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  • Chris Tuck

Stade de la Liberation – Union Sportive Boulogne

Photos by Chris Tuck, Stadium Journey

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.57

Stade de la Libération Boulevard Eurvin, 62200 Boulogne-sur-Mer, France

Year Opened: 1952

Capacity: 15,204


Ground hopping in Boulogne-sur-mer

Many have passed through Boulogne in the north of France; how many can say that they’ve been to Boulogne? The town was known as the ‘gateway to the UK’ or the reverse for thousands of Brits arriving by ferry from the south coast of England. At best it was seen as a handy arrival port in which to leave again for the more romantic locations of Normandy, Paris, and the chic south.

For Napoléon it was a staging post, a two-year dream to invade the UK which never came to fruition. These days a two-day visit is probably more realistic. Book your football tickets online and the town of Boulogne-sur-Mer, its football team ‘Union Sportive Boulogne’ and the wonderful Stade de la Liberation will not disappoint.

Friday night football is the norm in the third tier of French football which provides numerous options for a long weekend on the Côte d’Opale and the possibility of groundhopping somewhere else on Saturday.

Boulogne has a population of less than 50k and is known as a fishing port with a belfry that dates back to the 12th Century. Their main football team ‘US Boulogne’ came into being at the end of the 19th century, wearing their famous black and red from the beginning. They settled into their current stadium in 1952, hence the stadium's name.

Food & Beverage 3

The French are renowned for their culinary prowess; that rarely extends to their football stadia. Unless you are a corporate ‘customer’ (their food looked good) you may well choose to eat elsewhere. The fan hub, based in a marquee behind the Tribune d’Honneur, sells crisps, sweets, beers, and soft drinks. Buy 10 ‘tokens’ for 10 Euros from the reception area and use them accordingly, ensuring you keep the branded beer receptacle as a nice keepsake.

Other than that, a similar offering is available in the stand opposite, known as the tribune Frank Ribery (Yep that Frank Ribery, he was born in Boulogne and played at USBFC for two years in his younger days). The final option for sustenance inside the stadium is a large burger van, behind the goal where you enter the stadium, which provides the usual hot food options with generous portions.

Just outside the stadium, two café bars next to each other provide good ‘liquid refreshment’ options. A swift half of Affligem at 6% in the Café PMU Les Marronniers is recommended. Then just sit outside, sip your beer, and watch the crowds arrive as the sun goes down.

Atmosphere 3

As that same sun goes to work in a different hemisphere, the imposing and marvelous stadium floodlights come alive and beckon you in. Just over 3000 were in attendance against a team from the far south of France meaning little or no away fans for the match of this review. The stadium has seating on three sides only and without the modern ‘bowl shape’ the atmosphere can easily escape. When you walk in through the main entrance, it’s strange to be able to see the goalposts with just an athletics track and a large fence between you and the goalkeeper.

The great thing about this stadium though is that it isn’t a modern bowl shape stadium. Instead, we have three distinct main stands in a horse-shoe shape, each with added enclosures at peculiar angles that give a nod to the eclectic. The huge bank of seats behind the goal at the far end remains out of use and looks a little tired. A bit like the away end at Craven Cottage may look in twenty years.

Most of the crowd will be in the two main stands that run along the touchlines, each holding around 2500 people. Quite how 15k could fit in is not entirely clear but with average crowds of fewer than 3k, it’s not something USBFC has to worry about for now.

Neighborhood 4

The stadium can be found just outside the ancient fortified town, adjacent to the war monument and up a very steep hill from the town centre and harbour. Aside from the hills, the town is easy to get around on foot and it feels safe to do so.

Pre-match, a stroll through the Ville Haute is a good way to start. The city walls are still impressively intact and inside you’ll find some exquisite architecture. The Belfry is a UNESCO World Heritage site. L’Hotel de Ville (1734), Chateuex Boulogne (1231) and most impressively La Basilique Notre-Dame (1866) are all within a few minutes walk.

