Sunday, October 28, 2007

Valenciennes FC – Paris Saint Germain (20-10-2007)

Because of the final of the World Cup Rugby, which would be played at 20.00 that evening (and in which the Springboks defeated the English J), all games in the French Ligue 1 (First Division) were played at 16.00 this Saturday. This provided J.B. and me with a golden opportunity to see two games on one day and still make a relatively short groundhop. Thus, around 13.30, we left Leuven to arrive at Valenciennes, just across the Belgian-French border, more than half an hour before kick-off.

As the online billeterie had shown that there were only few tickets left a couple of days before the match, J.B. had bought tickets online (at 30 euro per ticket, not really a steal). We parked the car around the corner of the Stade Nungesser, which wasn’t easy to find, and were pleasantly surprised by the lack of long lines in front of the reserved tickets office. In fact, it took us less than five minutes to get the tickets and enter the stadium (after a quite professional body-search by the security personnel). As J.B. was trying his luck with an attractive pollster, who asked whether we found the official parking lot of the stadium (not whether we liked it; in fact, we hadn’t even seen a sign towards it!), and I bought a small pennant for a mere 3.50 euro, we came to the first shock of the day: there were no, and I mean not a single, hot snacks in the whole stadium! Two thumbs down for Valenciennes!

With a drink and an empty stomach we climbed up the stairs of our (emergency) stand. Even the cool mascot (with whom I would later take a picture J), and the overly enthusiastic female announcer couldn’t compensate for the lack of food. Moreover, it was quite cold this afternoon, and our view was, despite the hefty price, not impressive at all.

VAFC, as Valenciennes FC is officially abbreviated, is building a new stadium, innovatively called Nungesser II, which will be more modern and bigger (23.000). As far as I understand, the new stadium will be in the heart of Valenciennes, rather than at the current spot, in a suburb of the city. I bet everyone is happy with that, as the original Stade Nungesser is one of the most horrible I have visited. It is amazing how far you are away from the pitch; a consequence of both its historical roles (it used to double as a cycling stadium) and the bizarre structure of the stands (at least the one we sat at). The stadium holds 16.500 people, with one small stand with only standing places, but despite the impression created online the days before, and the official figure of 15.037 on the VAFC website, the stadium was at best 75% full. This included a couple thousand away supporters, who had made the relatively short distance of ca. 200 km from the capital.

Despite several negatives – did I already mention that there were no hot snacks? – the atmosphere before the game was very good. For some reason, the locals treated this game as a top game, even if PSG has not won anything significant in years. On the various stands the home fans sang, showed their banners and wave their flags in support of their boys in red. I personally liked the small long stand the most (only standing); it still had an authentic hand-painted “welcome to the supporters” on one side.

Unfortunately, things didn’t improve after kick-off, and that’s an understatement. We didn’t expect much from Valenciennes, who only returned to the top flight of French football two years ago, and finished 17th last year, but were shocked to see how poor the PSG team is this season. Sure, they have been the French “sleeping giant” for decades, a bit similar to Hertha BSC in Germany or Manchester City in England, but the current team is at best a sleeping midget. It is full of big Africans, who bring little else to the game than an impressive physique. Still, the rest of the team doesn’t even have that.

VAFC had the first shot on goal, in the 2nd minute, while it took PSG 10 minutes for its first header over the goal. The highlight of the game, fortunately we didn’t know this at that time, was a well executed one-two pass by the home team, which didn’t lead to a goal though. After this ‘excitement’, very little noteworthy happened, except for a good shot by the visitors, in the 42nd minute, and a ditto safe by the home goalie. For the rest, we had to endure the worst songs ever, from the away fans, who in addition to the highly annoying “ici, c’est Paris”, had also masterminded the following song:

Allez Paris

Allez Paris

Allez Paris

Allez Paris et PSG

Half time was cold and frustrating, because of the (no) snack situation, so oddly enough we were happy when the second half started. The happiness soon disappeared, however, when it turned out to be a copy of the first half. I’m not even going to mention the “chances”, as most were nothing more than free-kicks or shots from afar. VAFC did hit the crossbar from a free-kick in the 80th minute though.

I guess the most exciting moment was in the 70th minute, when the coach of VAFC was sent to the stand for objecting too strongly to a dodgy free-kick. In addition, I did enjoy some actions of the skilled VAFC striker Steve Savidan (number 9), including a beautiful lob from some 25 meters in the 87th minute, but overall there was far too little for a game in the Ligue 1 (and for 30 euro!). Final score 0-0, which unfortunately I couldn’t get on camera because of the strange lightening of the scoreboard.

Cold and starved we ran out to storm the friture opposite to the stadium. Though it took a while for them to prepare the goodies, what else than an americain merguez, the portion was just what we needed, excessive, so we happily ate our fattie food in the car.

RRC Péruwelz-Standaard Wetteren (20-20-2007)

While disappointed by the game, we remained in decent spirits. After all, we still had a game to see. After getting lost in traffic, we finally made our way to Péruwelz, a Belgian town at 20 km from Valenciennes. We arrived early in the town, which turned out bigger than expected. Despite having some 30 minutes to find the Stade Péruwelz, it wasn’t till just before kick-off that we found it… closed!

The official website of the RRC Péruweltz had been down the weeks before, but I had checked the information from the semi-reliable Flemish website Voetbalkrant on the website of the opponent, Standaard Wetteren. Saturday 20 October at 20.00 would be the game in the Derde Divisie A (Third Division A) between these two teams. After having consulted various people, who all turned out French rather than local, we finally found someone pretending to be local, who led us even more astray. He claimed that RRC Péruweltz played its home games in the city of Tournai, 23 km to the east, as their own stadium was too small. Having little other options, we decided to drive there, got lost, and around 20.45 gave up. Later that night, at home, I checked again, still finding the same announcement on the Standaard Wetteren website (thank god they don’t have any traveling fans). The next afternoon RRC Péruwelz would beat Standaard Wetteren 2-0, without us present.

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