LIBERATING FOOTBALL TRAVEL

Montpellier HSC

Millionaire binman bows out but son drives MHSC on

A fan’s guide – the club from early doors to today

First-time champions in 2012, Montpellier HSC lost their controversial president in 2017, Louis ‘Loulou’ Nicollin dying on his 74th birthday. The corpulent football obsessive collapsed at a Michelin-star restaurant, surrounded by friends.

Since then, with his son Laurent in charge, Montpellier have thrived, just missing out on Europe in 2018 and 2019.

The first Montpellier club, formed in 1919, took part in the inaugural French league of 1932-33, shortly after winning the French Cup. The following decades were marked by bankruptcy, lower-league football, mergers, name changes – and bitter rivalry with Nîmes Olympique, ‘Les Crocodiles’.

Montpellier HSC shop/Peterjon Cresswell

It was another merger, in 1974, which brought in entrepreneur Louis Nicollin, an outspoken character who’d made his fortune in rubbish clearance. Chairman from then on, Nicollin initially presided over an eight-year rise straight from the amateur division to the top flight. Relegated immediately, Nicollin’s club gained promotion in 1987 thanks to prolific goalscoring by Cameroon World Cup hero Roger Milla.

Always working in close contact with long-term city mayor Georges Frêche, Nicollin gained financial support from the regional and city councils when he renamed the club Montpellier HSC in 1989. Red-and-white shirts were switched to the city’s trademark blue-and-orange. Big names such as Carlos Valderrama and coach Aimé Jacquet were brought in and MHSC won the French Cup in 1990, one goal coming from Laurent Blanc. 

Occasional playing in Europe, occasionally bouncing between the top two divisions, Montpellier was rife with boardroom intrigue. Nicollin could always be relied upon to provide a colourful quote.

Montpellier HSC shop/Peterjon Cresswell

Montpellier were promoted in style in 2009, hiring René Girard as coach for the return to Ligue 1. The former Nîmes star brought in attacking midfielder Younès Belhanda from the youth side and signed effective strike Olivier Giroud from Tours to create a side that stayed at the top of the league throughout 2011-12.

Giroud was then sold to Arsenal for just under £13 million while Nicollin kept in the news with improbable transfer stories. Considering the club’s modest background, though, with hindsight the title-winning achievement of 2012 seems all the more impressive.

With his son Laurent taking over the club following Nicollin’s sudden death before the 2017-18 campaign, MHSC ran out in black for the first game against Caen. With a new-found determination, and the return of former stalwart defender Michel Der Zakarian as coach, Montpellier twice came reasonably close to European contention.

Stadium Guide

The field of dreams – and the stands around it

Built in 1972, the Stade de la Mosson was surprise choice for a 1998 World Cup venue, its previous capacity of 16,000 doubled to host six games. Set on the north-western outskirts of town, it replaced the unpopular Stade Richter in the east of town, where the club’s current headquarters of Grammont now stand.

The Stade de la Mosson comprises two, two-tiered ends, the Heidelberg and the Mosson, and multi-tiered seating in the Tribune d’Honneur and Tribune Présidentielle along each sideline, with the corners also filled in and used for seating.

There are separately named seating areas in each of these stands: Aigoual, Cevennes and Gevaudan in the uncovered Tribune d’Honneur; Roussillon, Loges Étang de l’Or and Haut Languedoc in the Présidentielle; Petite Camargue and Étang de Thau, home of the MHSC ultras, in the Heidelberg; and Minervois and Corbières for away fans in the Mosson.

getting there

Going to the stadium – tips and timings

Stade de la Mosson has its own stop on blue tramway line 1, one before the terminus of Mosson. If you’re coming from the station St-Roch, it might be quicker to take shorter green line 3, also stopping at Mosson, and make an easy change one stop up from there. Allow at least 30 minutes from the centre. 

More trams are laid on before and after matches, and ticket-holders can ride for free from or as far as the train station, St-Roch.

From Stade de la Mosson tramway stop, walk through a small hub of low-rent housing, halal butchers and fast-food outlets, and the stadium is ahead of you to the right on avenue de Heidelberg. Allow seven minutes.

getting in

Buying tickets – when, where, how and how much

The club has an online booking service, where you can buy tickets to be picked up from the ‘Reservation Internet’ window at the ticket office on avenue Heidelberg, to the right of the stadium as you walk from the tramway stop. Tickets are also sold in person at the club shop (see below What to buy) at the Odysseum centre, end of blue tramline 1, and at the Boutique Hurley sports shop (Tue-Sat 10am-7pm), 11 rue de la Loge, near Comédie tramway in town.

The most expensive seats are in the Haut Languedoc Centrale and Laterale in the Tribune Présidentielle. The Cevennes along the sidelines is affordable and handy for the neutral, while away fans are placed in a sector of the Corbières in the Mosson end. A decent seat over the halfway line in the Cevennes should cost €25. Tickets indicated stand (tribune), gate (accès), row (rang) and seat (place).

what to buy

Shirts, kits, merchandise and gifts

The main club shop (Mon-Sat 10am-7pm) is the other side of town at the Odysseum commercial centre by the tramway terminus of the same name on blue line 1. From the tramway stop, walk left past the place d’Ithaque, with the Aquarium Mare Nostrum ahead of you.

Look out for branded flip-flops and beach towels, handy for the seaside at nearby Palavas.

A match-day mobile outlet operates at the stadium on avenue de Heidelberg.

Where to Drink

Pre-match beers for fans and casual visitors

There’s no bar in the vicinity, the basic but evergreen Brasserie de la Mosson at 72 avenue de Louisville replaced by pizza joint Mozzarel’Art. It also sells tacos and burgers, but no booze.

Most gather at the makeshift outdoor beer-and-snack stalls set up on avenue de Heidelberg, behind the Tribune d’Honneur, with a real party atmosphere in good weather. You’ll see the crowd as you walk past the residential blocks and shops to the stadium from the tram stop.