Tuesday 21st July
US Boulogne 0 Le Havre 2 ht: 0-2 att: circa 1,000
@ Stade D’Outreau, home of US Outreau
A Family holiday in Stella Plage. Some serious delving on the internet finally found a friendly (match amicale) dans Boulogne, just 30 miles up the coast, on the Tuesday. Delicate negotiations later and having got my priorities straight, me and my eldest were on our way up the D940. With no European Sat Nav and unwilling to pay exhorbitant foreign roaming charges for mobile internet we arrived without a clue where the ground was. Several wound-down-window conversions in passable French later and we arrived at the Stade de la Liberation…to find it empty. A lone runner ran round the athletics track in the middle of an impressive (but empty) stadium.
Crestfallen, we drove back through the town centre. Dylan needed the toilet, so I stopped near a Subway. As I waited, I considered a last ditch effort to find out what was going on, by asking about it in a newsagent. Hazards on, I entered the tabac and said Ou est-ce que le match amicale entre Boulogne et Le Havre. Ce n’est pas a la Stade de la Liberation. Two gents consulted and the owner responded to me. It’s no good speaking passable French if you can’t comprehend the reply. I said Je ne comprends pas. The guy spoke some more words, none of which I got, but did finish with his finger pointing at me and what sounded like ootro. He said it twice.
Dylan and I left the newsagents, discussing what the hell Ootro could mean. Dylan suggested he was saying autre meaning other, as in other ground. Sounded plausible. But it was 5.50 now; kick off, if and where there was one, was at 6pm. As we were driving back out, near Boulogne port I saw a signpost to Outreau – a light bulb went on in my head – not Ootro but Outreau. The guy was telling me where the game was. I didn’t want to get my hopes up, but it would be a hell of a coincidence. Outreau was only a few minutes drive away, but we still had no idea where the ground was. We pulled up at another ground, again looking suspiciously empty; this turned out to be the home of Stade Portellois, team AND ground name for the club from next-door Le Portel (nice ground, by the way).
Much cursing and half-baked French directions later, we finally rolled up at Stade D’Outreau, at 6.25. By an amazing stroke of luck the players were just coming out, 25 minutes later than advertised; we’d missed nothing, against all the odds. We were ecstatic and I was happy for a nil-nil to play out as it was a complete bonus.
Union Sportive Boulogne play in the Championat National, which is step thee. Le Havre AC play in Ligue 2, one step higher in the equivalent of the English Championship. Outreau, which is an area of Boulogne have a step six team called Union Sportive Outreau. Their stadium was big for their level. Their main stand was packed. Aside from their large main stand their was just a slightly elevated path on the other side of the pitch. One end backed onto apartments and the other end was framed by trees and the road.
It was a good evening’s entertainment. Le Havre were the more efficient of the teams, expending less energy but putting away two chances in two first half minutes; first a free kick, spilt by the keeper and then a tap in. Boulogne played well but couldn’t find a finishing touch. About a thousand turned out in the sunshine in this suburb of Boulogne that we were extremely fortunate to find.