Ligue 1: 6ème journée

Posted by mae on Thursday Sep 26, 2013 Under Football, General

Allianz Riviera, Nice.
22 September 2013.

A two-hour bus ride from Valbonne to Nice would never hinder me from attending this historic inauguration of Allianz Riviera, the new home to the city’s footballing passion. The stretch from Cannes to the city centre was nevertheless rather tedious because, apparently, standing in a bus for an hour is not something I enjoy. Thanks to the commendable public transit networks of which France and the Western Europe in general boast, I had no problem in reaching the stadium before the kickoff.

Just like before every home match, the 35000-strong crowd rose to their feet to sing the unofficial anthem of Nice, Nissa la bella, this time accompanied by a choir.

Then the teams came out… and the game kicked off.

During the half-time break, the matchday organising committee presented Nice as one of the host cities  for the UEFA EURO 2016

This was a random pleasant sight. Former Liverpool player Anthony Le Tallec, who I remembered arriving at Anfield over ten years ago alongside his cousin Florent Sinama-Pongolle, was being subbed in in the second half. Both forwards had been touted as the future of Liverpool, but luck was not on their side as injuries and inconsistency eventually hindered them from progressing at the big English club.

Anyway, result-wise it was a superb evening. Nice brought Allianz Riviera to life in the best possible fashion, brushing aside Valenciennes with an emphatic 4-0 victory.

After the final whistle, popular French singer Patrick Bruel walked onto the field with a guitar in his hand, and started to belt out his first of what should have been five songs planned for the occasion. Unfortunately for him and his friend, the crowd did not hide their displeasure at seeing a Parisien who, guess what, supported rivals PSG taking the centre stage at their brand new home. Patrick Bruel tried to appease the situation by inviting the Niçois to share their favourite local tunes or songs, but it was obviously a lost cause. His voice, great it might be, was drowned by the massive boos and whistles throughout the embarassing ordeal, which lasted for just about eight minutes. Or two songs.

I, personally, was not okay with it.  Did that make me less of a supporter of the team? Duh.

My first visit to Allianz Riviera was an awesome one, and as a season ticket holder, I would not miss this magnificent stadium.

Of course there was no better way to inaugurate the new stadium than to do it with a crushing victory over the opponents, in this case an unlucky, out-of-form Valenciennes FC side.

Matchday 2: OGC Nice 4-0 Valenciennes, 5th.

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Ligue 1: 4ème journée

Posted by mae on Monday Sep 2, 2013 Under Football, General

Stade du Ray, Nice.
1 September 2013.

La Der du Ray

An emotional day for the Niçois. For 85 years the legendary Stade du Ray had been at the heart of the society, witnessing the ups and downs of the popular local football team OGC Nice. Today, inevitably, would be the last hurrah before we turn our attention to the modern Allianz Riviera. The people’s appreciation of this beloved stadium was demonstrated by thousands of Niçois who gathered at Place Masséna, forming a sea of Red and Black, and then, in the searing heat of summer, marched northward to the Ray almost 6km away. Today’s game against Montpellier HSC would conclude the long, emotional story of the Ray.

After being knocked out of the Europa League a few days prior, les Aiglons could not afford to disappoint the crowd again, especially not on this historic occasion. And they didn’t. In fact, they were impressive. Twice on top, Nice somehow failed to capitalise on the shortcomings of the visiting team, and having dominated for large parts of the game, ending it with two goals apiece was rather disappointing. Even more so when the first goal was due to a costly defensive error. Having said that, they did play well, and as a supporter it was something satisfying enough. The most important event of the day however only commenced once the final whistle was blown. The celebration of the closing of Stade du Ray. The club legends, including those who played in the 60’s, returned for a final goodbye.

As the Sun set, the fans were finally given the right to enter the sacred pitch. And thus, thousands made their way from the stand onto the green field, marking the end of a chapter of OGC Nice.

I’m neither French nor Niçois.
Heck, I can’t even speak French fluently, let alone Niçois.
I barely know this old, beloved stadium and the football club attached to it, yet I’ve come to really cherish both of them, and consequently the city of Nice.
For over twelve years I’ve supported Manchester United, watching them kicking a ball on a screen thousands of miles away from Old Trafford.
Now I’ve found a new team, much less popular than the Red Devils, but undoubtedly closer to home.
And for that reason OGC Nice mean more to me than its English counterpart.

“Amongst all unimportant things, football is by far the most important.”

Matchday 4: OGC Nice 2-2 Montpellier HSC, 12th.

More pictures of La der du Ray HERE

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C’est fini!

