime the Stadium that had opened in 1975 with a 1-1 draw against Feyenoord was closed on the 15th of May 2004 the home side beat SC Bastia 2-0 and Matt Moussilou’s 90th minute strike was the last ever goal in the historic stadium. The 2004/05 season would kick-off at their new home – The Stade Lille Metropole.
This video was taken during the game against Bastia, you can see the fantastic atmosphere created that day.
Plans were not going well though. Preservationists had started proceedings that would see the new project denied the necessary permits to start construction. The site of the Grimonprez-Jooris is only a few hundred metres from the Citadelle de Lille which is a pentagon shaped city wall that was built in 1668 and is used today to house a highly skilled French army unit (Rapid Reaction Corps).
For two years court battles ensued and in the end the club lost. Planning permission had been denied and the Stade Grimonprez-Jooris II would never be built. It wasn’t until 2009 that ground was broken on construction of a new stadium. For seven years the purposed built athletics track previously known as the Stadium Nord has been Lille’s home, come the start of the 2012/13 season Lille will finally have a place to call their own.
After the game on Saturday night my plans for Sunday (My Birthday) were clear. I would visit the sites of the new and the old stadiums and take in a little bit of LOSC history. I choose to go to the new stadium first. The aptly names Grand Stade Lille Metropole is only one extra metro stop away from the current stadium and I imagined with 14 cranes aiding construction it wouldn’t be hard to find. Luckily I was right. It only took about 10 minutes from the metro station and I got my first glimpse of the stadium. I may be a little biased but it looks fantastic. You can instantly see the similarities to the old stadium but obviously a more modern feel and all four sides will be covered.
At the ground of the “Grand Stade” there is an information centre where you can look at more pictures, see the plans and watch a video that shows you everything the stadium will be able to do. Not only will it hold 50,000 people but with a moveable roof…and pitch!! It becomes a basketball stadium and a concert venue. If they pull it all off it will be one of the best stadiums in France.
Next stop the Stade Grimonprez-Jooris, well that’s a little bit of a lie. There is no Stade Grimonprez-Jooris anymore, all that’s there is closed off wasteland. It was in 2010 the final part of the demolition was completed. That wouldn’t stop me going to the spiritual home of Lille OSC.
I took a wander down past the Citadel, which is like nothing I have ever seen before, another example of the beauty that the city of Lille possesses. It became very clear when I had reach the site of the stadium. A mass of wasteland with nothing inside, you then realise how close to the Citadel the stadium was and you wander how fantastic a surrounding for a stadium it was. Nothing against the current or new stadium but the surrounding have nothing on the Grimonprez-Jooris.
It was quite a strange feeling to be there. Obviously I have never seen a game at the old stadium but when you walk round you can see the small remains of what it used to be. Some LOSC graffiti or an old sign telling you what stand (Tribune) stood there. I wish I could have enjoyed the amazing atmosphere there. We met a fan at the game that now lives in London but he had a season ticket back in the Ligue 2 days and he says the Metropole is not a patch on the old stadium.
All Lille fans can hope is that the new stadium will give them that new place to create new memories and bring back the old atmosphere. They have proved with the Champions League games at Stade de France and the league games against Lyon that there are enough fans to fill the ground. All they need to do now is continue to give them a reason to go.
My Lille fandom is still in its infancy, seven years ago I adopted Les Dogues and now they are without doubt “my team” and there are two things I would hope to happen. The first is some kind of memorial to the old Grimonprez-Jooris, maybe just a plaque or a statue to remember the past in some way. I think the area lacks that. Secondly I think one of the new stands should be names after it. It would be a great way to combine the past and the present.
The Stade Lille Metropole is not without it’s charm and the noise that 18,000 fans can create is vey impressive. However it just wets the appetite for what’s in store when 35/40,000 fans begin to sing the LOSC hymn.
ALLEZ LILLE O S C!!!