So Long, Gerland!
On Saturday evening, after 65 years and 1,201 league matches, the Stade de Gerland saw its final Ligue 1 match as Lyon played host to SCO Angers.
When Lyon comfortably beat Saint-Etienne 3-0 in early November, it would have been hard to believe that les Gônes would come into the Angers match off the back of three straight home defeats. A mixture of poor form, nerves, the scale of the occasion – and Cheikh N’Doye vs Bakary Koné – combined to make it four defeats in a row as Angers played the part of party poopers to perfection and won 2-0, threatening to turn the Gerland’s evening into a bit of a damp squib.
However, the result itself was not enough to ruin the old stadium’s special night, as 36,000 people gathered to bid Tony Garnier’s great stadium farewell. The Gerland has played host to some momentous football moments, including Roberto Carlos’ free kick against France in the 1997 Tournoi, the historic meeting between the United States and Iran in the 1998 World Cup, where Mehdi Mahdavikia gave the US a lesson in springing the offside trap, and Croatia’s defeat of Germany in the same tournament. It was also the venue for Cameroon versus Colombia in the 2003 Confederations Cup, during which Marc-Vivien Foé tragically died.
It of course also witnessed some great Lyon nights, including 3-0 wins over Bayern Munich (a stunning Govou brace) and Real Madrid (Juninho doing what he did best), a 3-3 draw with Inter featuring a superb team goal, a 7-2 thrashing of Werder Bremen, an epic 5-5 versus Marseille, that last victory over bitter rivals Saint-Etienne and, perhaps most importantly, the 3-1 victory in the title decider against Lens to secure the first of their seven straight titles in 2002.
The festivities began pre-match with a stadium-wide tifosi show, the crowd holding up cards and waving red, white and blue flags, as a banner was unfurled around the Virage Nord, the Tribune Jean-Bouin and the Virage Sud, saying «Tu es et resteras l’antre historique de l’OL, les travées auxquelles nous sommes toujours restés fidèles font de toi un stade éternel» – “you are and will always be the historic Lyon’s den, the stands to which we’ve always remained loyal make you a stadium for ever more” – before Lyon’s second-highest scorer and current advisor to Jean-Michel Aulas, Bernard Lacombe, took the ceremonial kick-off.
Admittedly there was a mini-exodus of fans when N’Doye’s late second goal sealed Lyon’s latest defeat, but an impressive number remained for the post-match celebrations. They began with 120 ex-Lyon players and coaches, including members of the women’s teams (the Gerland will live on as the home of OL Féminin) walking round the pitch and receiving the fans’ acclaim.
Although all-time top scorer Fleury di Nallo was one of the rare older players to be recognised by the crowd, more recent Lyon legends, such as Cris, Sidney Govou and Sylvain Wiltord, generated huge cheers, while the loudest and most passionate adoration was reserved for Grégory Coupet, Sonny Anderson and of course Juninho – “lalalala”. It was notable that the name of Hubert Fournier was read very quickly by the stadium announcer Dominique Grégoire – in what was also his last match – and was received with boos. The festivities then ended with an impressive firework display, launched from the pitch.
For the moment it’s not quite goodbye but au revoir, as Lyon host Tours in the Coupe de la Ligue next week, before moving on to their new Stade des Lumières in the new year. But the old stadium will always hold a special place in French football history. MERCI GERLAND!
Our man Jeremy Smith was at the ground for this historic occasion, and filmed some great footage: