Peterjon Creswell visits France's national stadium, which will stage the final of Euro 2016.
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Stade de France, France-Germany, friendly, Fri Nov 13, 2100 CET/2000 UK time
As you come into Paris from Charles de Gaulle airport by RER train, the signature elliptical roof of the Stade de France comes into view, rising over Saint-Denis like a spaceship from another planet.
Built for the 1998 World Cup and due to stage the opening game and final of Euro 2016, the Stade de France is set around a former gasworks in what was a run-down neighbourhood. Since this 81,000-capacity arena has been the main stage for the French game – home of Les Bleus from Zidane to Ben Arfa, scene of every single domestic Cup and League Cup final since 1998 – the Stade has contributed to the revival of the surrounding area, with tall, swish offices and hotels where only derelict buildings used to be.
This is exactly what the French Football Federation had in mind when France beat Morocco to the 1998 hosting vote, shortly after the country’s disastrous, winless effort at Euro 92. Not having qualified for the previous two major finals, France and the French game needed to recapture the glory of the 1980s, when Michel Platini captained the host nation to victory at the Euro 84 final at the Parc des Princes.
Except that expansion of the then national stadium was tricky, given the proximity of the Peripherique ring road and residential buildings. The brave step was taken to site the new arena in St Denis, between the city’s main airport of Charles de Gaulle and main station, the Gare du Nord, connected by swift, suburban train, the RER. Even braver was the design, by the four-man (and French) SCAU design team later responsible for the rebuilding of Euro 2016 semi-final venue, the Stade Velodrome in Marseille.
The major and most expensive feature, of course, was the signature elliptical roof, which cost €45 million alone, held up by 18 steel masts and appearing to float over the body of the stadium. ‘Heavier than the Eiffel Tower and longer than the Champs-Elysees,’ as they like to say on the stadium tour, the roof allows in plenty of precious sunlight. The other key feature was the movable lower stands, slid back for athletics meets and big rock concerts.
The total cost came in at just under €300 million – about a third of the new Wembley a few years later.
And since thousands of shiny paper discs rained down on Zidane and company that memorable night of 1998 – ‘For Eternity’ as it says on the splash of French sports daily L’Equipe in the Stade de France museum – there have been many a memorable football moment here. Barca’s late turnaround to beat Arsenal at the 2006 Champions League Final, little Gueugnon’s win over PSG at the League Cup Final of 2000, the Henry handball of 2009 – they all happened here.
Le Stade comprises four, three-tiered stands, Nord and Sud behind each goal. Est is closest to the RER B station, Ouest to RER D.
On the ground
Two RER stations, La Plaine-Stade de France (line B) and Stade de France-Saint-Denis (line D) are both one stop from Gare du Nord (12 minutes) but require a ticket (€2.50) beyond zone 1. The stations stand either side of the main Autoroute du Nord – RER B is closer. Note that the day pass Mobilis (€7) for Paris also covers this part of zone 2.
There are ticket offices on each corner of the stadium (Tue-Sun 10am-6pm). Customers must register at the Stade website to buy online or can purchase via France Billet.
For France internationals against lesser opposition, tickets are as cheap as €15 in the upper tier (‘Haut’) of the Nord or Sud ends, €10 for under-16s. A decent spot (‘Inter’) in the Est stand is €45/€40, closer to the pitch €75/€70. Prices rise at least €10 for better opposition.
The Boutique Officielle to the right of the main entrance opens 10am-6pm. Note the now retro France 98 souvenirs and current navy blue collared French national replica shirts – with one star over the cockerel badge.
SdF tours (1hr) from the shop/museum cost €15 for adults, €10 under 18s and are free for under 5s. In high season, Apr-Aug, English-language tours take place 10.30am and 2.30pm daily (French ones every 1-2hrs 11am-4pm).
A four-room permanent exhibition bookends each tour but the highlights are the changing room, with a resin floor and smooth, wooden benches, a design upon which Michel Platini himself advised, and the walk up the tunnel to the pitch.
Bars line avenue Jules Rimet on the east side of the stadium, including EVENTS, Le France and convivial Le 3ème Mi-Temps. At the very end, Le Rendez-Vous is a classic corner brasserie with tasteful decorative nods to rugby and football – note the framed image of Eric Cantona in full attire.
Back towards the RER stations, along avenue du Stade de France and adjoining places des Droits de l’Homme, the Café Gaspard and Café Balthazar are both stylish spots for a pre-match aperitif.