The role of the French capital in the history and development of the world game cannot be overestimated. The World Cup, the European Championship and the European Cup were devised and agreed upon in the boardrooms of Paris, which has played host to many finals.
The most memorable have involved France itself, namely the European Championship win of 1984 starring Michel Platini and the World Cup win of 1998 starring Zinedine Zidane. The venue for 1984, the Parc des Princes, and the arena built for 1998, the Stade de France, are international stages worthy of any great occasion.
Each hosted matches for the finals of Euro 2016, overshadowed by issues of security after the terrible events of November 2015. In a wave of city-wide attacks, terrorists attempted to infiltrate an international match at the Stade de France, explosions clearly audible during the first half. Four died, including the three suicide bombers. The two teams, France and Germany, spent the night in the stadium.
The tragedy occurred just as the domestic club game was going through a significant and seriously funded revival. Football in the French capital has changed completely due to the huge financial injection by the Qatar Investment Authority in Paris Saint-Germain, crowned champions four seasons running, then again in 2018, 2019 and 2020. Based at the Parc des Princes, until 2013 PSG had only claimed two titles in over 40 years.
Before Neymar arrived for a frankly bonkers €222 million in 2017 and Kylian Mbappé for €180 million a year later, the signing of Zlatan Ibrahimović and David Beckham during the 2012-13 campaign put PSG onto a level they had never known before. The first post-Qatar title win of 2013 would have been the icing on the cake – until the pre-season signing of Uruguayan forward Edinson Cavani for a then French record €64 million upped the ante again.
Bringing in Laurent Blanc for Carlo Ancelotti as coach, PSG duly beat moneyed Monaco to a second consecutive title in 2014. In 2015, they went one better and won the treble.
2016 saw PSG win the title by mid-March, sweeping everyone aside. There was no more Zlatan in 2016-17, however – the title was lost and European success still proved elusive. The astronomical money paid for Neymar moved the goalposts again, but still failed to bring PSG closer to Europe’s premier prize.
On the city’s southern outskirts, Paris FC are based at the Stade Charléty, 99 boulevard Kellermann, by the T3 tram stop of the same name, close to the Cité Universitaire station on RER line B. Losing on penalties in the 2019 play-offs for Ligue 1 promotion, PFC would have provided the French capital with two clubs in the top tier for the first time since the heady days of the mid 1980s. Back then, the storied Racing Club groundshared the Parc des Princes with PSG and had World Cup stars Pierre Littbarski and Enzo Francescoli in their ranks.
Now way down in the league pyramid, Racing Club, the epitome of the pre-war Parisian game, were founded in 1882. As Racing Colombes 92, the club was taken over by former film producer and ex-president of Angers, Patrick Norbert, and plays in the fifth-tier National 3, Group L, along with the reserve sides of PSG and Paris FC. Site of the national stadium before the Parc des Princes was built, Colombes – now called Stade Olympique Yves-du-Manoir – also staged the 1938 World Cup Final.
These days, Racing play in the 1,00o-capacity Stade Lucien-Choine in the same sports complex – gone are the days when Racing attracted the city’s movers and shakers – but it’s easily accessed via suburban station Gare du Stade, built for the 1924 Olympics. From Gare Saint-Lazare, take Transilien suburban line J (direction Gisors) for four stops and 15min. Colombes is a ten-minute walk down rue Alexis Bouvier, left down boulevard de Valmy and right along boulevard Pierre de Coubertin. Admission is €3 on match days. Opposite the main entrance to the former Colombes, now host to Racing’s popular rugby team, the Café du Stade (rue Paul-Bert 67) displays black-and-white photos of the stadium in its heyday, along with framed Racing shirts. It serves food but only opens until 6pm, daily.
Now challenging to leave the third tier National 1 after finishing bottom of Ligue 2 in 2019, Red Star are another revered club, formed by Jules Rimet, the man behind the World Cup. It’s not only about heritage and five French Cup wins from 1921 to 1942, Red Star have attracted a left-leaning cult following along the lines of Clapton FC and Dulwich Hamlets.
Red Star have also returned to their old home, the Stade Bauer in St-Ouen, just outside the Périphérique ring road north of Paris. Also referred to as the Stade de Paris, it was unveiled in 1909 with a match between Red Star and pioneering London amateurs Old Westminsters. The Stade Bauer staged the French national side several times in the run-up to World War I, then hosted three games for the 1924 Olympics, including Egypt’s shock 3-0 win over Hungary.
From 2013, stadium owners, St-Ouen council, began looking into renovating the venerable ground. Red Star’s promotion to Ligue 2 in 2015 forced the club to play home games in Beauvais, some 75km immediately north of Paris in Picardy.
Once the Stade Bauer was ready, Red Star moved back in 2017 but the debate over its future remained. While it welcomes crowds of around 2,500 for Red Star league games, the stadium is also being proposed as a potential venue for the 2024 Olympics – a century after Hungary’s historic defeat.
Paris has two airports: Charles-de-Gaulle and Orly. CDG is 25km (16 miles) north-east of the city centre. The RER (suburban rail) line B takes 25 minutes to reach the Gare du Nord, the main train station and terminus for Eurostar services from London. RER trains (single €9.10) run every 15 minutes. A taxi to town should cost about €50.
Orly is 13km (8 miles) south of town. The Orlyval shuttle links with Antony on the RER B line (€10.90 including onward journey to town). A taxi to town should cost about €35.
Some budget airlines use Beauvais airport, which is 85km (46 miles) north of Paris, linked by buses (€15.90 online/€17) to Porte Maillot (journey time 1hr 15mins).
