In 2012 and again in 2014 I reported on the Stade Bordeaux-Atlantique construction project. The subject started out as an suitably “inv...

Inside Stade Bordeaux-Atlantique, the next big sporting arena

In 2012 and again in 2014 I reported on the Stade Bordeaux-Atlantique construction project. The subject started out as an suitably “invisible” topic, but has developed into something which will be on full view for the general public from May 23rd onwards.

During an enjoyable case of work commitments and personal interests converging, I was recently given a sneak preview of the nearly-completed stadium, and visited the venue in the company of two delightful members of the “SBA” staff. I thought the outing deserved a blog entry, so here it is!

The first message is believe the hype: the stadium really does look good. The arena has been designed so that spectators are as close to the action as possible, replicating the tried-and-tested format of stadiums in England. Despite its greater capacity, the new stadium feels more compact than its predecessor, Stade Chaban-Delmas. Everything is neutral pristine white, other than a handful of the 42,000 seats which are light shades of grey; so the fexible match-day (or concert-night) colour schemes will be achieved through the use of lighting, temporary banners, flags, perimeter fencing, video screens and the like. Behind the scenes though, the navy blue of principal tenants, les Girondins de Bordeaux, is very much on show.
The view in 2012 when the stadium was still an "invisible" subject, and the view in April 2015.
The visit enabled me to see a number of interesting sights which I doubt I’ll get to see again very often! These include the VIP hospitality area (known as “Le Club des Grands Crus”), corporate boxes and the mixed zone, which is where journalists mingle with players post-match in the hope of obtaining some kind of interesting soundbite in front of panels covered with logos.

Entrance to the VIP reception area, a corporate hospitality box and the mixed zone.
In the stadium itself, a flat area behind the VIP seating will be used to hand out drinks and nibbles. The lucky spectators will even be able to look through a glass panel down into the players’ tunnel just ahead of them running out onto the pitch. The best seats in the house, one of which is already known as “le siège Juppé” (the seat for Bordeaux mayor Alain Juppé), will come equipped with their own video monitors to keep an eye on action replays (or breaking news coverage).

The glass viewing panel above the players' tunnel, and Alain Juppé's seat.
Moving up into the stands, the top tier is incredibly steep (35°, the maximum authorised angle) and the steps leading up to the uppermost seats are, to be honest, a bit scary. I’m not especially faint-hearted, but getting to the top did involve taking a few deep breaths. The view from the top is remarkable though, and happens to be the view that will form the working environment of press, radio and TV commentators.

Looking out from the very top of the stands, and a radio/TV commentator's view.
While I was there, a couple of guys were cutting the grass, using small lawnmowers that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a suburban garden. This is because the grass is still fragile and being handled with extreme care. It was planted in November of last year and has been given plenty of time to develop before the inaugural match. Unusually, the grass has been planted on surface made up of sand, cork and polyethylene fibre, i.e. there is actually no trace of old-school soil. If regularly fertilised, this is apparently the best modern-day solution in order to grow grass which is robust, resistant to regular usage, and needs little direct sunlight.
Big job, small lawnmower.
Is it all good news? Well, the day I was there was not especially windy, but walking around the mid-level concourse (which will become a hub for supporters with multiple shops and fast-food outlets) it felt like all the wind in south-western France had been channelled by the stands into that compact area, as well as through the narrow entrances into the main arena. If that is a recurring issue, it could result in some literally hair-raising situations; the wind felt almost overpowering.

The windy concourse.
On the whole though, the architects and designers appear to have got everything right. The inaugural match between Girondins de Bordeaux and Montpellier will be a proud night for the city of Bordeaux who commissioned the stadium, the Vinci/Fayat consortium (Stade Bordeaux-Atlantique) who delivered it, and for the players and supporters who will regard it as their new home. Roll on May 23rd!

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