Date: October 5th 2014
Location: Lyon, France
Match: Olympique Lyonnais vs. Lille OSC
It’s not every day that I get to attend a Ligue 1 game. It’s certainly not every day that I prepare to attend a Ligue 1 clash by watching live Premier League action as part of a program Match of Ze Day (yep that’s what it’s called). But as the saying goes ‘when in Rome…’ or in this case Lyon, France.
I’ve holidayed in France a few times, my better half is French so we journey to Lyon when we can to visit family, but up till now I’ve never seen Olympique Lyonnais play live. It was time to right that particular wrong.
It’s been a while since I watched a live competitive match. For the record that game was Rangers vs. Red Star Belgrade at Ibrox in a Champions League qualifier in 2007. Rangers won a tense encounter 1-0 with a last minute goal from Nacho Novo. Nothing beats the thrill and experience of live football but I was hoping that Lyon vs. Lille would provide a tad more entertainment.
Olympique Lyonnais, nicknamed ‘Les Gones’ (the kids), was formed in 1950 but they really caught the eye of the football world in the Naughties when they won seven Ligue 1 titles in a row. Their streak began in the 2001/02 season with their last title coming in 2007/08. In 2007/2008 they managed to do the double winning the Coupe de France. They picked up another Coupe de France in 2011/2012.
During the years a number of top stars have graced the Stade de Gerland. The likes of Hugo Lloris, Karim Benzema, Juninho Pernambucano, Michael Essien, Éric Abidal, Hatem Ben Arfa, Dejan Lovren, Grégory Coupet and Florent Malouda to name a few. They’ve had a few famous managers at the helm of the club including Gérard Houllier, Jean Tigana, Jacques Santini, Aimé Jacquet and the ever-lovable Raymond Domenech.
The club has been selling off their premium talent and promoting players from their highly productive youth team. Of the starting eleven against Lille seven came through from Lyon youth academy. Had Clément Grenier featured in the line-up it could have been eight.
Olympique Lyonnais is building a new stadium the Stade des Lumières that should be ready by 2015. Financing the stadium has played a part in Lyon’s need in recent years to sell their big name players and rely on their youth system.
So to the Ligue 1 experience. Traveling to the Stade de Gerland was pretty straightforward. I went to the match with my father-in-law and brother-in-law and took the Lyon Metro to the ground. The closer the we got the Stade de Gerland station the more the train seemed reserved for people wearing Olympique Lyonnais kits and colours.
We reached the station with a flood of Lyon fans hoping for a result against Lille.
Making our way to the stadium we heard a number of loud bangs and oddly enough the theme tune to ‘Hawaii Five-O’. There were ticketless fans hoping to buy a match day pass but none of them seemed to have much luck. Fortunately, we had sorted out our tickets a while ago and made our way in.
The first thing we saw as we entered was the band that blared out ‘Hawaii Five-O’.
Fortunately, they had a little more to their repertoire.
Naturally, on the way to the stand there were the token merchandise stalls, food kiosks and sponsor displays.
Inside the stadium though was where we wanted to be. I picked up a copy of La Tribune the match day program. We took our seats in the lower part of the Jean Jaurès stand. Our view was partially obscured by the low hanging upper stand. To our left in the Virage Nord stand were the Bad Gones, Lyon’s hardcore fans and they were getting in the mood.
As the countdown to kickoff began in earnest there was a ‘crossbar challenge’ taking place on the pitch. If you were wondering none of the contestants managed to hit the bar. A good old-fashioned t-shirt cannon featured in the fun too.
As we approached kickoff the PA announcer gave the crowd a countdown before welcoming the players onto the pitch. He then went through the team sheet of the home side shouting the player’s first name with the crowd screaming the surname.
As the names were blared out the player’s names and faces were plastered on the big screens.
The match kicked off. Lyon lined up nominally in a 4-4-2 and aimed to take the game to Lille. Lille, who played a midweek Europa League match in Germany against Wolfsburg, had started the game without Danish defender Simon Kjær and Belgian forward, Divock Origi.
A tired looking Lille struggled to get into the game and it was only their fans that made a real impression chanting loudly and singing songs of support. They were quickly drowned out by the Bad Gones though.
Yoann Gourcuff who hasn’t had the happiest of times at the club seemed to be up for the match. He dictated the play, strode purposely with the ball and coolly kept possession in tight situations. Off the ball his movement was intelligent and he was willing to put in a few challenges too.
Indeed a number of Lyon players seemed to be on their game. The backline of Christophe Jallet, Milan Biševac, Samuel Umtiti and Henri Bedimo didn’t want to give Lille an inch. Maxime Gonalons impressively protected his defense breaking up potential Lille attacks and distributing the ball with minimum fuss.
The home side created most of the play as the crowd kept chanting.
There was a good opportunity in the 19th minute which the keeper, Vincent Enyeama, was equal to. The Nigerian international then pulled off a great save to keep out an effort from Henri Bedimo in the 32th minute after a marauding run from the full back.
Enyeama was easily Lille’s best player; it was instructive that when Lille had the ball he stood two yards or more outside of his penalty area to squeeze the play. Today was not going to be his day though. The impressive Nabil Fékir who had been buzzing up front slipped a through ball to Alexandre Lacazette who outpaced and outmuscled the last defender, Franck Beria, before firing past the helpless Enyeama. This was going to be the start of good day’s work for Lacazette.
The stadium was rocking as the players made their way to the center circle.
The match resumed and Lille was desperate to get to the break just one goal down. The home fans rose in the 42nd minute and sang “emmenez-moi à Geoffroy-Guichard” (“take me to the Geoffroy-Guichard”.) My brother-in-law informed me that this happens in every home match and is a reference to Lyon’s fierce rivals St. Étienne who play in the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard. St. Étienne is situated in Loire the 42nd department of France hence why the song is sung in the 42nd minute. Lyon, in case you’re wondering, is in the Rhône-Alpes region, department number 69.
Two minutes later the Bad Gones and everyone else bar the Lille supporters were up on their feet again. Lyon had won a free kick on the right that was whipped in by Yoann Gourcuff. Alexandre Lacazette nipped in to head the ball home to bag his second goal of the day. The Lyon striker was on a hat-trick.
The referee blew for half time as the Lyon fans were bouncing. To their credit the Lille fans refused to stay silent backing their team to the hilt despite the setback.
During the break fans bolted to the food stands or to the toilet. The Lyon fans gathered in the Virage Nord were having a party. Barring a spirited fight back the three points were in the bag for Lyon.
As the second half got underway it would have been understandable had Lyon sat back and looked to hit Lille on the break. However, the opposite was the case as Lyon scented blood and searched for a third goal. Enyeama’s goal was immediately under pressure as Lille defenders were forced to make a number of blocks early on to keep the deficit to just two goals.
As Lille pushed forward more and more though they left themselves exposed to the counter. Lyon wasted a good three on two opportunity when the desperate David Rozenhal blocked Gourcuff’s square ball in Lille’s penalty area. Had the pass found its man Alexandre Lacazette would have been odds on to make it three nil and complete his hat trick.
The second half was decidedly scrappier than the first with more long, high balls being used by both teams. With just over 15 minutes left to play Lyon coach, Hubert Fournier, rang in the changes. Milan Biševac was replaced by Bacary Koné and a few minutes later Clinton N’jie came on for Fékir.
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