Super Cup in Super Rich Monaco

Monaco – 29th August 2007 – The Super Cup Final

The stadium from a Copter's eye viewOne of the must see places in Europe during your lifetime has to be Monte Carlo, or Monaco to give it its true name. Essentially Monte Carlo is the main town within the principality of Monaco, but as the place is so small there isn’t really room for any other habitats and so the names tend to be interchangeable. The fact still remains though that it ranks up there as one of THE places to be seen in. However, whilst other high class spots such as Marbella, Cannes and Portofino are definitely the playground of the rich, Monaco is actually a place of work. Go a few yards behind the harbour, the Hotel du Paris or the Hermitage and you will find normal people living in normal flats doing normal jobs. But that is not the Monaco people come to see. They want their slice of fame, fortune and high class living. And that is why once a year all of the big cheeses in European football decamp to the principality for a few days. Of course there is work on the agenda. There is the annual Gala of European Football where various stars are honoured, the group stage draws for the Champions League (and from 2008 the UEFA Cup) and of course the annual game played between last season’s Champions League winners and UEFA Cup winners.

Nobody can give me a decent reason as to why the game is played in Monaco’s small stadium. It is not as if the clubs who ever win the Champions League are small unpopular teams (OK – maybe Porto in 2005) but in recent seasons AC Milan, Real Madrid and Barcelona have played in this curtain opener, which of course leads to a huge influx of ticketless fans – and there is one thing that Monaco is not able to handle and that is large crowds (witness the chaos leading up to the annual Grand Prix which brings the whole area to a halt for days). It is also not cheap to get to. The Nearest airport is Nice, which on Bank Holiday weekend is very hot, packed and above all very expensive. From Nice you also have to contend with getting to Monaco. Book ahead and Helicopter transfer is a bargain at little over £50 each way and a spectacular journey time of less than 10 minutes.

I was in the Cote d’Azur on a regular remote offices visit. I had spent a couple of very pleasant days in Sophia Antibes, which is the French equivilant of Milton Keynes, but with killer views of the Mediterranean. I had managed to secure Media accreditation not only for the Super Cup game between Champions League winners AC Milan and UEFA Cup winners Sevilla, but also to the Champions League draw on the Friday afternoon in the International Congress Centre. As the trip co-incided with pay day I decided to trat myself with the helicopter option into Monaco, and the train back to Nice afterwards (the commercial helicopter shuttles stop operating at 9pm). I arrived at the check in desk at Nice iaport and was whisked off in a plush Range Rover to the far side of the runway, next to the sea where the choppers were coming in and out. As luck would have it I only had two other passengers, meaning that my views of the short journey were spectacular to say the least. As I was getting ready to board my other passengers arrived in a Limo, with blacked out windows. The wealth that dripped of this middle aged couple was obscene. Their luggage tags were worth more than my whole wardrobe, and the look I got from the female of the pair at my brand new Adidas trainers was as if I had stepped in some dog crap. I can honestly say though that money cannot buy class and whilst she looked every part the millionaires wife with her manicured nails, smart suit and tanned skin I bet she still liked a bit of rough!

As we came into land in Monaco the stadium was visible in between the high rise apartments. From the air it appeared as if Monaco was no different to places like Seoul in Korea or Bratislava in Slovakia in terms of the amount of apartments squeezed in a small space – except they are worth 100 times more! I set off on foot from the Heliport for the short walk to the stadium. Or so I thought….Despite looking very close to the harbour where we had landed, I could not find the stadium for the life of me! There were a few fans milling around, but nobody could actually see where the entrance was. I found a petrol station where the end behind the goal should have been, I found a supermarket where the main stand where I would have put a main stand, and where the pitch shoudl have been there was a park. With few fans around the stadium I couldn’t even follow the crowd to the stadium. I was about to ask one of the petrol pump attendants when I saw Gerard Houllier walking down the road. So I followed him.

Ten minutes later Monsiour Houllier went into a posh looking restaurant close by the station, leaving me looking like a stalker. Fortunately, the walk had taken me up the hill far enough so that I could see the stadium down below and the error of my ways. So I headed back down the hill, through the small gap between the petrol station and the supermarket and there in front of me was the Stade Louis II.

I was expecting great things from the stadium, and I was very disappointed. I only popped in to pick up my accreditation and expected red carpet, canopies and champagne on offer, but instead there was just concrete everywhere. Armed with my latest lanyard I headed off across town to the International Congress Centre for the Champions League draw, and my chance to rub shoulders with Mourinhio, Ferguson and Wenger. Err No. The media went in via press entrance (in this case the back entrance through the kitchen) and were in a separate part of the hall to the main dignitaries. It was good to see some of the reaction to the draw, as well as the surprise on some of the faces, even during the “practice” draw when Man Utd were drawn against Barcelona and Fenerbahce.

