PSG & the Parc des Princes – a struggle between tradition and ambition

Le Parc Des Princes“, literally meaning the Prince’s Park, is the famous name of the home of Paris Saint Germain since the advent of the French club in 1970. The stadium was named as such because, from the 18th century onwards, the location was used as a place to relax, hunt and stroll, a favourite haunt of kings and royal princes.

Therefore, no other name was more suitable than the Parc des Princes. The years have passed, with the iconic stadium seeing many different “Princes” throughout its history. From Raí, an emblematic Brazilian player who played a significant role in the 1990s, winning PSG’s only European trophy to date, the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup, to Pauleta, a Portuguese striker who was the club’s all-time top scorer for several years, and more recently Kylian Mbappé. The Parc cheered many of the great Princes as they donned the Parisian tunic. Yet, due to disagreements between the Parisian board and the Paris City Council, “les Rouges et Bleu” may no longer be playing in the legendary stadium in the years to come. PSG recently formalised their desire to build a new stadium, according to Le Parisien. The shared history between PSG and the Parc looks to be coming to an end.

Historically, the Parc des Princes has only at times been solely a place for football. The first Parc was inaugurated on 18 July 1897 and had a capacity of 15,000 spectators and seats 3,200. It was surrounded by a cycle track. The Parisian press hailed the inauguration as France’s best cycling meeting ever organised. Between 1903 and 1967, the Tour de France completed its route on the Parc’s track. The track has also been used for motorbike races previously.

On 14 November 1897, rugby also debuted at the Parc with an inaugural game between Union athlétique du 1er arrondissement (Athletic Union of the first district) against Swindon Rugby Football Club. The first football game in the French stadium was only on 26 December in front of 500 spectators for the match opposing Standard AC against le Club Français. Many USFSA (Union des Sociétés Françaises de Sport Athlétiques) finals have also been played in Parc alongside the final of the Sheriff Dewar Cup in 1905 (the Dewar Cup was a French knockout football competition played annually between 1899 and 1916).

The French football team also played its first official match on French soil at the Parc on 12 February 1905, beating Switzerland 1-0. Another French team played its first official game in that stadium as the France national Rugby Union team played against the All Blacks on 1 January 1906.

The Parc des Princes – a multi-sport stadium

With the growing success of multiple sports, the Park’s capacity was increased to 10,000 seats just before the First World War. After the war, the Olympic Games were held in Paris in 1924, and the Parc was even enlarged to 20,000 seats. However, The City of Paris’ inability to provide a stadium fit enough to host the Olympics could have cost them the event. During those Olympics, The Parc was not the City’s main stadium as the City refused to finance the widening works. 

Thanks to funding from the Racing Club de France, the Stade Yves-du-Manoir was chosen as the main stadium for the Olympic Games. The Parc des Princes then became obsolete, with the Stade Yves-du-Manoir able to host 60,000 spectators. For half a century, Stade Yves-du-Manoir, which now has a 9,5000 capacity, was a strong competitor to the Parc des Princes for the best stadium in Paris.

Following the 1924 Games, the City of Paris, which owned the stadium, signed a 40-year concession contract with the sports daily L’Auto, now known as L’Équipe.

American Football was also played at the Parc des Princes as American soldiers left behind in France after the First World War introduced the sport in Paris. The stadium hosted the first match to be played in France; 25,000 spectators attended a match on 10 December 1938.

PSG not the only inhabitants

On 23 April 1932, the renovated Parc was inaugurated after nine months of work. With 40,000 places and 26,000 seats and geographically better located than the Stade Yves-du-Manoir, the Parc des Princes has claimed its crown as the most famous stadium in Paris. For the years that followed until 1972, a number of Parisian teams played in the Parc regularly, such as Racing Club de France (now playing in National 2 at the Stade Yves-du-Manoir), Stade Français, and Red Star FC (now in National at Stade Bauer). Other sports were also being played in the Parc, such as rugby, boxing, ice hockey, figure skating and cycling.

What makes the Parc des Princes so instantly recognisable is its atypical architecture, designed by Roger Taillibert at the end of his third renovation in 1972. The stadium design was avant-garde, and the fact that the Périphérique – the ring road that surrounds Paris – ran under part of the stadium’s south-east stands meant that underground pillars had to be built around the road tunnel to provide strong enough support to bear the weight of the 77,000 m3 of concrete reinforced with 7,000 tonnes of steel. The Parc was also the first stadium in Europe equipped with lighting integrated into the roof. Its architecture, although brutal, is immediately recognisable, and it has a significant asset: the incomparable acoustics that have made it legendary.

