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Official Review by Boris Garde, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
The Stade Velodrome has been hosting the games of French football side Olympique de Marseille since 1937, and the facility has been substantially modified during that period. The last of those renovation works ended in 2014. The stadium is now completely covered by a very distinctive roofing structure, in the shape of a white wave, and holds a capacity of 67,000 spectators.
Besides regular football games, the Velodrome is also occasionally used for hosting some rugby games of the nearby RC Toulon, as well as the French national team in Rugby and Football. There have also been several notable concerts held at Stade Velodrome by the likes of such stars as Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones, AC/DC, and many more.
The stadium will host several games of the Euro 2016 including a semi-final, much like it did during the 1998 World Cup.
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".
There are a lot of food booths in every section of the stadium, but they have a very standardized offering including sandwiches, hot dogs, and soda, and they are not exactly cheap. There is no alcohol available inside. You might therefore prefer to take advantage of the numerous restaurants in the area around the stadium. In the immediate vicinity of the stadium, most restaurants will focus on snacks (kebab, pizza) and booze (draught beer and the local pastis).
Marseille fans are traditionally considered the biggest and loudest home crowd in the French Ligue 1. Now that the stadium has a roof, it has better acoustics than before and the home support creates a very passionate atmosphere.
Marseille is France's second largest city and a major gateway to the very touristy French Riviera. There are plenty of sights within and around the city, making it worthwhile to stay for a few days at least. The most popular tourist spot in the city is the view from the Notre Dame de la Garde church, which is overlooking the city from a little hill close to the city center.
Nature lovers will want to hike in the Calanques National Park, an area of steep cliffs and natural beaches that starts just outside the city. In the city center, the area around the old harbour is particularly worth a visit, as well as the area next to the new harbour, which has been redeveloped recently with museums, malls and restaurants.
If you want to experience typical cuisine for the area, then you might want to walk in Le Rouet (along Rue du Rouet) or Saint Giniez area (along Avenue de Mazargues), places with nicer restaurants and bars. Also the area around Castellane is within walking distance from the stadium and full of drinking and eating opportunities.
The stadium itself is in the southern city centre, in a rather affluent and safe part of the city; within 20 minutes walk you can be on the beaches or in the historical center.
Games are generally really passionate, and the stands behind the goals gather the most enthusiastic fans. Those two stands are generally limited to season card holders. Marseille for many years had the biggest attendance in the league, but things started to change recently. There is big resentment against the club management, and a lot of people are fed up by the club's politics in terms of fan relationship (security measures, bans and so on) and team management (bad results, random transfers). As a result, the attendance has dramatically fallen in the past year and people are nostalgic of better days.
For a game against a smaller team, or unknown opponents in Europa League games, you can expect half of the stadium to be empty (which is still 30,000 people but it looks completely deserted in the new stadium). Only games against Paris, Lyon, Monaco or Saint-Etienne will be really packed. But be sure that if the team has better days, the stadium will be filled again, because Marseille is a city of football enthusiasts.
Compared to other stadiums in France, especially the newer ones, the Stade Velodrome has the advantage of being right in the city center, within walking distance of many hotels and attractions like the Prado beaches, which are a nice way to spend the time before the game.
Access via public transportation is also very good. There are many bus lines stopping by the stadium as well metro line 2, which brings you quickly to the historical center, the St Charles train station and the business district of La Joliette. St Charles train station is the place where you can get shuttles to the airport and fast train connections to the rest of France (Paris is a mere three hour ride away).
Should you want to come by car, you should be prepared for huge traffic on matchdays in the stadium area, so taking advantage of a park and ride offer is definitely an option. There aren't that many parking possibilities around the stadium, but street parking is possible if you come early enough, and you also can buy access to the parking lot of Marseille exhibition center when there is no fair going on. Except for the traffic, car access is pretty easy, the stadium is close to the eastern highway that goes in the direction of Toulon and Italy, and the northern highway can be joined very easily through a tunnel that goes all the way under the city center.
As the audience has sunk in recent times, ticket prices have started to be really low for the games that are not selling out. You could have tickets for the good seating in the Jean Bouin or Ganay lateral tribunes from 15€ upwards. Top games will typically be higher priced, perhaps twice as much. Top seats will sell for 70€ or more.
Except for the summer months, the city is not too expensive, so you might treat yourself to a sunny escapade for a weekend including a nice game for a reasonable budget.
The stadium also organizes stadium tours, if you want to visit the facilities, players room and so on. But be careful, those tours are not open the whole year round so check the stadium's website for tour availability. The club has a large store with some memorabilia. It is situated just underneath the big stairs of the main entrance on Boulevard Michelet.
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