City transport in Paris consists of the famous métro, RER lines, buses and trams. A single ticket is €1.80, a carnet of ten €14.10 and a Mobilis day pass €7 for zones 1 and 2 (including the Stade de France).
G7 taxis (+33 1 41 27 66 99) can be booked online and accepts credit cards.
Reservations can be made at Paris Info.
For the Stade de France, the four-star Suite Novotel is directly opposite, on restaurant-lined rue Jules-Rimet. Rooms start at €110 but are quickly booked for big games, rugby too. There is also an ibis on two sides of the stadium: Sud and, one star up, Ouest, plus a bottom-of-the-range Formule 1 option nearby.
For the Parc des Princes, the nearest lodging is the elegant Molitor, halfway between the north end of the stadium and tennis mecca Roland-Garros. A classy swimming pool opened by Johnny Weissmuller in 1929, it fell into disrepair, became an unofficial artists’ studios, then was converted into a 124-room/suite luxury lodging with a high-end restaurant, sauna and, of course, pool.
Cheaper options surround Porte de St-Cloud métro station. On the boulevard of the same name, the three-star Hôtel Murat offers doubles for under €100. The nearby Holiday Inn Paris-Auteuil is a step up in price but not that much pricier, while rooms at the modest Hôtel À l’Orée du Parc (+33 1 47 43 15 07) across avenue de Versailles can be had for around €100, depending if you wish en-suite or not.
Equally convenient for the Parc, across the confusing tangle of roundabout and off-streets, the Radisson Blu Paris-Boulogne is a notch above, but not too much more expensive, with a gym, quality restaurant and terrace, and lounge bar. Practically alongside, the ibis Styles Paris 16 Boulogne, opened in 2017, offers upper-economy lodging.
Handy for the Eurostar terminus and transport to the Stade de France, hotels of varying quality ring the Gare du Nord. In the Accor group are the ibis Styles Gare du Nord TGV and the four-star Mercure Paris Paris Gare du Nord La Fayette while the Timhotel Paris Gare du Nord is the former Kyriad. Squeezed between the chains, the Richmond and the New Hotel are perennial cheapies. Even cheaper, a short walk away right by the Gare de l’Est, the Lorraine (3 rue d’Alsace, +33 1 40 35 81 80) is strictly no-frills but eminently affordable.
Convenient for the bar zone, the Hôtel des Arts off rue de Charonne makes up in décor what it lacks in room space. Handy for the pubs of the 6th arrondissement, the Hôtel de Nesle is that rare combination of charming and affordable.
Paris has a bar on every corner. The main chain in town, the Anglo, sport-centric Frogpubs, has eight branches in Paris, one in Toulouse and one in Bordeaux. The oldest, in place for 25 years, the Frog & Rosbif, is on rue St-Denis. The busiest, in the student quarter of St-Germain on rue Princesse, is the Frog & Princess. Each has 2am closing three nights of the week.
The pub-like Irish-themed Corcoran’s has eight operations around Paris, including Bastille, St Michel and Sacré-Coeur. O’Sullivans, havens for post-work drinks, pub grub and TV sports, has three outlets in prominent spots, one by Grands Boulevards métro.
For something with more character, close to place de Clichy métro, the wood-panelled and flag-ceilinged Harp Bar attracts away supporters and Racing 92 rugby fans on away trips.
The 6th arrondissement, between the Jardin du Luxembourg and the Seine, is dotted with expat-friendly pubs. On rue des Quatre-Vents, The Moose Bar shows Premier League games as well as North American sports, with the whole gamut of poutines, the Québec version of chips-and-gravy, on the menu.
Nearby, three steps from the Frog & Princess on rue Princesse, the Little Temple Bar promises ‘all games live’ while on the other side of Odéon, The Mazet (61-63 rue St-André-des-Arts) shows matches but beware of the enthusiastic bouncers.
For a taste of 1950s’ Paris, Le 10 Bar near Odéon has changed little since Johnny Hallyday’s heyday.
Closer to the river on rue de Nevers, The Highlander has four screens upstairs and two down, with Scottish ales on draught and 80 types of whisky behind the bar.
Across in the 5th, on rue Frédéric Sauton, ‘bar sportif and pub anglais’ The Long Hop screens games, as does The Bombardier on place du Panthéon, with a dozen sister Anglo-friendly operations in Bordeaux, Toulouse and Montpellier. Just over the Seine in the 4th, either side of St-Paul métro, Scottish-run The Pure Malt and the Auld Alliance put football to the fore, backdropped by tartan.
Tourists swarm around St-Michel. There, happy hour at 4pm on rue de la Huchette sees a frenzy of activity, bar staff trying to tempt in punters with promises of cheap (€5!) pints. Venues include Bull’s Brothers, the Georges Café and nearby Shywawa.
Paris is also full of PMU betting bars, some of which have been revamped and turned into contemporary hangouts, some with TVs, some without. For a dyed-in-the-wool PMU bar where regulars focus on the gee-gees and football as day turns to evening, Le Longchamp (9 rue du Faubourg-Montmartre), close to the Grands Boulevards, is a classic example of the genre. It stands diagonally opposite the former offices of L’Équipe and France Football, where the European Cup and European Championship were conceived in smoky editorial offices.
Proud French sportswear brand Le Coq Sportif has eight stores across Paris, the flagship one on the corner of boulevard St-Germain and rue de Seine. Worn by Fontaine in 58, Rocheteau in 76 and Maradona in 86, it produces cool collections and gets hectic on sales day mornings.