So with the formalities over with I decided to go and sample some of the high life and went for a drink in Hotel de Paris – well if it was good enough for Sepp Blatter a few minutes ahead of me I thought it would serve my modest tastes. Mr Blatter and I actually go back a few years, having shared the same hotel for a few nights in Coimbra during Euro2004 in Lisbon. We often shot the breeze around the pool on those non game summer days. actually there is an element of truth here and it is not just fantasy. Mr Blatter and his entourage were indeed staying at the same palatial hotel as me and at the time I was writing a thesis on Corporate Governance for my MBA. I was focusing on the collapse of the Parmalat empire, which had serious ramifications for AC Parma in Serie A and I managed to speak to a member of his staff concerning the issue, and even got a quote from FIFA that gave me a couple of credit marks in the final appraisal. Sepp had obviously forgotten me as whilst he was driven in his Chrysler Gran Voyager from the ICC (all 200 yards),I had to walk. Located opposite the Casino, and on the route of the Grand Prix, the hotel has long been the most opulent in the principality and has featured in a number of films. Interestingly enough, my mother claims that the character Charles Wells from the legendary story (and film) “The Man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo” which was filmed here is part of the Fuller family somewhere down the line.

I passed the first test of the day by at least having a shirt on, and was ushered inside by an immaculate doorman. I toyed with the idea of a Martini (shaken not stirred) but that was a bit naff, so went for the universal accepted drink of a Gin & Tonic (specifically asking for Bombay gin to add a touch of class). It was the best G & T I had ever had, which was probably expected considering who the barman had probably served in the past but the €20 bill was a little bit of a shock, even by Monaco’s standards.

There is really not a lot of “touristy” things to do in Monaco. Casino check, Hotel de Paris check but what everyone wants to do is to drive the Grand Prix route. Fortunately help is on hand. Outside the Casino was a special motorbike taxi that for €20 would take you anywhere in the principality. I asked him to take me to the stadium, but via the GP route and off we set, taking the corners on the infamous down hill stretch with ease and racing through the long tunnel under the ICC. At least it is one more thing to tick off your list as a “done that”.

With a couple of hours to kick off I headed inside the stadium once I had dismounted the bike and took up my seat in the media area, which like the entrance area was quite frankly a dump. The food was bland and there was no free drink on offer. The best part was looking out of the windows and watching with VIP’s and dignitaries were arriving. I saw Michel Platini, Sepp, Eusabio, Enrique Inglesias and Michael Schumacher in the space of 30 minutes obviously very keen on getting inside for their beef stew and flat coke.

Another strange fact about the stadium is it has a tiny media area within the arena. So for such a high profile game when the media descend on the stadium once a year you would thought they would put in extra facilities. Not a chance. I took my cramped seat, like 90% of the rest of the media with not area to write or work, which in some ways is a good thing because it means I can concentrate on the game.

With 30 minutes to go before kick off, the familiar figure of Silvio Burlesconi and his huge minders walked around the pitch, fresh from having a word with the referee (perhaps). He really is a tiny man, and you have to wonder if it is a good idea to surround himself with such big men as it just makes him look tiny (Imagine Ronnie Corbett surrounded by the likes of Hulk Hogan and Lawrence Dallaglio). The game was going to be very emotional for the Spanish. Just two days before their young midfielder Antonio Puerta, who had collapsed in the previous weekend’s game versus Getafe, had died of complications after a heart attack. The game was in doubt for a brief while, but the Spanish wanted to play in his memory.

A very moving minute’s silence was held with the Seville team all wearing shirts with his name and number on the back. The Milan Tifosi also showed their respect by unfurling a huge banner with the name of Puebla on it and walked this around the pitch to the Seville fans. The game was always going to be tense and emotional, but credit must be given to both teams for attacking from the first whistle. Renato gave Seville the lead early in the game with a free kick that the whole Milan team misjudged. The celebrations were a sign of the release of a lot of emotion, and for once the lighting of the flares was seen as a mark of respect not a sign of trouble.

After the break Milan came out a different team, as if they had allowed Seville to win the first half. Filippo Inzaghi, a man who has no concept of the offside rule always plays the percentages in that if he is given offside 10 times then at least once the officials will get it wrong. That was the case here when a blatant decision was missed and he was allowed to equalise.

