Football with fans is back in France, so what was it like to attend a game with social distancing and more in place?
Last Sunday saw the Coupe de France Feminine semi-final being played in front of fans, due to the French government allowing up to 5,000 people into sporting gatherings and other events.
So, I made my way from London to Guingamp in Brittany, via flights to Paris, then Rennes and a short TGV trip to Guingamp in Northern Brittany. The weather was not bad considering it was about 23C while some areas in France got from 35 to 40C. We even got showers towards the end of the game.
The game was played at the Stade du Roudourou, the mens teams’ ground with a 19,060 capacity. The main stand was open but the other three were closed.
There was social distancing inside the ground, although people could sit with their own group of friends. They were supposed to leave one empty seat between them and any other group of people.
Outside the ground, fans were gathering close to one another not respecting social distancing, but all were wearing masks as it was compulsory to be able to attend the game.
It was the same thing for us in the press box with the tables we were allowed to use marked with tape. The press box was actually quite busy with reporters from a lot of local papers, radio and TV with the game shown live on Eurosport and the FFF youtbe channel.
Attendance in France for women’s league games is not great except when they take place at men’s grounds on special occasions, so it had the feeling of a normal game rather than a semi-final. There were a lot of kids below us in the stand that were pro-Lyon, while their “ultra” fans, the OL Angelles, were present and chanting far away from us, so not too loud.
The home fans could be heard from time to time.
We could also hear the coaches giving instructions to the players, especially Frederic Biancalani from Guingamp, who was very vocal throughout throughout the game.
Jean-Luc Vasseur for Lyon was more quiet.
The game itself was like any pre-season game and the teams were not super sharp. Guingamp had been in training for four weeks only and managed just one training game while Lyon came back in mid-June as they target the Champions League final eight in the Basque Country from 21 August.
Lyon were on top for most of the game but not clinical enough while Solene Durand in Guingamp’s goal was superb. The fact that Sarah Bouhaddi is now taking a break from the National Team means the number 1 shirt for France is up for grabs now.
Former Gunner Pauline-Peyraud Magnin will fight with Solene Durand, Meline Gerard, Justine Lerond or Mylene Chavas for that shirt when the qualifiers restart in September.
Lionesses striker, Nikita Parris, scored the winner after a cross from her captain Wendie Renard for the only goal of the game. Lucy Bronze and Alex Greenwood were in good form and Manchester City will get two players that will hit the ground running in the FA WSL in September.
The post game rituals have also changed. There was no mixed-zone, due to social distancing, and you cannot really expect them to resume anytime soon as long as Covid-19 is still a problem as you are basically in the player’s face in a huddle, often with more than 10 reporters.
So, instead, we all gathered in the press conference room, sitting away from each other but close enough to ask our questions to the players and coaches. I guess this will be the new normal for press in all football in the near future until a vaccine is found.
This Sunday is the Coupe de France Feminine final between Lyon and PSG at 8pm. Again, attendance will be limited to 5,000 including organisations, journalists, stewards and so on.
It should be interesting to see how things develop as the league season comes close to a restart in a brand new world with the Covid-19 pandemic. Football, like so many other industries, will need to adapt to survive.
In England, the news is not so good with the Government delaying trial events as it struggles to contain and manage the virus due its incompetence.
The FA WSL season will surely start behind closed door as fans are slated to return no earlier than October.