Posted by mae on Friday Aug 30, 2013 Under Football, General

Nice, France.
29 August 2013.

Today was a big day. For us, a group of 24 Malaysian students enrolling at IUTs in Nice and Sophia Antipolis, it was our last day at Alliance Française after four fantastic months meeting various kinds of people and making new friends, be it temporary or not, and of course, attending intensive French classes 20 hours a week. A small fête had been planned, just a simple occasion to say a few goodbyes and “pour se dire au revoir”. It would, quite inevitably, be a sentimental day.

For me, though, there was something else also of great importance. It was the return leg of UEFA Europa League Play-off, with local team OGC Nice hosting their Cyprian opponents Apollon Limassol at Stade du Ray and needing to overturn a two-goal deficit. This was their first involvement in any European competition in 37 years, and for this reason a mighty disillusionment was awaiting every Niçois if they failed to qualify for the group stage. This tie was even more special  as we approached La Der’ du Ray, literally the last of Ray, to celebrate the last match ever to be played at the stadium this weekend as the curtain was being drawn on the people’s favourite home ground. After this, all home games will be played at the modern, newly-built and environmentally-friendly Allianz Riviera.

Alliance Française

Four months at this small but quality French school will be something that I’ll never forget. A very treasured memory.

Along the way I met people of different nationalities whom I’m glad to have met. While the overseas trips that I had done with my family were a great eye-opener, it was nothing compared to living in a foreign country and making new friends of diverse origins. First of all there was this interesting French professor, Sten Roi, who taught us for two months. Unimaginably hilarious, he was also a great teacher and a really cool guy. And he showed no interest whatsoever in football, yet as a true Niçois he did acknowledge and maybe even appreciate my support for OGC Nice.

First group photo with Sten (in black) taken in June.

For the other couple of months, we, the Malaysian students, were regrouped together (into two groups) and enrolled in a preparation class in the afternoon for TCF, an obligatory examination required to enter into local universities. This time we got a twenty-something ( 😆 ) Florence as our professor, and it didn’t take us long to like her. If you’re nice, friendly, and sometimes funny, how could people hate you right? I still remember how genuinely surprised (in a pleasing way) I was when simply by noticing my fingers she managed to figure out that I played guitar, the first ever person to have done that since I started playing it two years ago. Too bad she is not even remotely interested in OGC Nice (and football in general) despite the fact that she too, like Sten, is a Niçoise. 😆  Not forgetting the wonderful workforce of AF, including the always cheerful and merry Garance. I extend to you guys a huge thanks. From the bottom of my heart. Really.

So to mark this special day (29 August), I had decided to recite a few simple guitar pieces to the whole class, essentially thanks to the personal request made by Florence, although jokingly, on our first day with her. Due to time constraint, however, I could only play three pieces: Francis Cabrel’s Je l’aime a mourir, Ludovico Einaudi‘s I Giorni and the Beatles’ Yesterday, all fingerstyle. I’d say it was a disaster as errors were aplenty, but the others thought otherwise. I don’t know. Comme vous voulez. Before parting, obviously, we took the imperative group photos as souvenirs.

OGC Nice

First and foremost: see THIS, s’il vous plait.

Before bidding the final goodbye to AF, I chatted with one of the staff members, Jean-Philippe, who was really impressed by my enthusiasm for les Rouge et Noir. It felt weird, he told me, seeing a Malaysian who was very passionate about such a relatively obscure, local football club. None of the foreigners he had ever met at AF were like me. He was visibly proud, being a true Niçois (also French! :lol:) and all.

Next stop: Stade du Ray.

The night in Cyprus a week ago was catastrophic, and in two hours it might be the only thing that would matter. The damage had been done. Without any doubt now was the perfect time to fix it.

As I found my seat, my attention was drawn to a small group of fans unveiling a new banner that read: Vous nous avez fait rêver. Maintenant on veut voyager. “You made us dream. Now we want to travel.”. I could almost hear them saying “We can still do this.” through that banner. Optimism was key. While the stadium was being filled by the supporters, the visiting fans in blue were enjoying themselves. Loud and estatic, the Cypriots had every right to be. They were initially the underdogs. That day, however, the odds were more balanced.

At 20h00, the game kicked off. Four minutes later, Super Dario found the net, sending the home crowd into ruptures. It was a moment of sheer delirium. For once we really thought we were going to make it, and overturning a two-goal deficit seemed simple enough. Les Aiglons pushed and pushed for the all-important second goal to equalise the score in aggregate and at least force the contest into extra-time. Apollon did well in time-wasting, but we dominated the match and were by far the better side.

