4 Nice v Monaco 0
Richie from Bottom (the late Rik Mayall) once said: "If you want to have a good time - Forget it."
With an hour to go before kick off these words were on my mind as I sat stranded in my car in a suburban Nice carpark. I was dressed in shorts and t-shirt as the rain continued to pour down as it had for much of the afternoon. The chances of the game going ahead seemed slim. I'd already endured a stressful drive trying to navigate the French motorways. On finally arriving at the ground I'd then been told by police that the car park I had found with great difficulty was closed for security reasons. I was waved off from the entrance and before I knew it had accidentally got back on the motorway adding another half an hour of toil. The day was salvaged though when news came through on twitter that the pitch was in good shape despite the down pour. With 45 minutes to go to kick off, the rain subsided and I was able to walk to the ground without getting completely drenched.
|Not the weather I was expecting|
Regular readers of this blog will know that it's bread and butter is mainly non league games in the South West of England. Being on holiday in the south of France though gave me the opportunity to nourish myself with something more exotic: The Derby de la Cote d'Azur between Nice and nearby principality Monaco.
When looking for a French game to go to this one caught the eye - not only is it a local derby but Nice have had a good couple of years in a new stadium and Monaco are defending French champions and lit up the Champions league last season. Another attraction was the price: 15 euros for a seat directly behind the goal. To put that in to context, I paid roughly the same to watch a pre season friendly at fifth tier outfit Weston Super Mare in July. Weston, like Nice is a seaside town but other similarities don't easily come to mind. 15 euros was a steal.
Until 2013 Nice played at the Stade du Ray which had a capacity of 18,000. They have since moved in to their current home which is much larger at 35,500. The ground has been named the Allianz Riviera in honour of a German insurance company.
As I approached the stadium it looked futuristic with it's glass / perspex shell covering a mountain of more traditional grey concrete below. I did a lap of the ground and bought a beer from a trailer. My French is non existent so when I heard two blokes talking in English I didn't hesitate in imposing myself on them. Like me they were here for the first time. One was a Man U fan whilst his mate was Turkish and a supporter of Bodrum who apparently are rising swiftly up the Turkish lower leagues. As we supped our Kronenbourgs we concurred that their seemed to be more families and women than we were used to seeing at English games. With kick off approaching we parted and headed in to the ground.
As I came in to the main concourse I noticed that unlike in England the concourse had no wall blocking the pitch meaning supporters could still see the pitch whilst queuing for the toilet or getting a drink at the bar. From the inside the stadium was impressive, it had a touch of the Emirates about it with symmetrical rising stands, all three tiered and felt bigger than it's 35,500 capacity. Taking my seat I noticed that a lot of people were openly smoking and drinking pints in the stand. I assume this is permitted but from my experience of France I wouldn't be surprised if not. France seems to have endless restrictive rules and laws that locals get around by simply ignoring them completely.
The ground wasn't quite full which I suppose isn't that surprising considering the new stadium holds double what the Stade du Ray did. There was a good atmosphere though with the Monaco fans crammed in to a corner to my left and standing up and singing throughout. Opposite was the stand holding the Nice Ultra's who were an impressive sight and sound.
I was pleased to see that Balotelli had made the starting line up for Nice. The enigmatic Italian had been injured but evidently didn't want to miss the big game. Falcao was leading the line for the visitors.
Monaco came in to the game having won their first 4 games of the season in defence of their title. They started the match confidently with their attacking wide men especially looking lively. Balotelli seemingly hasn't changed much, the first thing he did before having a touch was give away a foul, kick the ball away and then ignore the ref as he told him off. The lovable rogue didn't get a booking though and a couple of minutes later was fouled himself in the penalty area. Up he stood and converted from the spot to give Nice the lead.
|Balotelli waits to take his penalty in front of the impressive ultras|
Monaco continued to dominate possession and it was very much against the run of play when Nice doubled their lead with a lightning counter attack. Alassanne Plea raced on to a through ball from the left before shooting passed the keeper who could only get a hand to it.
Nice had JM Seri in the defensive midfield role and he was doing a great job of halting Monaco attacks and forcing them to rely more and more on their wide players. They looked very capable and got themselves in to some lovely positions but couldn't find the final ball that Falcao was hoping for.
Seri then played a beautiful ball through to Alassanne Plea and it looked like another goal was coming, Balotelli though either wasn't fit enough or couldn't be bothered to run and join the attack and Plea had no option but to shoot from a tight angle in to the arms of the keeper.
Half time came and I ventured back in to the concourse. Here I was intrigued to see many of the locals sipping on espresso's whilst discussing the opening 45 minutes. Amongst the stylish family outings I then saw a couple of lads embrace with a kiss on both cheeks greeting outside the gents. The impossible suaveness of it all was almost overwhelming.
Monaco started the second half enthusiastically, evidently feeling they had enough quality to turn the game around. Seri however continued to boss the midfield for Nice and as the game progressed the visitors looked less and less of a threat. They conceded a soft third when Nice right back Souquet was allowed to get in a low cross from the corner flag. He should have been shepherded out and worse still, sloppy marking in the box allowed Balotelli an easy tap in. 3-0.
Monaco had given up now and there was no surprise when they conceded a fourth. Ganago on as substitute found himself baring down on the keeper with one man chasing, he cooly rounded the keeper before side footing past the defender who had got back on the line.
4-0 at the final score.
A memorable day out at the Derby de la Cote d'Azur which I can now add to the Bristol and Sheffield derby's. I found a lot to like about French top flight football. The prices, the family day out feel of the game which didn't detract from the atmosphere and singing, the ultras, beers on the terraces and half time espressos. I look forward to finding a new French ground next time I'm here.