Postcard from Bordeaux: Girondins Groundhopping

Tue, Jun 21 2016

Spain training at Stade Chaban Delmas in Bordeaux Credit: Macdara Ferris

From Macdara Ferris in Bordeaux


The narrow streets of Bordeaux reverberated to the sound of songs being sung as they bounced off the ancient sandstone walls of the old town. The football fans, clad in their country colours, brought a vibrant look and feel to this UNESCO World Heritage Site.


On Monday evening though, it wasn’t the boys and girls in green or the Red Devil Belgium fans that were in full voice. That party had mostly moved on to Lille for Ireland or Nice in the case of Belgium. Bordeaux had new guests and they were in the red and white chequered jerseys of Croatia and the red and yellow of Spain.


For the last week or so up until Monday, Bordeaux had been a sea of green as Ireland supporters descended on the city for their team’s second game of Euro 2016. The square in front of the Connemara Irish Pub had turned into a sea of empty green beer bottles – not everyone was ‘cleaning up for the Boys in Green’ it seemed.


Neither the weather nor the result in the game in Bordeaux was too kind to Ireland but the city had welcomed the travelling football fans all the same.


On Tuesday, Croatia will take on Spain in the out of town Stade de Bordeaux, the venue for last weekend’s Group E clash between Belgium and Ireland. The new stadium, with a 42,000 capacity, was designed by architects Herzog & de Meuron who also did the architectural design for the Allianz Arena in Munich.


It is a beautiful compact venue, a blast of white beside a lake and close to the River Garonne, with the upper tiers supported by a colonnade – the multiple columns representing the forests of the surrounding region.


Many Ireland fans, myself included, ended up walking the last couple of kilometres to the stadium when the authorities decided to stop running the trams all the way to the venue. You know you are late to a game in this championship when David Guetta’s Euro 2016 official song is being played on the PA!


Despite leaving the city centre two hours ahead of kick off, I just about made the national anthems. At times it seems like the Ireland players hadn’t turned up for kick off but they do at least have a chance to redeem themselves against Italy on Wednesday evening.


Many of the Ireland supporters who didn’t depart the city the day after the 3-0 defeat, joined the local crowds in the Fan Zone at the Esplanade des Quinconces the following night to watch France play Switzerland. They were treated to a fine rendition of Les Marseillaise ahead of kick off but didn’t witness a very good game. The discussion after all seemed to centre on the paper-thin Swiss jerseys.


I had been handed the task of booking the accommodation for our visit to Bordeaux and if you give a self-confessed ‘groundhopper’ that job then you are likely to end up staying close to a stadium.


We stayed in a beautiful house close to the Stade Chaban-Delmas, a short 10 minute ride on the ‘LUAS’ from the city centre. We had hoped to use the garden in the house to have breakfast and do some laptop tapping with work but the Bordeaux weather mostly prevented that.


The rain though did prove helpful in allowing us to watch Spain train on Monday evening. Concerns with the pitch ahead of the Ireland game, meant Martin O’Neill’s men only trained on two-thirds of the pitch ahead of their match last Saturday.


UEFA were so concerned with protecting the pitch for the Croatia and Spain game that they moved the ‘match day minus one’ training sessions on the eve of the Group D clash from the main stadium across town to the Stade Chaban-Delmas. That meant just a five minute walk down the road for us to watch training with the reigning European Champions Spain at the historic old city stadium.


Stade Chaban-Delmas, formerly known as the Stade du Parc Lescure, was built in the 1930s and redeveloped for the 1938 World Cup. It was home to FC Girondins de Bordeax before they moved to the new stadium last year. It now hosts Top 14 rugby team Union Bordeaux Bègles, the team Ian Madigan will play with next season and was Belgium’s base for training during the Euros.


The main stadium entrance is dominated by a large arch, with the architectural style reflected in the rear of the stands which look like an ancient roman viaduct. This historical feel is added to by the columns, either side of the entrance, which have mosaics of naked muscled men, with similar themed statues located at the rear of the stadium.        


The main stand was one of the first built with a cantilever roof giving an unobstructed view of the pitch, with the players emerging onto the grass turf through a 120m long tunnel from the dressing rooms.


The venue held two games during the 1938 World Cup, a quarter-final and the third place play-off. The first game between Brazil and Czechoslovakia became known as the Battle of Bordeaux (not to be confused with the Battle of Bordeaux in 732AD between Arab and French forces!).


Brazil emerged on top in the World Cup match that was the first to have three players sent off in. Captain Frantisek Planicka and Oldrich  Nejedly from Czechoslovakia suffered a broken right arm and right leg respectively in the over physical encounter.


The match ended 1-1 after extratime with Brazil winning the replay 2-1 before their elimination by the eventual winners Italy in the semi-final. Brazil came third in the competition by beating Sweden in the Stade Chaban-Delmas.


The venue was redeveloped to host six games in the 1998 World Cup, including two games involving Croatia (their 1-0 loss to Argentina and their 1-0 win in the last 16 against Romania). The stadium was also the venue for a European tie involving Bohemians. Zinedine Zidane opened the scoring in Bordeaux’s 5-0 defeat in 1993 of a Bohs side captained by Pat Fenlon.



On Monday we got to see the Spanish team in the stadium go through their paces under the watchful eye of Vicente del Bosque. The Rondo took place in front of the eyes of a small group of press who had made their way to the venue.





We got chatting to Graham Hunter who is working as UEFA’s Spanish Team Reporter at the finals. With the next games in mind we mostly spoke about Michael O’Neill (Hunter had an excellent podcast interview with the Northern Ireland boss which is well worth a listen here).


Taking in the Spanish training session was a nice bonus to end our stay in Bordeaux. It is time for to travel north to watch the teams led by Michael and Martin O’Neill. will be reporting from the Parc des Princes in Paris on Tuesday (Northern Ireland v Germany) and the Stade Pierre Mauroy in Lille on Wednesday (Italy v Republic of Ireland).