The French love soccer. And with France's top professional league, "Ligue 1," just getting under way for the 2017-18 season, it was perfect timing to make "the beautiful game" part of our stay in Alsace.
The Racing Club de Strasbourg Alsace
In Alsace, there's really only one choice for top level soccer action -- The Racing Club de Strasbourg Alsace (or "RC Strasbourg"). Founded in the early 1900's, at a time when Germany controlled the region, the club adopted its name following Alsace's post-WWI reversion to French rule as a nod to the then-popular "Racing Club de France" team playing near Paris.
Since that time, however, RC Strasbourg's history has been decidedly up and down. The 1979 season marked its high point -- the year of the team's only Ligue 1 championship -- but as recently as 2011 RC Strasbourg spent the season playing in France's 5th tier league comprised mostly of unpaid amateur clubs. (In European national soccer leagues, teams are "relegated" up and down. By comparison, for American baseball it would be like two of last season's bottom teams, the Minnesota Twins and Cincinnati Reds, having to spend this season playing Triple A ball, while the top two Triple A teams take their place in the Major Leagues)
Under new ownership, and having battled its way through France's lower leagues, the 2017-18 season marks RC Strasbourg's return to Ligue 1 play. (To underscore the difference between the amateur league RC Strasbourg played in during 2011 and Ligue 1, this past off season, Paris Saint Germain, a perennially Ligue 1 powerhouse, paid a $260 Million fee to secure the rights to one player.) So we just happened to be in Alsace at an exciting time for a sports fan!
Attending RC Strasbourg's Home Opener vs. LOSC Lille
Having decided to get tickets to RC Strasbourg's season home opener, I quickly learned that buying tickets without speaking French isn't easy! After spending hours studying the "billeterie" website, using a combination of Google Translate and intuition, I figured out that (a) the only tickets left were located in "populaire est" and (b) "populaire est" was some sort of general admission seating arrangement. For €24, I jumped on the tickets, and last Sunday we drove our little red Fiat an hour north from Colmar to Strasbourg.
Upon reaching the 29,000 seat Stadium Meinau, and despite wandering for a half hour and repeatedly asking for directions in French, we absolutely could not find "populaire est." Nicole enjoys nothing more than looking like an out of place tourist, so it was a perfect start! :)
We finally found an English speaking attendant who led us to our section. "Populaire est" turned out to be three rows of tiered, standing room space behind one of the goals. Before sending us in, our helpful guide solemnly made Nicole zip her purse closed and strap it cross-body for protection, and warned me to guard my wallet and phone. To be sure, Nicole also enjoys nothing more than standing for sporting events while guarding our valuables against pickpockets. So, again, I had planned this perfectly!
As it turned out, "populaire est" was perfectly fine. Rather than pickpockets, we watched the game surrounded by friendly French families cheering for the home team. And being only a few rows from the action, it was a perfect vantage point for us soccer newbies to see the speed of the game played at a very high level. As an added bonus, RC Strasbourg got its first win of the season, beating Lille 3-0. Having always wanted to see a European soccer match, I couldn't have been happier with the overall experience!