Taillibert revealed his pride in the Parc des Princes, a stadium that has yet to age: “This stadium is now part of the City’s heritage like Notre Dame […] Everyone tells me it’s magical. It’s known around the world,” he said.

It was in 1974 that PSG finally became a resident of the stadium. In November 2009, the City of Paris called for tenders to renovate the stadium. The clear favourite was the investment fund Colony Capital, owner of Paris Saint-Germain. When France was awarded the organisation of Euro 2016, a project was studied to lower the pitch by six metres and add extra rows of seats to increase the total capacity to 50,100 and to equip the stadium with a roof covering initially for Euro 2016, followed by an extension to 60,000 seats afterwards. The first glimpses were presented to the press in early 2010. Finally, in 2012, a consortium of Vinci and PSG was awarded an administrative long-term lease (BEA) to manage the stadium for the next sixty years.

Talk of renovation

On 7 June 2012, a press release from PSG and the City of Paris indicated that the renovation of the Parc des Princes would be carried out in two stages; contrary to expectations, the stadium’s capacity would only be increased after Euro 2016. The major renovation of the stadium would be entrusted to the international architectural firm Atelier Tom Sheehan & Partners in autumn 2012.

In anticipation of renovations due to begin in 2014, Paris SG general manager Jean-Claude Blanc decided to personalise the Parc des Princes on 19 February 2012 with a red crown featuring the most famous slogans: “Ici c’est Paris” and “Rêvons plus grand“, as well as a complete list of trophies won by the club since 1970.

At the end of the 2013-2014 season, the Parc des Princes began the first phase of work in preparation for Euro 2016. The changing rooms were completely renovated and now accommodate players, referees and staff in an area of over 600 m2. The media areas, communications networks, refreshment areas and sanitary facilities have also been modernised50. The stadium continued moving upmarket, creating new restaurants and top-of-the-range dressing rooms that now accommodate 3,500 people. The pit around the pitch was filled in, and the gates in the stands were removed.

Finally, the pitch was wholly replanted by Northern Irish gardener Jonathan Calderwood. During the 2015-2016 season, the blue seats in the upper stand and the red seats in the lower stand dating back to the 1998 World Cup were replaced by new, more comfortable seats in anticipation of Euro 2016, but also because of the new management’s desire to modernise and expand the Parc. Hence, the Borelli and Paris stands gained two rows. The new seats form a pattern resembling the Eiffel Tower, the club’s emblem, in the Paris stand and, in the corners, surrounded by red and white stripes.

On 10 May 2016, after a two-year renovation project costing Paris Saint-Germain €75 million, General Manager Jean-Claude Blanc presented the stadium to the press. The stadium now has 48,583 new seats, including 4,860 VIP places. The surface area of the changing rooms has been increased to 630 m2, and the reception area has been increased to 570 m2 after the works. Therefore, the stadium was ready to host UEFA Euro 2016 matches.

During the same period, PSG’s hierarchy also announced that the stadium would be expanded in the coming years to bring its capacity up to 60,000. However, given the scale of the work required, both inside and outside the stadium and in the surrounding area, it would be impossible to complete the project in time for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris. In 2013, Roger Taillibert thought it would be difficult to increase capacity to 60,000 but envisaged 55,000. This recommendation was confirmed in 2023 by studies carried out by PSG.

Parc des Princes inconsistent with PSG’s ‘dream bigger’ plans

PSG recently finished building its new training centre in Poissy, costing between 150 and 300 million euros. Proof that QSI wants to make a long-term commitment to the French club. However, as part of this “dream bigger” approach, the club still wants a 60,000-capacity stadium to compete with other European superclubs. The problem arose when QSI intended to spend less on a stadium that does not fully belong to them and, therefore, they wanted to buy the stadium – something the Paris council refuses.

On 6 February, the city council said: “The Parc des Princes belongs to the heritage of the City of Paris.” This is to emphasise that, like the Eiffel Tower or the Arc de Triomphe, the Parc is a crucial monument in Paris. Two days later, PSG president Nasser Al Khelifi shocked PSG fans by announcing that he wanted PSG to leave the Parc. This statement has enraged the Collectif Ultras Paris, a prominent fan group, who have made it clear in several press releases that they are against this decision.

The coming months will be crucial in determining where PSG’s home matches will be played. Historically, the Parc des Princes has a considerable place in the history of French sport. While QSI are once again “dreaming big“, they are now faced with the challenge of leaving the stadium where PSG have always played since the club was founded or trying to find a compromise with the City of Paris, who are seemingly unmovable in their stance. 

GFFN | Jerry Takou

 

 

 

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