Nearly eighty nine years ago, on the 21st May 1925, the full England team played an end of season friendly match against their French counterparts at the Olympic Stadium, in Colombes, Paris before 35,000 spectators. In the England team that afternoon were Clapton players W.I. (Bill) Bryant and W.V.T. (Viv) Gibbins.
The visitors triumphed by three goals to two with Gibbins scoring the opening goal after 24 minutes. Unfortunately, on the half hour, he had to withdraw from the game with a ‘wrenched knee’.
Just after half time England went further ahead when the French centre half, Jules Dewaquez, diverted a shot by England’s Arthur Dorrell, into his own net. Three minutes later, Dorrell, the Aston Villa winger, scored in his own right with a ‘fine high drive’.
However, the French team did not give up, for which they were to be praised in the Parisian newspapers the following morning. Their Captain James Nicolas of Red Star FC pegged one back before England keeper, Freddie Fox, was penalised for ‘handling’. From the restart Jean Boyer of Olympique de Marseille scored again for the hosts and set up a nervous finish for the visitors. Matters were to get even more tense when Fox had to retire having been injured following a ‘charge from Dewaquez’, and he was replaced in goal by inside right, Frank Roberts of Manchester City, for the remainder of the match.
In those days there were no substitutes and the English team clung onto to victory with just nine men.
The local press reaction was largely that the English team were superior throughout yet the French XI were never discouraged and suffered an “honourable defeat”.
The Stade Olympique de Colombes, as it was known then, is situated on the north west outskirts of Paris and had a capacity of 45,000. It had hosted a numbers of sports during the 1924 Paris Olympic Games including athletics, fencing, football and rugby. It continued to host French cup finals, was home to both the french Football and Rugby teams and, in 1938, was the venue for the World Cup final between Italy and Hungary. “Colombes”, as it is known locally, was the largest stadium in France until the Parc des Princes was renovated in the 1970s.
Today, now named “Stade Departmentale Yves-du Manoir” the stadium is still owned and maintained by the local authority (are you listening Newham?) and it is home to Racing 92 rugby club (92 denotes the French department/county and not year of formation). On my unannounced visit to the ground, and after explaining my connection to the ground along with the reason for my interest, I was directed to park my car in spaces reserved for ‘officials’.
The Stadium, now with a capacity of 14,000, is dominated by two large covered stands with sky blue seats, the colours of Racing 92. A tartan running track envelopes the pitch. But the pitch, wow. The pitch was an absolute green carpet, beautifully maintained (still there Newham?) and its quite incredible to think that it could be in such condition when subjected to a regular 80 minutes of egg chasing.
Both ends of the pitch were open but behind one goal I found three tents which were staffed by supporters of Racing 92. These tents were a makeshift ticket office, a bar/beer tent and a shop selling club merchandise. The supporters were very welcoming and again interested in the ‘Clapton link’ to their stadium. Incidentally, Racing 92 are no slouches, they currently include Kiwi international Dan Carter in their squad.
Very little remains of the old stadium. In the video below, at 26 seconds, one can make out an old concrete terrace, behind a floodlight pylon and a blue and white fence, which is probably the only part of the stadium that survives from the visit of Gibbins and Bryant in 1925.
Standing in the middle of the pitch, it was marvellous to think that two lads from our team in Forest Gate had played here, in what was, one of the most famous football grounds in the world of those days. For me, it ticked another box in my Clapton journey and reinforces my desire to see our famous old club recapture its true status and integrity.
Vive les Ciels, vive les Tons et vive l’entente cordiale !