Marek Jankulvosky put Milan into the lead for the first time, and after this goal the Spanish faded from the game. A last minute penalty from Kaka was saved by the goalkeeper but he managed to head in the rebound. As a final mark of respect the deeply religious star lifted his short to show a picture of Puebla.

Milan took the cup for the second time in four years, and I stayed around for the celebrations and fireworks for a while, but I was conscious that I had to get the last train from Monaco to Nice airport where I was staying. One thing I wasn’t disappointed to see was that Monaco station was as ramshackle as most, with poor signage, no announcements and dodgy people wandering around. The journey back took nearly an hour – slightly longer than my initial helicopter trip – back to the real world after a taste of the life of luxury. I made it back to the hotel after wandering across the railway line, motorway and beach just in time for a beer in the bar. The price – a bargain €10 for a Stella. Not quite Monaco standards but still completely overpriced. Thank God for my modest expense account!

About the Stade Louis II
The Stade Louis II is one of the most surreal venues to watch football in Europe as it sits squarely in the middle of the world’s richest playgrounds, where space is at an absolute premium.

The club first started playing in the principality in 1919, although they had to wait until 1939 for their first stadium to be constructed on land that had been reclaimed from the sea. In the early 1980’s when Prince Rainer III came to power in Monaco, he funded the building of a new stadium a few hundred yards away from the existing ground in Fontvielle, overlooking the cliffs of the Cote d’Azur. The new stadium was built with a cark park, office space, swimming pool and a gymnasium all underground, such was the demand for space in the principality.

The stadium opened in 1985 and was named after Prince Rainier’s grandfather, who actually officially opened the complex. Despite its small capacity it was chosen to host the 1986 Cup Winners Cup Final between Dynamo Kiev and Atlético Madrid. Since 1998 the stadium has also hosted the Annual UEFA Super Cup match, played in late August between the Champions League and the UEFA Cup winners. This years match will be played between AC Milan and Sevilla.

The stadium also hosts a number of top athletics competitions every year, including the IAAF World Athletics Finals. The presence of the athletics track is one of the only annoyances in an otherwise excellent stadium. The views from the stands are very good, with the prime seats being in the upper tier of the north stand – known as the Tribune d’Honneur.

Who plays there?
Association Sportive de Monaco Football Club to give them their full title are quite unique in world football. They are by default a national team, but as Monaco is not affiliated to FIFA they are able to play their games in the national league of France (although technically they could play in any other European league). The club were formed in 1919, although it wasn’t until after the Second World War that they turned professional.

Their formative years were relatively unimpressive, and it wasn’t until the 1960’s that they won their first trophy by beating St Etienne 4-2 to capture the Coupe de France. The following season they won their first Ligue Championship. Two seasons later they won the Championship again, and a few weeks later beat Lyon in the Coupe de France final replay to complete a domestic double.

The club had to wait another fifteen years before they captured a third title, starting an impressive run of form that delivered three Ligue 1 titles and two French Cup victories in the next decade. In 1997 they won the league again and qualified for the Champions League again. In fact the club’s performance in European competition ranks very high with the rest of teams in Europe. They reached the Champions League quarter-finals in 1989 before being eliminated by Galatasaray, and semi-finals in 1994 and 1998, before the famous run to the final in 2004. In the Cup Winners Cup they were losing finalists in 1992, defeated by Werder Bremen, and have also reached the semi-final of the 1997 UEFA Cup before losing 3-2 on aggregate to eventual winners Inter Milan.

However, in recent times the club is best remembered for the Champions League campaign of 2003/04 under the leadership of Didier Deschamps. After winning their group containing PSV Eindhoven, AEK Athens and Deportivo La Coruna (which included an amazing 8-3 home victory), they beat Lokomotiv Moscow on away goals to set up a quarter-final against favourites Real Madrid. After a 4-2 defeat in the Bernabau the omens did not look good for Monaco, especially when Raul scored mid-way through the first half of the 2nd leg to make it 5-2.
However goals by Ludovic Giuly and on-loan Fernando Morientes against his employers saw Monaco go through on away goals. In the semi-final versus Chelsea, Morientes was on fire again and helped the club to a 3-1 victory at the Stade Louis II. Chelsea could not break down a stubborn defence and a 2-2 draw in London was enough to take the club through to the final in Gelsenkirchen against Porto. Unfortunately their run of form deserted them in Germany and the Portuguese won 3-0.

