By Gavin Mortimer
FIRST THE good news. Five years from now rugby fans will no longer be required to trudge out to the Stade de France every time France play a home international. Now the bad news. From 2017 the home of Les Bleus will be a spanking new stadium in Evry. Where? Well, exactly.
Evry is a nondescript commuter suburb 20 miles south of Paris, what we in Britain would call a ‘new town’. In other words there are lots of shiny new buildings but not much in the way of atmosphere or grandeur. It’s one claim to fame, other than being twinned with Bexley in Kent, is that it’s the second youngest town in France with its inhabitants boasting an average age of just 26.
The Fédération Française de Rugby (FFR) clearly intends to play on this demographic, announcing last week that as well as hosting up to half a dozen rugby internationals each year, the Evry stadium will also be used as a venue for pop concerts and the like.
So why the move to a new home, apart from the obvious attractions of having a new stadium with a capacity of 82,000, a sliding roof a la the Millennium Stadium and a multi-purpose, movable pitch? After all, it’s only 14 years since the Stade de France – six miles north of the centre of Paris – was opened as the centre piece of France’s hosting of the 1998 football World Cup.
And therein lies the problem for the FFR. The French Football Federation have first dibs when it comes to the Stade de France; it’s their stadium and the FFR is fed up feeling inferior, not to mention having to pay approximately £4m every time its stages a game.
The FFR have taken Twickenham as their role model, marvelling at the way the RFU have rented out the Cabbage Pitch to pop bands and rugby league finals. Not for the first time, albeit without admitting the fact, the French are taking a capitalist lead from their Anglo-Saxon neighbours.
The cost of the project is expected to be in the region of £485m and will be raised privately, said Serge Blanco in announcing their decision last week. The former France full-back, in charge of implementing the project, added that the stadium will “open up new horizons” and “ become a shop window for French rugby globally”.
The news has been met with a guarded response from French rugby fans. On rugbyrama.fr, the website of the French rugby newspaper, Midi Olympique, the two most common reactions were a) why so far from the centre of Paris and b) Is it a good idea to spend £485m on a new stadium in the middle of a global economic crisis?
On the first point the FFR points out that Evry, being a commuter town, is well served by two rail links from Paris (35 minutes from the centre of the capital), while the A6 motorway skirts Evry. In addition Paris’s second airport, Orly, is only 10 miles north.
On the second point the FFR has no doubt the financing of the new stadium won’t be an issue. But then they would say that, wouldn’t they? But one or two of the more pessimistic economists are predicting France will soon be immersed in a debt crisis similar to that Spain and Italy are experiencing. Being a rugby column we couldn’t possibly comment on something so complex – we’ll leave that to the eggheads!
But let’s hope a few years hence the FFR aren’t left with eggs on their faces and a large hole in their finances.