The latter is known for its huge crypt, which becomes your landmark when you think you are lost and looks even more impressive when it’s lit up at night. Opposite, the basilica is the ‘Vole Hole,’ a tiny ‘cellar-themed’ bar that is worth frequenting, although, at 5 Euros for a Kronenburg, you know you are in the expensive part of town. As you leave the city walls you are faced with the huge and sobering war memorial paying tribute to thousands who lost their lives in the two world wars.

Hotel and Air B& B options are very reasonable. The Ibis Budget Hotel is situated nearer to the harbour and is more than adequate. The Ibis Central is a little more expensive but just 500 yards from the stadium. The best restaurants are found in the old town, along Rue de Lille. If you don’t go native, there’s a trusty Indian restaurant called ‘Lal Qilla’ minutes from the stadium.

Saturday morning and it’s time to explore Ville Basse, the lower end of town and the harbor area, completely rebuilt after the RAF sought to retain the advantages gained on D-Day. The main attraction, especially if you are with the family, is the Nausicaa, Europe’s biggest Aquarium.

The grittier and even more defining landmarks however are the huge street art installations in and around the main shopping area. English artist David Walker is featured, a huge female face on the side of a block of flats is imperious. Elsewhere you will find the artwork high up on the sides of shop buildings and telecommunication cabinets on the side of the road do not escape.

Walker, and other famous names such as Nikodem, Flag, and Marie Lou Peeren were invited to Boulogne to bring some sparkle and frankly, succeeded spectacularly. Their results are mesmerising. The street art turns what could be a drab, uninspiring shopping area into an uplifting, modern, and inspiring experience.

With a beautiful sandy beach, the fish market, and ‘Musee 39-45’ (an acclaimed war museum) all in the vicinity you begin to see why Napoleon stayed so long.

Fans 3

It’s a good time to be a fan of USBFC and fans are positive about the club’s future which hasn’t always been the case. Top of the ‘National 3’ and some exciting players displaying their talents, there are good reasons to be positive.

Fans in the main stand are knowledgeable and warm applause is often the order of the day. The Franc Ribery stand opposite provides the more lively support but this is no cauldron of noise. Some ultras with flags try to raise the atmosphere but a nervy ending means it is always tentative rather than raucous. Watching a game here ‘under lights’ adds to the atmosphere of course and as it’s a Friday night, many could look forward to a couple of days off.

Access 5

A visit to US Boulogne is far simpler than you may imagine. From the UK for example, you can be on the M25 at 1 pm and be sat in the bar opposite the Stade de la Liberation by 5 pm easily (even with the clock going forward one hour!). Eurotunnel prices for overnight trips are as little as £25 for a single whether you have 1 or 5 people in the car with you.

From Calais, it’s just a 20-mile drive down the A16 and the views are decent too. On the way back if you have more time, take the coast road which takes a little longer but affords fantastic sea views and even a sight of those ‘white cliffs of Dover.’

The bus station is at the bottom end of town and the train station is just 10 minutes from the ground. Flixbus, the traveler’s iconic and air-conditioned friend, also calls here from Paris.

Return on Investment 5

Highly recommended; especially if you can arrange a second stadium visit maybe at Calais, Lens, or Lille on Saturday. A trip from the south coast of England for example could cost you £50 in fuel, £50 for the Eurotunnel, £50 for a hotel, and then just your beer, coffee, and food. The great thing is that if there’re two of you the cost is halved! The match ticket cost 10 Euros (easily purchased and downloaded from the club website), a scarf is just 5 Euros and the programme is free.

Extras 2

The huge scoreboard is a classic ‘European style,’ free-standing affair that is worth a photograph on its own. The standing areas at the back of the Frank Ribery Tribune are also a bonus for those who like to watch their football in a more portrait-than-landscape fashion.

Final Thoughts

The Stade de la Liberation has real character, looks great under the lights, and is located in a town that has plenty to explore. The tremendous street art provides a contemporary feel in what could otherwise be seen as a town beginning to feel sorry for itself.

It is easy to get to, tickets purchased simply online and home games on a Friday night are also reasons to visit. With the football team in form and the ancient architecture to explore, groundhopping in Boulogne-Sur-Mer should be on your bucket list.

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