Centre of the Champagne region, Reims is home to the most venerable club in the post-war French game. Stade de Reims, twice European Cup finalists in its inaugural days, are back in top flight after going out of business in 1992.
Their beginnings are linked to the champagne industry. Founded as the sporting club of Pommery & Greno, whose cellars lay close to Pommery (today Champagne) Park, the football team originally played in gold shirts and green shorts, as if depicting a bottle of bubbly.
The park had been created by company owner, the Marquis Melchior de Polignac, for workers to enjoy the light and fresh air after a day underground. The marquess was also a keen sports enthusiast, and had the likes of Jean Bouin, later war hero and honoured with a statue at Marseille’s Stade Vélodrome, come and instruct physical education.
De Polignac later became a member of the International Olympic Committee and helped establish the Winter Olympics.
After World War I, still backed by Pommery & Greno and still officially amateur, the football team was able to attract talented players from elsewhere. Along with local rivals Sporting Club rémois, the Société Sportive du Parc Pommery began to dominate the regional game in north-east France.
With the Parc Pommery filling out for matches and professionalism on the horizon, a decision was made to combine the two clubs and form Stade de Reims in 1931. The club badge featured a bottle of champagne on top of a football. Their first match was against another local outfit, FC Reims.
Reims was prominent enough in footballing terms to stage one match for the 1938 World Cup, later finalists Hungary’s 6-0 thumping of the Dutch East Indies (today’s Indonesia) in front of 9,000 people.
After ex-SC rémois rugby player Henri Germain, was made sporting director of Stade de Reims, he steered the new club to phenomenal post-war success. Changing the kit to red with white sleeves, Germain hired Albert Batteux as coach, and the players of the great Reims side of the 1950s such as Raymond Kopa, Just Fontaine, Robert Jonquet and Jean Vincent.
Germain’s fate rose and fell with Reims. Title-winners six times, European Cup finalists twice, the great Stade de Reims were relegated as Germain faded out of the picture in the early 1960s. He reappeared with Reims’ promotion in 1970 and disappeared for good when they lost the cup final of 1977.
The lowest point came in 1991-92 when Reims went into liquidation. Re-emerging as Stade de Reims Champagne, the new club struggled back up the lower reaches of the league, occasionally gaining an administrative leg-up for old time’s sake.
In 1999, the renamed Stade de Reims were operating on a sounder footing, and regained the top flight in 2012 after an absence of 33 years.
The nearest major airports to Reims are Paris Charles de Gaulle and Orly, both about 150km (93 miles) away. From Paris Gare de l’Est, regular trains for Reims Gare Centre (€15-€30) take 50min. The station is just north of town, the stadium 1.5km south, across the canal.
Reims public transport consists of two tramlines and an extensive bus network. Single tickets (€1.60) are valid for 1hr, €2.80 for two people, €4.10 for 24hr.
For a taxi, call +33 3 26 47 05 05.
There are several options near the stadium. Alongside it, CIS de Champagne is a complex of 84 rooms, usually hired out for seminars and events.
The more conventional Mercure Reims Centre Cathedrale faces the stadium across the canal. Alongside, the Campanile Reims Centre-Cathedrale is a similar mid-range chain, as is the Ibis Styles Reims Centre Cathédrale by the bridge.
Right in town, the Victoria (1 rue Buirette, +33 3 26 47 21 79) has seen better days but is undeniably cheap, while alongside, the Hôtel de la Paix is a four-star Best Western with a pool, gym and sauna.
Opposite the station, the Continental had a complete overhaul in 2018, its gym, restaurant and 50 swish rooms an impressive addition to the city’s hotel stock.
You’ll find terrace bars and cafés along pleasant, pedestrianised place Drouet d’Erlon, including Mr Fogg’s, the former Sherlock, where TV football is screened. Also on the square, the Glue Pot at No.49 operates along similar lines, offering a Brit-friendly menu along with TV sport. Equally food-oriented l’édito shows big-screen action amid framed SdR shirts.
In similar vein, le georges (32 place du Forum) regularly broadcasts live sport, with a pleasant terrace to boot.
Overlooking Reims Cathedral, Le Parvis (2 rue Rockefeller) is one of several spots for sampling champagne. The other side of the church, Gueuleton, the former Cardinale (1 place Martyrs de la Résistance), specialises in wine.