Even though we visit in mid-January, it’s warm enough to watch two teams from Sophia Antipolis play off against each other on one of the outdoor pitches at lunchtime. Under the winter sun, they swiftly canvas the 26-metre by 16-metre terrain before a player strikes gold with the deciding goal: 19-18. Five-a-side is quicker than a standard football game – between 45 and 60 minutes on average – and the score board often runs much higher. The grass underfoot is artificial, but features fine fibres and a softness that mimics natural conditions. Soccer Park Antibes has three indoor pitches and two outside the main building to offer an all-year, all-weather service.
The centre opened in 2010 as the first designated Soccer Park. In 2016, two five-a-side companies (Le Five and Soccer Park) merged to become Groupe Le Five, whose network now counts 40 different sites across the country. Antibes is the dominant facility time to see where they’re improving. We’re open from 10.30am till midnight on weekdays and 10am till 10pm at the weekends, and are working to build up activity during les heures creuses (off peak hours). Play during the day and at the weekend is€7 a player, and €9 after 6pm on weekdays. Whatever the time of day, players should reserve their game on our website.”
The corporate crowd is one Loïc and his team are keen to attract. A group is just finishing up a post-game pizza in the sports bar before heading back up the hill to the business park.
One method Soccer Park Antibes is using is a ‘lunchtime league’. The corporate service invites businessmen and women to come along for two hours of play during their lunch break, working off any stresses that might have built up during the day. The centre already runs four leagues, which take place over three to four months and currently include 37 local teams. In total, they represent around 20% of the Soccer Park’s turnover so are an important strategy for the facility.
But Soccer Park Antibes isn’t just for amateur five-a-siders; it’s attracted several well-known professional footballers too. Irish defender Richard Dunne, who has made more than 430 Premier League appearances (including +250 for Manchester City), is a regular at the facility along with a group of Anglophone expats. Former French players like Louis Saha – who spent much of his professional career in the British Premier League at Fulham FC, Manchester United and Everton – Lassana Diarra (Chelsea, Arsenal and Real Madrid), Cannes-native and international player Johan Micoud, and Sylvain Distin, who played sixteen consecutive seasons in the Premier League between 2001 and 2016, have all tried out the Antibes pitches as well as Portuguese Ricardo Carvalho, who most recently played for AS Monaco before moving to Shanghai SIPG last year.
Big names, big brands. The centre also maintains an exclusive partnership with Adidas, who supplies the 68 youngsters in the Adidas Five Academie5 programme with uniform and the ProShop with footwear from its specialist indoor range: “Lighter and more stable for indoor terrain than traditional boots,” says Loïc.
Soccer Park Antibes also works closely with Nissan, a major sponsor of the UEFA Champions League. The director and his team recently organised a large-scale teambuilding event at the Antibes facility for the vehicle manufacturer, which included a Bubble Foot experience. Available from€200 for the hour and for eight to 15 players, Bubble Foot follows much of the same, simple rules as five-a-side, only players and their arms are encased in an inflated bubble. It’s light-hearted and a little rough-and-tumble, but Loïc says it’s been a hit with visitors of all ages and genders; particularly the female members of Nissan’s équipe.”
*Originally published in the #177 edition of Riviera Insider