But everything was eventually in vain, as it proved to be the only goal of the game. As the game dragged into additional time, the spirit and fervor manifested by the supporters started to dissipate. It was time to face the bitter reality. We were just not good enough. The damage, as I said, had been done a week earlier for it was in Nicosia where everything went wrong. This short European journey left nothing more than une valise pleine de regrets. Full of regrets and broken dreams. For most of the Niçois, they waited 37 years for essentially nothing. For me, it was my first and only European night, and it was frustrating.

On my way back, near Place Masséna situated more than 3km away from the stadium, a bus braked and stopped while turning in front of me. Inside it was seated an old man by the window. He saw me wearing the team’s home kit, and he shook his head, giving me an utterly grief-stricken look that I found extremely depressing. That did hit me hard. Imagine how long he had waited for such an opportunity to play in a prestigious European competition to come by, and how ultimately cruel the end was.

We have to move on. Montpellier are visiting us this Sunday. Make it a memorable day for le Ray.

UEFA Europa League Play-off 2nd Leg.
OGC Nice 1-0 Apollon Limassol (Aggregate: 1-2), Nice eliminated from the competition.

More pics HERE.

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Ligue 1: 3ème journée

Posted by mae on Monday Aug 26, 2013 Under Football, General

Stade François Coty, Ajaccio.
25 August 2013.

The team went to the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte knowing that they had to up their game after the terrible midweek defeat to Apollon Limassol in the Europa League play-off in Cyprus. The opponents AC Ajaccio had been outstanding the previous week, holding defending champions PSG to a 1-1 draw largely thanks to the heroics of their goalkeeper Ochoa. With Nice supporters barred from attending the match due to “safety reasons”, les Aiglons were left to fight on their own for the three precious points.

Six minutes into the game, new signing Christian Brüls headed the ball into the back of the net but the goal was swiftly cancelled as the linesman flagged for an offside offence apparently by striker Cvitanich. Debatable, perhaps. The offside rule has always been annoyingly complicated. Overall, Nice dominated the game yet they were unable find the elusive winning goal. The match thus ended goalless. Decent performance, could have been better, but an invaluable point won nonetheless. What’s important now is to overturn the deficit in the return leg against Limassol at Stade du Ray.

Matchday 3: AC Ajaccio 0-0 OGC Nice, 11th.

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Ligue 1: 2ème journée

Posted by mae on Sunday Aug 18, 2013 Under Football, General

Stade du Ray, Nice.
17 August 2013.

Following some unpleasant incidents during last season’s closing home fixture against Lyon, OGC Nice had been ordered to play their first home game of the new season against Stade Rennais behind closed doors. Reeling from the disastrous visit to Lyon, les Aiglons had to make do and bounce back from last week’s defeat, regardless of the absence of the supporters.

The atmosphere was expectedly lifeless in the stadium. It was even below par with that of a friendly match, yet the players did brilliantly and secured a 2-1 victory with fans’ favourite Dario Cvitanich finding the net on his return from suspension. Although the winning goal, scored by Jérémy Pied, was the result of a costly defensive error from Rennes, the team’s performance in itself is worthy enough of maximum points that day. Convincing and commanding, there was no better way to prepare for the UEFA Europa League play-off against Apollon Limassol in Cyprus this coming Thursday.

A solid win, and three points in the bag.

Matchday 2: OGC Nice 2-1 Stade Rennais, 12th.

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Ligue 1: 1ère journée

Posted by mae on Sunday Aug 11, 2013 Under Football, General

Stade de Gerland, Lyon.
10 August 2013.

After a surprisingly unimpressive pre-season performance with a draw and four losses (scoring a goal and conceding ten) recorded, there were doubts of OGC Nice‘s success in the new season, whether they would be good enough to emulate last season’s achievement or to even surpass it. Being faithful supporters of the club ( 😆 ), we were adamant not to let ourselves get carried away by such useless negative thoughts. We kept repeating the old mantra “it’s just a friendly” after each loss, hoping that the poor form would not continue into the season.

Les Aiglons travelled to Stade de Gerland for the opening game of the new footballing year to face last season’s second runners-up Olympique Lyonnais who finished three points above them.

The result? A trashing 4-0 defeat. The first half however wasn’t that bad – after Lyon’s Lacazette opened the score Nice seemed to have woken up and began to play decent football, creating chances and pushing Lyon’s defence deeper and deeper. But then came the half-time whistle, and after the restart everything went wrong. “After half-time we had been inexistant,” admitted team captain Didier Digard.

So that’s it. At rock bottom. Not the best start to the season.