Since then the club have struggled to recapture their form as the star players from that team have left. Strikers Morientes, Nando and Prso all left within 12 months, and Giuly was lured by the big bucks at Barcelona. Although they did reach the last 32 of the UEFA Cup in 2006, defeat to FC Basel signalled the end of their European adventures. In the league last season’s 9th place finish was very disappointing.

How to get there
The stadium is located close to the city centre of Monaco, just south of the Royal Palace. It is a 5 minutes walk from the main railway station, or a 3 minute walk from the Heliport that can fly you direct to Nice airport in less than 10 minutes. Just to the south, past the Heliport you can see how close the stadium is to the Mediterranean Sea.

Getting a ticket
Despite having one of the most affluent supporter bases in the world, crowds don’t exactly flock to the Stade Louis stadium on a regular basis. Even in the height of their 2004 Champions League run, tickets could still be bought on the day of the game for the match versus Chelsea in the semi-final. Last season they averaged just over 11,000 and had a best attendance for the match versus Marseille of 17,500. Therefore, tickets can be purchased on the day of the game on most occasions.

Tickets can be purchased on line at http://www.asm-fc.com, by emailing the ticket office at billeterie@asm-fc.com, by phone on +377 92 053754 or from a number of shops around the region including FNAC in Monaco, Cannes and Nice. Ticket prices start from just €8, with a ticket in the Tribune d’Honneur costing €40, making it one of the cheapest clubs in Europe to watch. A season ticket can cost as little as €70 – no more than a ticket to see most Premiership matches.

Getting around
Monaco is the second smallest country in the world, behind Vatican City and is just 1.95km square in area. Therefore, you can walk across the whole of the country in less than 30 minutes, although it is very hilly. The principality has its own station, on the mainline from Nice. There is a small network of buses that run through the province, with a daily pass costing €3.50.

Local Hotels & Bars
Monaco has not earnt its reputation as the playground for the rich for no reason. Therefore do not expect to find any budget options in terms of a bed for the night here. Even a simple 2 star pension type hotel will cost in excess of €80 per night. The following hotels are based in the city. There isn’t a tourist office in Monaco to help you find a room – your best bet would be to talk to the Tourist Information Centre in Nice on Promenade des Anglais. The following hotels are located in Monaco and are considered middle of the road in terms of cost.

Hotel Miramar – 1 Avenue du President JF Kennedy
Tel: +377 93 30 8648 http://www.hotel-miramar.mc
Hotel Tulip Inn Monaco – 9 Avenue Prince Pierre
Tel: +377 92 05 6310 http://www.terminus.monte-carlo.mc
Hotel de Paris – Place du Casino
Tel: +800 595 0898 http://www.montecarloresort.com

Eating options in Monaco are excellent. There are many fine restaurants as you would expect from such an exclusive place. Prices are not cheap, although you can find good value places in the back streets. The following are highly recommended.

Le Cyrnos – 2 Rue des Roses (Tel: +377 93 50 8260)
Las Brisas – 40 Avenue Princesse Grace (Tel: +377 06 0363)
Costa Rica – 40 Boulevard des Moulins (Tel: +377 93 25 4445)

Monaco has a number of bars that sit proudly on the harbour side, and attract the rich and famous off their boats. The following are some of the most famous in the town, although don’t forget your plastic.

Stars and Bars – 6 Quai Antoine 1er
Zebra Square – Grimaldi Forum, Avenue Princesse Grace
Jimmy’z – Le Sporting Club, Avenue Princesse Grace

Monaco does have a couple of places where you can still get a decent pint of Guinness, and an opportunity to watch some Premiership football, despite the price tags. The biggest bar is undoubtedly McCarthy’s Bar which is in 7 Rue du Portier.

Nearest Airport – Côte d’Azur Airport (NCE)
Telephone: +33 4 898 898 28
Website: http://www.nice.aeroport.fr

Nice airport is the second most important in France, handling over 10million passengers a year. It is located on the Promenade des Anglais around 8km west of the city of Nice. From the UK it is well served with daily flights operated by British Airways from London Gatwick and Heathrow, BMIBaby from Birmingham, Flybe from Exeter and Southampton, Jet2 from Leeds-Bradford and Manchester, and Easyjet from Bristol, Liverpool, London Gatwick, Luton and Stansted as well as Newcastle. All of the airlines apart from Easyjet fly from Terminal 1.

To reach the centre Monaco from Nice you can go the cheap way which is by the hourly bus from Platform 2 which takes 45minutes and costs €26 each way, or the expensive but much more impressive way by helicopter which is operated by Heliair Monaco (http://www.heliairmonaco.com) and costs €89 each way, running directly from the airport.

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