Bonjour et bienvenue à Marseille! This week we are going to France to look at an iconic stadium that very recently had a rather large facelift.
The Stade Vélodrome in the south of France has been home to Olympique de Marseille since 1937. The 67,000 capacity stadium did originally host cycling events alongside football so the name is not just for show (it hasn’t held any form of event like that for many, many years).
Although the Marseille fans initially hated the stadium (it was meant as a replacement to their spiritual home the Stadium Huveaune) the ground has become one of the most famous in world football. It has undergone many different redevelopments with the 1970s and 80s being particularly busy as the removal of both the running track and cycling track increased the capacity dramatically. It is the largest club football ground in France and regularly plays host to the French Rugby Union as well is Marseille home matches.
Two major restructuring projects have been completed in the last 20 years. The first being the complete renovation of the stadium in preparation of it being a World Cup venue in 1998. The stadium was used to host group matches, a quarter-final and a semi-final (it was here where Dennis Bergkamp scored one of the greatest goals of all time against Argentina). It is safe to say that the fans of ‘Les Phocéens’ had a more than slight dislike for the 1994 renovation. They hated the new ground with criticism of the handling of the whole project and the treatment of supporters during its development. They hated that there was no roof and that the noise from the crowd evaporated out of the stadium meaning a poorer atmosphere.
In 2009 the fans were finally awarded with a bit of hope as it was announced that there were formal plans to once again redevelop the ground had been approved by the Marseille city government. Work started in 2011 and finished in 2014. The capacity was increased (yet again) and a roof was finally installed around the ground.
What makes the atmosphere so special at the Vélodrome is the atmosphere created by the fans in both the ‘Virage Nord’ and ‘Virage Sud’. Various supporters groups are housed in the two ends of the ground creating a vibrant and colourful atmosphere that is pretty much unmatched in France (and is one of the most impressive in Europe). The supporters groups are so important to Marseille as a city and a club that the north stand is named after one of the founders of a major fan association, the ‘Marseille Trop Puissant’ ( it is called the ‘Virage Nord-Patrice de Peretti’). Some of the major fans groups linked to the club are – Yankee Nord Marseille, Marseille Trop Puissant, Fanatics, Dodgers, Commando Ultras 1984, South Winners, Amis de l’OM and the Club Central des Supporteurs.