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Official Review by Tarek Zohdi, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
In a highly centralized country like France, the Stade de France in Paris serves as the main venue for every high class event in the country. Be it the final of the FIFA World Cup in 1998, the 2003 World Championships in Athletics or the final of the 2007 Rugby World Cup, the by far largest stadium in the country hosted not only the most prestigious events in the world but is also the place to go for carrying out every prominent event in France.
The French national teams in football and rugby play nearly all their matches in the 81,000-seater, the finals of the domestic football and rugby cups are held there and it serves as a regular host for the IAAF Diamond League only to name a few. The UEFA carried out the Champions League final in the Stade twice. On top, it serves as literally the main stage for every world famous music act while expanding its capacity up to 91,000 by retracting the lower movable stands. Interestingly enough, the stadium has no under pitch heating system which led to previous cancelations of games in winter.
Built for the 1998 World Cup, the UEFA category four-rated stadium has no regular tenant although the Rugby Union team Stade Français plays some of its home games in the Stade de France while local football club Paris St. Germain chose to stay in their Parc des Princes.
The French national soccer team struggled in recent years to tie in with the successes of the golden generation around players such as Zinedine Zidane, Thierry Henry or Laurant Blanc who won the World Cup in this very stadium in 1998 and the European Championships in the Netherlands and Belgium two years later. However, early exits at the EURO in 2008 and the 2010 World Cup which was accompanied not only by an embarrassing performance on the pitch but with thwarting behavior by the players and the coaches off the pitch led to radical changes in the squad.
Today, L’équipe de France is coached by a former member of that title winning generation. It is now in Didier Deschamps’s hands to form a winning team quickly to achieve the nation’s next big goal. The 2016 European Championships will be held in France and fans are hoping to see Deschamps and Les Bleus (the blue) once again running around the Stade de France with a cup in their hands.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
First of all, don't forget your cash back in the hotel. Because these prices will make you dig deep into your wallet. Candy and Popcorn will set you back 3 €, the same price applies for Sodas. Double that, add a bit more and you'll get a beer for 6,50 €.
From time to time the stadium caterers come up with adjusting their offerings to the opponent L'équipe plays with. For instance, in the match against Germany in 2013, fans were able to grab some sausages.
The atmosphere during matches of Les Bleus is generally happy and peaceful. Although, like in any football game, this depends largely on the performance of the home team, the famous Mexican wave, La Ola, is pitched early in the game and it is fairly easy to get goose bumps when nearly 80,000 people sing the vibrant Marseillaise, the French national anthem, and yell the famous 'Allez les Bleus'.
One of the main reasons to build the stadium in the community of Saint-Denis was to redevelop this longtime neglected district to create a new residential and commercial area with the Stade de France as its centerpiece. The Stade de France is surrounded by newly built office buildings as well as budget and chain hotels. Many bars and vendors can be found around the stadium, especially the way from the station La Pleine Stade de France to the stadium. It is full of vendors, music and merchandising stands where you can buy your Tricolore to fit into the crowd perfectly. The prices are typically Parisian though.
On a sunny day you might want to stroll over the refurbished banks of the Canal Saint-Denis before heading to the stadium.
With matches of the L'équipe de France you will find a truly mixed audience. People of all ages and social backgrounds reunite in the stadium to shout Les Bleus joyfully to victory. Some fans actually had brought living roosters into the stadium up until a few years ago, before this was prohibited obviously due to animal rights. Today the Gallic rooster, the national symbol of France, is only sported on the chests of the players' jerseys.
Despite lacking success in recent years, fans still come in droves to the Stade de France to see their national team not only play but rather develop for the upcoming EURO on home soil in 2016.
The Stade de France is easily accessible through the wide ranging public transportation network. The easiest option from the city center or the railway station Gare du Nord is to take the train RER B that also leads to Charles de Gaulle Airport and hop off at La Pleine Stade de France. A second train stops at Stade de France - Saint-Denis (RER D). Both trains can be used with your metro ticket that you have anyway during your stay in the city of lights. Metro line 13 stops north of the stadium at Saint-Denis - Porte de Paris while several bus lines and even a river shuttle via the Canal Saint-Denis will get you there as well.
If you're brave enough to drive in the nation's capital, take the Motorways A1 (exit 2) or A86 (exit 9). Bear in mind however, that during match days, access by car is restricted and you are not able to purchase parking tickets for the limited spaces. You have to acquire these in advance via the stadium's homepage.
While getting to the stadium by train is quite comfortable, leaving the ground might become rather tedious as thousands of fans leave the Stade after the final whistle for the station to take the train back to the city center. Leaving early is for true sports fans never an option, so the best thing you can do is have a drink outside the stadium and patiently wait until the stampede for the trains calms.
Although prices for drinks and snacks are rather high, tickets for a match of Les Bleus are reasonable. Tickets start at 15 € (children 10 €) and go up to 80 € for a seat on the main stand. However, bear in mind that this is not a plain football stadium thus not taking the cheapest but the next highest category for a seat on the middle level (25 €) is recommended. The stands are not very steep and with a huge gap between the field and the stands, sitting on the upper level might make you feel like watching the game from top of the Eiffel Tower.
The stadium offers guided tours that allow you to enter the changing rooms or the VIP stands. You might also want to check out the stadium's own museum where you not only can learn more about the construction of the Stade de France itself but also marvel at replica trophies or autographed guitars and stage costumes of international artists who performed in the course of their European tour at the stadium. On the StadeFrance Boulevard several athletes and artists have immortalized themselves with imprints.
Visiting a stadium can easily become a highlight of any city trip. But then again, ici c'est Paris (this is Paris - like the fans of Paris St. Germain chant in their Parc des Princes) and thus the Stade de France has serious competition. With all the beautiful and historic buildings and icons in the city, the stadium lacks an architectural highlight. Unfortunately, that certain indefinable something is simply missing. Obviously, this shouldn't stop any fan to watch a match or a concert at France's most significant stadium. The atmosphere is joyful, the access is relatively easy and at least the ticket prices are rather fair. And if you haven't had a great time at the Stade de France, maybe because your team has lost, remember, you're still in Paris...
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