Lying in Lyon’s seventh arrondissement in south of the city is one of the jewels of French football – the Stade de Gerland.
The forty-thousand seater ground, with its iconic curves at either end of the pitch, was designed in the early twentieth century by one of the city’s most celebrated sons, the world-renowned architect Tony Garnier, whose use of concrete – a material which dominates the ground’s design – in the urban domain is considered today as having been revolutionary for its era.
Despite the fact that council-owned ground was originally intended to be an omnisports arena, catering for athletics and rugby as well as football, the Gerland has become synonymous with Olympique Lyonnais. It has been viewed as the club’s spiritual home ever since they moved to the ground in the early 1950s.
Times however have changed, and this weekend will see OL open a Ligue 1 season at the iconic ground for the last time. Under the management of the club’s charismatic and at times controversial owner and president Jean-Michel Aulas, Les Lyonnais have decided to uproot and move to a brand new 60,000 seater purpose built arena some twenty-five minutes’ drive north-west of their current stadium.
Lyon are hoping to embark upon the beginning of an exciting new era by moving into the Grand Stade OL, which is scheduled to open in December.
The club’s captain Maxime Gonalons will lead Hubert Fournier’s side out on Sunday evening, in what proves to be an emotional game between the home side and their Breton guests FC Lorient.
In an ode to this great stadium, I’ve decide to delve into the history books and to take a look back at five of the greatest matches to have taken place on the Stade de Gerland’s hallowed turf.
Olympique Lyonnais 3-1 SC Heerenveen – 12/09/2000
Having progressed through the qualification round against Slovak side FK Inter Bratislava, Olympique Lyonnais welcomed SC Heerenveen to the Rhône-Alpes region in the home side’s first match in the UEFA Champions League.
Jacques Santini’s side ran out three-one winners and the game would launch what was one to become an exciting ten years for the club in European football’s top competition.
Brazilian international and club legend Sonny Anderson opened the scoring after just two minutes, causing the Lyon tribunes’ to erupt, and after an own-goal from the Dutch side, a third and final goal was scored by the current Red Star FC sporting director Steve Marlet.
OL would eventually progress through to the tournament’s second group stage and the Lyon journey would end there as the club finished their group table in third place.
Olympique Lyonnais 3-1 RC Lens – 04/05/2002
On the last day of the 2001-2002 season, Les Gones took on a visiting RC Lens side and the stakes could not be higher.
A win for Lyon would see the home side crowned champions of France for the first time in their history, whereas a point would have been enough for the visitors to record their second championship title.
The atmosphere was electric and in the end the home side rose to the occasion, making light work of their title rivals.
After just seven minutes, a twenty-two-year-old Sidney Govou drove at the opposition defence before rifling a low shot into the net from about twenty-five yards out.
Phillippe Violeau grabbed another before the break, but Lens put the OL party on hold when Polish international Jacek Bąk pulled a goal back when the home side failed to clear their lines.
The party that would ensue in Place Bellecour was confirmed when OL’s magician Juninho played in Pierre Laigle who scored the third and final goal of the game.
The victory sealed the first of the club’s historic seven consecutive league titles wins.
Olympique Lyonnais 2-0 Real Madrid – 14/09/2006
On the opening day of the 2006-2007 season’s Champions League campaign, Gérard Houllier’s side stunned Europe when they recorded a famous victory against Fabio Capello’s Real Madrid.
The dominant display was more evidence of the French champions’ growing confidence in continental competition, with the club having reached the quarter-finals in the previous three competitions.
The meeting between the two sides also saw an almost instant return for Mahamadou Diarra to the Gerland after his summer move to the Spanish capital.
Capello’s starting line-up included stars such as Iker Casillas, Fabio Cannavaro, Rául González and Ruud van Nistelrooy, but the galacticos were outshone by the home side’s impressive collective performance.
Lyon took the lead after just ten minutes, as Fred lobbed the onrushing Casillas when he met the end of an ingenious long pass from Juninho. Real Madrid’s hopes of a comeback were then fatally dented midway through the second half when Tiago Mendes finished from close range after a swift counter-attack from the home side.
After finishing the group in first, Lyon then met AS Roma in the next round of the completion. The Italians however proved to be the stronger side, eliminating Houllier’s side by a two-goal aggregate margin.
Olympique Lyonnais 5-5 Olympique de Marseille – 08/11/2009
Girondins de Bordeaux brought Lyon’s hegemony to an end under Laurent Blanc’s guidance when they won the 2008-2009 Ligue 1 title, but Les Gones once again emerged as serious title contenders during the following season alongside Olympique de Marseille.
In November of 2009, Lyon and Marseille clashed in the first Olympico meeting of the season. With the lead changing hands a staggering three times and with a total of ten goals scored, the game would go on to be one of the most talked-about matches in European football of the season.
After Lyon opened the scoring almost immediately through the current Roma playmaker Miralem Pjanić, Marseille fought back superbly to take a four-two lead.
Lisandro López scored a double to bring Lyon back on terms with their Provençal title rivals. Michel Bastos rounded-off a superb Lyon move with a left-foot finish to score what seemed like a probable winner inside of the eighty-ninth minute, but the away side had other ideas.
The dénouement was reached in additional time in the form of a dramatic conclusion, as OL legend Jérémy Toulalan inadvertently turned home a Stéphane Mbia shot to make it five-all, leaving the Canal + commentators uncharacteristically speechless.
Didier Deschamps’ OM side would eventually go on to lift their first title in seventeen years at the end of the season, with Lyon finishing in second.
The match will long be remember as one of the greatest classics in French footballing history, and it set the stage for more dramatic matches to come at the iconic ground in the seasons that followed.
Olympique Lyonnais 3-1 Girondins de Bordeaux – 30/03/2010
OL were given the chance to take revenge against their title run-enders Bordeaux on the highest of stages, when the two sides met in the first all-French UEFA Champions League quarter-final.
In beating Bordeaux over two legs, Lyon would go where they had never gone before – they would progress to the dizzy heights of the tournament’s semi-finals for the first time in the club’s history.
The eventual reward for the winning side would be a two-leg tussle against European veterans Bayern Munich.
Lyon seized the occasion with both hands and Claude Puel’s side made the most of their home advantage by defeating their Ligue 1 rivals by three goals to one in one of the most special matches in the history of French football.
Lisandro López opened the scoring within the first ten minutes, but Laurent Blanc’s men equalized through a Marouane Chamakh header when he met a wonderful ball that was provided by future Lyon player Yoann Gourcuff. López scored from the spot to give the home side their third and final goal over the two legs on the seventy-fifth minute.
This goal would be crucial, as Bordeaux won the return leg at the Stade Chaban-Delmas, with Chamakh providing the game’s only goal.
Puel’s side then travelled to Bavaria to take on Bayern Munich in the competition’s penultimate round, where they would go on to lose narrowly by a single Arjen Robben goal and they would return to the Gerland with the tie still alive.
The home side’s hopes were eventually ended by a strong performance from their German opponents, as Louis Van Gaal’s side crushed Les Gones in a three-nil victory, with all goals courtesy of Croatian striker Ivica Olić.