Matchday 1: Olympique Lyonnais 4-0 OGC Nice, 20th.


Ligue 1 – Résumé de la 1ère journée – 2013/2014 by Ligue1-Officiel

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Friendly in Monaco

Posted by mae on Sunday Aug 4, 2013 Under Football, General

Stade Louis II, Monaco.
18h30, 3 August 2013.

A typical weekend started as usual: I slept very late the night before and only woke up just after noon on Saturday when the summer heat was too much for my comfort.

I was playing Animal Crossing: New Leaf on my 3DS when I remembered that the football team Tottenham Hotspur had earlier arrived in Monaco and they were going to face AS Monaco later that evening in a friendly match at Stade Louis II. Considering the fact that Monaco is merely 20km away from Nice, I decided to get up and get ready for a short trip to the small principality, but not before convincing a friend to tag along. Everything was impromptu.

We bought the away tickets at the stadium which put us together with the few Britons present that day.

We were however twenty minutes late, and by the time we reached the stadium it was already 1-0 to Monaco.

The majority of the big names were on the field: Lloris, Parker, Lennon, Dembele, Sigurdsson and Walker for Spurs; Carvalho, Abidal, Toulalan, Moutinho, Rodriguez, and the  €60 million marquee signing Falcao for Les rouges et blancs.

There were no more goals until two minutes into the second half when a glancing header from Ocampos made it into the back of the net, leaving Spurs’ Niçois goalkeeper Hugo Lloris helpless. Little did he know he was eventually going to have a bad time in the goal. A couple of minutes later, Falcao scored.

Spurs were in disarray, but despite that they did manage to pull one back through Harry Kane to make it 3-1. Their inferiority in the game nevertheless proved to be significant enough as AS Monaco went on to win 5-2.

While the new rich kids demonstrated to the world what they are capable of doing, Spurs were visibly in shambles, especially their fragile defence.

So… that’s it. Ain’t football fun?

Kona jangan jeles!

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La vie en France: July 2013

Posted by mae on Thursday Aug 1, 2013 Under Football, General, Movies

The system has been thoroughly broken: no more guarantee of regular (weekly or biweekly) updates. Laziness and idleness is getting the better of me.

Moved out of the family foster on the first of July, now staying at a private student residence to the west of the city centre. Still having “intensive” French classes and currently undergoing preparation for TCF later this month.

Not much to say.

Indulged myself in the story of Vincent van Gogh, a post-Impressionist painter I first heard of years ago thanks to Don McLean’s Vincent. Besides that, I bought and watched five french DVD’s in an effort to improve my French, but I doubt it’s effectiveness. While we’re at it, give Quand je serai petit and Et maintenant on va ou? a peek.

Tried to get back into reading. I started Voltaire‘s Traité sur la tolérance some time ago, however so far progress has been frustratingly minute.

Had a petite soirée with les Aixois and les Toulousains at the beach for breaking fast.

And… A friendly match between OGC Nice and SS Lazio was going to take place at Stade du Ray on the last day of the month. I bought a ticket for myself and wanted to ask a few friends to come along, but I soon found out that my fellow Malaysians had no enthusiasm whatsoever for the local football team. Unless if it were against PSG, or Real Madrid, or Barcelona, or any other top European team, I’d say that pigs would have to fly first before they would be even remotely interested in this small, obscure French club.

So I went alone. Technically speaking though I was with 5076 other spectators. The atmosphere was not bad, considering that it was after all a friendly match. Despite that, a (minor) scuffle broke out in the first half. The game ended 1-0 to the Italians, and guess who netted the only goal of the evening? The guy that I remember most for the hattrick he scored for Germany against Saudi Arabia in the 2002 FIFA World Cup: Miroslav Klose. At 35 years of age, he was still quick and sharp. “Il a toujours des bonnes jambes“, someone remarked.

This potato photo shows the supporters group Populaire Sud (the ultras) in the Populaire Sud Stand.

It’s August already. Time really flies.

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Issa Nissa!

Posted by mae on Tuesday May 28, 2013 Under Football, General

Football. 

When I first realised that my specialisation in engineering studies (networking and telecommunication) would land me in the French Riviera, despite it’s reputation as a beautiful coastal paradise and the fact that I was extremely delighted to have been given the opportunity to live abroad, deep down inside my heart sank a little. Just a little, though. I would have preferred the colder climate farther north. Everyone knows I love rain more than the sun.

Bref. Fast forward a bit, I arrived in Nice on my 20th birthday after a hard slog from Malaysia. The moment I stepped out of the airport, I began to appreciate the largest city in the French Riviera more and more. Maybe the capital of the Riviera wasn’t a bad idea after all.
And it was just over a month ago.

