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Long journey home for Lille

Published: Wednesday 28 September 2005, 17.14CET
LOSC Lille Métropole's first night of UEFA Champions League football at the Stade de France has highlighted their need for a home stadium.
by Christian Châtelet
from Paris

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Published: Wednesday 28 September 2005, 17.14CET

Long journey home for Lille

LOSC Lille Métropole's first night of UEFA Champions League football at the Stade de France has highlighted their need for a home stadium.
The Stade de France, where the French national team triumphed in the 1998 FIFA World Cup final, was a glorious venue for LOSC Lille Métropole to play the first home game of their UEFA Champions League campaign last night. However, they were keen to remind the world that it was not a matter of choice.

Homeless club
For more than a year, Lille have been without a home stadium - "an unbearable situation", according to club president Michel Seydoux. And having drawn 0-0 against Villarreal CF in their opening Stade de France game, they are hoping to raise awareness of their plight.

Travelling army
A packed TGV train, 30 coaches and a flotilla of cars made the 200km journey from the northern city of Lille to the northern suburbs of Paris for last night's game, and while the 80,000 capactity Stade de France may have seemed a little empty, 35,000 fans were testimony to Lille's pulling power.

Serious intent
While there was something of a party atmosphere at the stadium, Seydoux at least was deadly serious in his desire to air Lille's grievances. The businessman has already drawn attention by buying full-page adverts in French publications showing how the club's home city had been denied European football.

Full-page adverts
"Tonight, Lille play against Villarreal in the UEFA Champions League," read the advert, which features mocked up roadsigns which illustrate the city's plight. "Tonight LOSC have no stadium complying with European standards. We must react and build a stadium, now."

Initial plans
Back on 15 May 2004, Lille played their last game at their Grimonprez-Jooris stadium - a 2-0 win against SC Bastia. After that, the ground was earmarked for a campaign of renovation, which would have seen its capacity extended from 19,000 to 32,000 in line with the club's increased ambition.

Neighbourhood objections
However, objections from neighbourhood groups - who feared that any work on the stadium could damage the urban park that surrounds it, with its 17th century fortifications - soon saw the plan put on ice, and the club were forced to spend the 2004/05 season at the Lille-Métropole stadium.

Successful venue
Strangely, the Villeneuve-d'Ascq venue proved to be a happy hunting ground for the club who won both the UEFA Intertoto Cup and a second-placed finish in Ligue 1 at the modest arena. But when it came to getting clearance to play Champions League games at the stadium, the Lille-Métropole did not pass muster.

Temporary home
Hence, they have been forced to play Champions League games at the Stade de France - a superb venue, but not one they will ever be able to call home. In the meantime, Seydoux is proposing building a new stadium on a new site, while local authorities are eager to resurrect the Grimonprez-Jooris plans, provided they can overcome legal objections.

'New solutions'
"There are many obstacles on the road to a new stadium," Seydoux said. "We must reflect on new solutions." A few more nights of Champions League football at the Stade de France should certainly help to focus the minds of all those involved.

Last updated: 01/11/05 11.17CET

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