Iconic football stadiums keep their aura as time passes. The likes of Wembley, Maracana or Centenario have gone through various changes and reconstructions, but have regardless remained focal points for football in their respective countries.
Knowing that it is surprising that the very country where modern Olympic movement, FIFA, UEFA and Champions’ Cup were born, seems to have forgotten their own iconic stadium. Situated right by the left bank of the Seine in northwestern corner of Paris, Stade de Colombes was for a long time home of French football.
Besides hosting Olympic Games and World Cup finals Stade de Colombes, since 1928 officially Stade olympique Yves-du-Manoir, had been principal home venue for French national football for more than half a century (1924-1975).
Built as a horse racing venue back in 1883, Colombes was turned into proper stadium for 20 thousand spectators in 1907, after it was purchased by Le Matin newspaper. It was meant to host football and rugby matches and it successfully did it for decades, but it was never just a two-sport venue.
Over time it was used as a velodrome, it hosted boxing title fights, as well as European athletics championship. From 1924 to 1980 seventeen world athletics records were set there, but both Parisians and sports lovers all over the world it will always be primarily football stadium, and its long term love affair with the beautiful game began in earnest in 1920.
Normal life was restored after First World War as football made its way to the northwestern edge of Paris. When French capital was awarded 1924 Olympic Games, three stadiums were mentioned as possible hosts. The fact that Racing Club Paris had been using Colombes as their home ground for for years played key role in the decision to stage the Games there. Its capacity was doubled to 40.000 (some way short of initially planned 100 thousand), making it perfect host for both national team and cup final games.
RC Paris was famous for their sky blue-white hoops, so it was fitting that a team wearing same colors would dominate the tournament, and they did it in style. Even though they are smallest South American nation, Uruguay boasts a long standing football tradition. They arrived in Paris as Copa America holders, having won 4 out of 7 previous tournaments.
On their way to the first stage of their global hat-trick Uruguayans beat Yugoslavia and United States (incidentally both teams were to get to semifinals at first World Cup 6 years later), before dispatching of the French hosts. The Dutch proved to be biggest obstacle, but La Celeste managed to win 2-1, before easily beating Switzerland 3-0 in the gold medal match. From then on they would go on to win three consecutive global tournaments, including 1928 Olympics and then first World Cup as hosts.
By the time world’s best national teams returned to Colombes, for World cup’s third edition in 1938, Uruguayans were no longer the team to beat. In fact they didn’t even come to play, unhappy that 2 consecutive World cups were to be held in Europe. Italians came to Paris as holders and they managed to defend their title, a feat matched only once in World cup history, by 1962 Brazil.
At the time 60 thousand people could get into the ground, after yet another reconstruction. Gino Colaussi and Silvio Piola seized the opportunity to shine on the biggest stage, scoring all 7 Italian goals in their two games at Colombes, 3-1 quarterfinal win versus the hosts, and a 4-2 victory over Hungarians in the final game.
As if two big finals and hundreds of national team games and cup finals were not enough, Stade de Colombes gained additional fame through two major films released in 1981.
“Escape to Victory” is one of the most popular football-related movies of all time, featuring all-time greats including Pele, Bobby Moore and Ozzi Ardilles, as well as top actors like Michael Caine, Max Von Sydow and Silvester Stalone. The plot of this is very loosely based on real events that took place in occupied Ukraine during WW2, but
Equally as popular, but much more successful at major festivals was British “Chariots of Fire”. Based on a true story from 1924 Olympics, it was nominated for 7 Academy awards, winning four.
Ironically, neither film was actually shot at Stade de Colombes, or for that matter in France. The Oval at Wirral, Merseyside, served for “Chariots of Fire”, while “Escape to Victory was filmed in Budapest, at MTK’s Nandor Hidegkuti stadium, which is being completely reconstructed at 2015.
The great renovation of Parc des Princes in 1972 was the turning point for Colombes as well. Last of 42 French cup finals played there was Stade Rennais win over Olympique Lyonnais in 1971. The following February saw last of 87 rugby international games, French Five Nations Cup win over England. Three years later it was time for French national football team to say goodbye to the venue which hosted their 79 matches, including two quarterfinal losses to future Olympic and world champions respectively.
When the attendance record was broken there were no French players on the pitch – 63,638 paying spectators squeezed in to watch two European heavyweights Ajax Amsterdam and Benfica Lisbon play out Champions’ Cup quarterfinal play off in 1969.
After the 1982 renovation Stade olympique Yves-du-Manoir was no more international venue. Additional adjustments saw it turn into a 14.000 capacity rugby stadium, playing host to Racing Metro 92.
Nowadays international football in Paris is played across the Seine, with national team hosting their games at Saint Denis and Paris Saint-Germaine playing at Parc des Princes, while Colombes remains as one of the favorite sites for football hipsters.