But you know what? It was something else that really made me realise how much I actually loved the city, and how grateful I was to be here.

It was football.

The very first time I felt genuinely proud to be a Niçois was during the last home game of the season for the local football team OGC Nice (which I had been following a few months prior despite not that seriously). In the sold-out stadium, I sensed something alien to me: the feeling of pride of our city and the joy of togetherness and brotherhood among us, les Niçois. It felt really great. It was fantastic.

Last night was the climax of the race for European football in French Ligue 1, the final round of the season. With PSG, Marseille and Lyon occupying the top three and looking good value for it, the last spot was left to Nice, ASSE and Lille to fight for. The two key matches were Ajaccio vs Nice and Lille vs ASSE. From the start until the end for about two hours, as I was listening to the live radio commentary on the matches, my body trembled and trembled. I was totally tensed and anxious. It was about football. It was about passion. But most importantly, it was about Nice.

We eventually won against Ajaccio, leapfrogging both Lille and ASSE and securing the fourth place (as the match in Lille ended one-all), our greatest ever achievement in 37 years. The ticket into the UEFA Europa League was ours.

With emotions running high, there were times when even I incredibly almost shed a tear or two. Listening to the commentators and fans rejoicing the victory and the great accomplishment, it was hard not to feel good too. It was hard not to be proud of the city. It was hard not to love Nice. Couple that with the unofficial anthem of the city Nissa la Bella, it was virtually impossible not to be moved.

Football, it seemed, had brought me closer to the city of Nice more than anything else. Unbelievable.

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La vie en France: Week 4

Posted by mae on Monday May 20, 2013 Under Football, General

Les dernières émotions au Ray.
C’est maintenant, ou jamais.

18 May 2013

The match was scheduled to take place on the 18th May. We bought the ticket on 27th April right after our very first French class at Alliance Française. Obviously we were excited enough to act so quickly.

It was not just any match. One of the most popular french football clubs, Olympique Lyonnais were to visit local team OGC Nice, who, rather extraordinarily, were hot on their heels in the quest for UEFA Champions League (UCL) football next season. Of course, the UCL is nothing new for Lyon – being in the same group of French elites together with the likes of Paris Saint-Germain and Olympique de Marseille, they are expected to represent France every year in the highly coveted European club football competition.

For Nice, on the other hand, it’s an entirely different story. The club were almost relegated three times in recent history; in 2007, 2010 and 2011, where they finished 16th, 15th and 17th (out of 20 teams) respectively. Their last silverware was the Coupe de France (the FA Cup) in 1997. The fact that they were vying with Lyon, Saint-Etienne and Lille OSC this season for the last Champions League spot was too good to be true for some of the fans. C’est maintenant, they say, ou jamais. It’s now or never.

It was a must-win match. Like, duh.

And guess what? With Nice granted a new stadium for home games starting from next season, this would also be their last ever match at Stade du RayLes dernières émotions au Ray. A very special occasion indeed.

Due to adverse weather conditions (heavy rain), however, the match was postponed until the next day.

19 May 2013

Honestly I think I was the most excited for this whole OGC Nice thingy. You have no idea how many times I had visited the club’s official store situated not far from our French school, just to look at and admire those beautiful, maginificent official club merchandise. Without even the slightest of doubts, I was thrilled to put OGC Nice alongside Manchester United as my favourite football clubs.

So, thanks to my extreme eagerness and enthusiasm, I decided to take a look at the stadium in the morning, before the kick off later in the evening. A 40-minute walk was all that was needed. I strolled around the small stadium, with the intimidating, heavy presence of gendarmeries and police (on duty for the match) made me quite uncomfortable. Then I went home.

That evening, I set off to Stade du Ray with Hafiz (fellow PF10) and Laura (a lovely, newly-found American friend).

Stade Du Ray, Nice.
15h05 – 17h35.

Gendarmeries verifying tickets at various points of entry around the stadium.

The inauguration of OGC Nice’s new emblem – a real bonus for us!

The superb atmosphere at Stade du Ray.

The match ended 1-1. Nice’s Cvitanich slotted home from the spot just after the restart, but a fantastic freekick from Clement Gernier gave Lyon the all-important equaliser. In between the goals, Lyon’s Gonalons was show the red card.

It was not the best of results, but considering how exceptionally well Nice had been performing all-year round, the fans had nothing to complain and les Aiglons accordingly gave them a lap of honour, bidding goodbye to the Ray in the process.

The unofficial anthem of Nice – Nissa la Bella:

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