Rather justifiably, the football community has an obsession with venues. It would not be unfair to claim that the identity possessed by some grounds can even draw the attention away from the events on the pitch and instead make a football match more experiential than it otherwise might have been.
For instance, certain settings are wholly sensory affairs; an old-fashioned English ground will entice you in on matchday with the scent of fried onions from swathes of burger vans, while your ears will ring with the tribalistic, and often humorous, songs emanating from the stands on the inside. On the continent, meanwhile, the stadium experience differs greatly but is equally as distinctive: the pungent smell and fiery heat of a flare may reinforce the clichéd notion of a stadium being a ‘ cauldron’ , while the songs sung here are more akin to ancient incantations designed to rouse their team to victory.
It’s clear, therefore, that location matters – it can add something extra to any game, from the dourest of nil-nils to the most epic and gladiatorial ordeals. And with that in mind, let’s take a look at the stadiums which will attempt to make this summer’s newly expanded Euro 2016 as memorable and awe-inspiring as possible.
Ten grounds will be used to accommodate the new format, so let’s take it from the top. Quite literally, in this sense, as we turn our attention to the north of France and the dashing Stade Pierre Mauroy in Lille. Having opened in 2012, this multi-use stadium boasts 50,000 seats as well as France’s first retractable roof, able to open or close in roughly half an hour. Set to host six games, four in the group stages and two knockout fixtures, the Stade Pierre Mauroy will be the joint second-busiest ground in the tournament.
A 25 mile trip southwards will take us to the Stade Bollaert-Delelis, home of Lens. Closed for a multi-million euro renovation last season, this 1930s ground had also been used in Euro ‘84 as well as the 1998 World Cup. Situated in an important centre of industry and mining, the Stade Bollaert-Delelis will be hoping to dig up some golden moments during its four games this summer.
Travel further south still and you will end up in Paris: the capital city and sporting hub containing arguably the two major grounds in the country. First and foremost is the Stade de France, located in the Saint-Denis region. Built primarily for the 1998 World Cup, the ground has a capacity of 80,000 and now acts as the home of both the French football and rugby union teams. Given that its last major tournament fixture played host to a 3-0 victory to Les Bleus in the final, the country will be waiting with baited breath for a similarly lucrative campaign in Saint-Denis this year.
The second venue in the Paris region is just down the road in the form of the Parc des Princes, home of seemingly perpetual Ligue 1 champions Paris St Germain. Dating back to 1897, the stadium is the oldest in use at Euro 2016 and therefore can boast the most history, having staged four major international football championships – this history, as well as its renovations, make it one of the premier grounds in Europe, and it will have a chance to shine on five occasions this summer.
Out on the west coast and deep into wine territory we have the Stade Bordeaux, another one of the four Euro 2016 venues to have been opened in the last four years. The steep stands and the enormous stanchions which serve to hold the tiers up mean this ground is capable of physical vibration during games, creating a pulsating and intimidating atmosphere – a trait which the city’s Ligue 1 team are yet to benefit from.
Over in eastern France, we have two stadiums of varying modernity – the newly expanded Stade Geoffroy Guichard in Saint-Etienne may have had its capacity increased for the tournament, but it still maintains a distinctly English feel with its four imposing stands in close proximity to the pitch. In nearby Lyon, is an entirely new construction – the imaginatively named Stade de Lyon is the 59,000 seater replacement for the Stade Gerland and will debut on the international stage with six matches, including one of the semi-finals.
The picturesque south of France plays host to the final three stadiums on our Euro 2016 whistle-stop tour. Rugby fanatics will be familiar with the Stade de Toulouse, a stalwart of the city’s all conquering Union team. The ground seats just 33,000 but has history on its side, having been constructed for the 1938 World Cup. Another venue able to share this historic claim is Marseille’s Stade Velodrome, yet having had an extensive revamp for the 1998 tournament it can now seat over double what the Stade de Toulouse is capable of. As the word ‘velodrome’ suggests, the ground used to be home to French cycling yet despite having the track removed in 1985, the name remains unchanged and pays homage to its multi-sport history.
The final ground lies on the southeastern coast. Nice’s Allianz Riviera plays host to both Nice and Toulon in football and rugby respectively but regulations stipulate that in UEFA competitions it must be referred to as the Stade de Nice. While its alternative name is hardly revolutionary, the eco-friendly design of this multisport arena makes it a charming host for four of the tournament’s games.
So there they are – the ten grounds which will host over fifty matches between June and July this summer. The expanded tournament bracket in conjunction with France’s footballing infrastructure, steeped in history and modernity alike, means this could be one of the most exciting competitions in recent memory.