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Official Review by Tarek Zohdi, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Football is considered as the number one sport in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. Being one of the smallest countries in the world, it is obvious that the national team has never qualified for a World Cup or European Championship. There have been many more sad hours for Luxembourg National Football. For instance, losing at home against the much smaller Liechtenstein 0-4, or not scoring once in an entire European Championship qualification campaign.
But it’s those little upsets that happen every once in awhile that draw Luxembourgers in with a big smile on their faces. Like losing against international powerhouse Netherlands or the then reigning World Champion Germany by only one goal each. Or celebrating victories in qualification matches against Switzerland and Belarus. Results the small country can be proud of without a doubt.
The team, nicknamed the Red Lions, plays their matches in the Stade Josy Barthel. It is named after the first and only Olympic gold medal winner for the small country. At the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki, no one ran the 1500m faster than Josy Barthel.
The stadium is shared with local club Racing FC Union and the country’s biggest athletics club CAL Spora. Due to the lack of further stadiums in the country that fulfill the UEFA requirements, every club has to play its European games in the Josy Barthel. The 8,054-all-seater (1,000 roofed) was first opened in 1931 and completely remodeled in 1990.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
The range of food and drinks in the Josy Barthel is straightforward and limited. Sure, you get your sodas and beers, as well as the obligatory stadium sausage. Prices are reasonable. But bouillon being the only hot offer on a cold day is rather unfortunate in such an open and windy stadium as the Josy Barthel.
Watching football games in a stadium with an athletics track is always a bit uncomfortable, even in a tiny stadium like this one. The distance to the field and to other stands, compared with the wideness and openness of the Josy Barthel kind of nip things in the bud. On top, the stadium is not even half filled most of the time. This said, if you want to soak up at least some atmosphere, get tickets to the western stand where a couple of die-hard Luxembourg fans support their team at the top of their lungs.
The Josy Barthel lies in the midst of a residential area not far away from the city center. You don't actually come here early or stay late after the game, instead you make the short trip back downtown.
To give you an idea how deep the stadium lies between houses, lots of the neighbors don't even have to pay a ticket to see the matches. They are able to enjoy a panoramic view by just looking out of the window. So you might just want to ring a door bell and invite yourself in for coffee and cake.
There are a couple of loyal fans who try to push the national team forward to a good result and support their team with songs and flags just like in any other stadium. But apparently Luxembourgers only show limited interest in their national team as the often empty stadium proves.
The Grand Duchy being one of the major financial hubs in Europe, with hosting European headquarters of Amazon and Ebay, Luxembourg City truly is an international city. That's why the loyal fans moan that in games against big European countries most of the guests are fans from the visiting team. The old stadium apparently doesn't attract enough Luxembourgers to see their own team fighting for an upset.
Getting to the Stade is easy as it lies directly on a major route to the city center which is only two kilometers away. So you might as well walk. There is a bus stop right in front of the entrances and busses drive regularly from and to downtown Luxembourg.
If you're coming by car, there is a decent sized and cheap parking garage right next to the stadium. You just have to cross the street and you're there.
However, this only refers to normal match days. During those rare sell-out-nights, the street from and to the city center gets cramped and finding empty parking spots can be difficult.
Tickets start at 10 Euro which makes it an affordable visit to the Stade and usually there are always plenty of tickets available. Yes, the stadium is old but at least it is well-maintained. And yes, you could enjoy a little bit more atmosphere, you could sit a little bit closer to the field and when it rains, well, you get wet. But on the plus side, the stadium is very close to the city center and it is easy to reach. And in every preliminary campaign for World Cups or European Championships, Luxembourg plays at least against one big country. The match against Portugal was a sell-out due in part to the large Portuguese community in the country.
The straightforward stadium is probably loved by football nostalgics. A field, stands, that's it. Pure and simple, without large VIP facilities or other moneymaking ideas. If only there was coffee for the cold nights...
Loyal fans have been pushing hard in recent years for a remodeling of the Josy Barthel or even for building a whole new stadium. Although plans for a new stadium have been dropped due to politics, a renovation of the stadium is currently controversially discussed. Some plans intend to get rid of the athletics track and create a pure football stadium to draw more fans into the often empty stadium. Obviously the athletic club rejects these proposals, it would leave them without a venue for hosting international tournaments. From an outsider's view, although highly clichéd, it seems strange that the wealthy Grand Duchy is not able to satisfy the local football scene with an appropriate stadium. In addition, we're talking here about a 10,000-seater, not an Allianz Arena.
Politics and the Luxembourg Football Federation recently announced that plans for a modern and family friendly arena will be introduced in 2013. A date that proud Luxembourgers are surely looking forward to.
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