Well Red (Valenciennes AFC)

Valenciennes Football Club was first established in 1913 just before resources would become meagre due the outbreak of the First World War. This resulted in a merger three years later which produced the new combined name of Union Sportive Valenciennes Anzin. After a modest start in local amateur football the club turned professional in 1933 and engaged several foreign players including the Englishmen Peter O’Dowd, previously with the likes of Chelsea and Burnley, and George Gibson who had struggled to make the grade with both Sunderland and Leicester City.

The club gained promotion to Ligue 1 for 1935/36 but struggled in the exalted company and were promptly relegated. It was the first of 38 seasons in the top flight enjoyed by “The Athénians”. The intervening years passed relatively unremarkably until 1993 when Valenciennes were caught up in the Marseille bribery scandal which let to OM being stripped of their European Cup win. The man at the centre of the scandal was Marseille chairman Bernard Tapie who was found guilty of bribing Valenciennes players, Jorge Burruchaga, Christophe Robert and Jacques Glassman. The three accepted the bribe to “take it easy” against Marseille as they had the European Cup Final just a few days after a league encounter.

Players left the club in droves out of embarrassment or not wanting to be tarnished with the scandal and subsequently Valenciennes dropped down in successive seasons to the third tier. By 1996 the club were bankrupt and reformed as Valenciennes AFC in the fourth tier Championnat de France Amateur.

The road to recovery started in 2004/05 when the club won the Championnat National and a year later captured the Ligue 2 title as well. After eight season in the top flight Valenciennes were relegated at the end of the 2012/13 campaign and with came a new financial plight. The club were threatened with a return once again to the amateur ranks at level four before a last minute takeover by Jean-Louis Borloo steadied the ship sufficiently to allow the club to continue at level two.

The Stade du Hainaut was opened in July 2011 at a mind boggling cost of €75 million. It holds 25,000 people but at Ligue 2 level the capacity is never tested. Previously the club had played at the adjacent Stade Nungesser, which was demolished in 2012, except for the entrance gates at the Avenue de Reims end of the old venue. The Nungesser had been opened in 1929, named after after Charles Nungesser a locally born fighter pilot, and was pivotal in the clubs ascent into the professional ranks.

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The remains of the entrance to the old Stade Nungesser

The Stade du Hainaut is quite magnificent, a space age chrome wrap is the only deference to an ocular assault in vivid red. With 25,000 seats it is undoubtedly too big for the club while the club languish in the second tier but the latest man tasked with changing that is the respected Bosnian coach Faruk Hadžibegić. He joined the club in January 2016 but could so little to stop the team finishing in mid table.

Today’s match against Stade de Reims is a turgid affair in stultifying heat. The two sides cancel each other out with the contest bogged down in midfield skirmishes and a considerable amount of stoppages due to injuries. Both goalkeepers were rarely tested with anything resembling a goalscoring chance and therefore it was no surprise that at full time neither side had troubled the scoreboard operator.

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Ligue 2 – 13/08/2016

Valenciennes 0 Stade de Reims 0

Att: 6,727 (at Stade du Hainaut)

Admission €17 Programme free

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Valenciennes prog

Valenciennes ticket

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Rimet’s Boys (Red Star FC)

Red Star were formed in 1897 by Ernest Weber and none other than Jules Rimet. The clubs anglicised name is a little bit of a mystery with two theories existing for its origin. The first theory is that it was chosen in recognition of the symbol sported by William “Buffalo Bill” Cody who relentlessly toured his “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World” show throughout western Europe during the 1890’s. The other theory for calling the club Red Star rather than Étoile Rouge is that in the early days the club adopted a English governess known as “Miss Jenny” as a sort of matriarchal figure, and when the name of the new club was debated she suggested calling it after the Red Star Line, a well known shipping company.

The club was hugely successful in the 1920’s with four of its five Coupe de France wins coming during that decade. The club also won Ligue 2 twice before the Second World War.

Initially the nascent club played at Champ de Mars however this proved to be an unsuitable home and the club quickly secured rental of a field on a flat terrace in Meudon adjacent to the River Seine. By 1904 Jules Rimet has become president of the club and three years later the club moved to Grenelle following a merger with Amical Football Club. The club really found it’s home, however, in 1909 when they moved to the working class banlieue of Saint-Ouen.

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Share certificate for the Stade de Paris

The Stade de Paris, as it was known, was inaugurated in October 1909 with a match against Old Westminsters and was to remain the home of Red Star for more than  a century. It was used in the 1924 Olympics and after the Second World War the stadium became known as the Stade Bauer, after the resistance leader Dr. Jean-Claude Bauer who in 1942 was arrested and shot by the authorities. The road outside the stadium was also renamed as a mark of respect of his bravery during the Nazi occupation.

In the immediate post war years the stadium was enlarged and in 1948 an all time record crowd of 23,000 gathered for the visit of Olympique Marseille. In 1971/72 the Stade Bauer also staged the matches of the newly formed Paris St Germain while the Parc des Princes was rebuilt.

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Stade Bauer

By 1999 the stadium was a pale reflection of its former self. Lack of investment followed by a damaging storm left the stadium with a licensed capacity of only 3,000. Aside from a synthetic pitch laid in 2010 little had been done to improve the stadium. So when Red Star somewhat unexpectedly won the Championnat National (third tier) in 2014/15 elevation to Ligue 2 presented a huge problem for the club.

Promotion was a huge surprise for the club who had languished in the sixth tier as recently as 2005, and the Bauer was clearly not going to be permitted to host second tier games. The back up plan was also a shock for the clubs’ small but loyal band of supporters. The club announced that for the 2015/16 season the clubs home matches would be played some 48 miles north of Paris at the Stade Pierre Brisson, home of AS Beauvais Oise. The move to Beauvais saw the club have a dramatic season under the management of Rui Almeida. Red Star challenged for promotion to the top flight all season before fading in the final straight. The Greens eventually finished fifth, ten points behind champions Nancy. Despite a great season on the field at Beauvais the experiment was not attractive to supporters, Red Star only averaged 1,915 supporters through the gates. The board decided that the club needed to be playing in Paris in order to sustain a real tilt at promotion.

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Stade Pierre Brisson – AS Beauvais Oise

The club decided to groundshare at the Stade Jean Bouin, home to Stade Français rugby, a venue itself that had been completely rebuilt during 2010-11 and now holds 20,000 people. From a neutrals perspective the fact that Red Star now play home games right next door to the all conquering behemoth of PSG is highly intriguing let alone amusing!

Given that the opening game against Auxerre attracted 6,193 and tonight’s game against Stade Brestois saw 3,467 through the gates, if the figures are to be believed (and I really doubt the validity of tonight’s figure) then the move back to the capital should be an unqualified success. However, a repeat of last seasons promotion push is looking less likely with Red Star well beaten tonight and failing to even score a goal in their opening three fixtures. Last season’s twin goal threat of the Equatorial Guinean striker Anatole Ngamukol and the Algerian international, Hameur Bouazza (once of Watford) cannot find their shooting boots quickly enough to get the Greens’ season going.

While the Stade Bouin will never be truly home for Red Star, its eye-catching external wrap and sweeping modern roof makes it a suitable venue for someone of the stature of their founding father, Jules Rimet, a man who left his indelible mark on the game in so many ways.

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Ligue 2 – 12/08/2016

Red Star 0

Stade Brestois 3 (Maupay 40, Grougi 44, Labidi 83)

Att: 3,467 (at Stade Jean Bouin)

Admission €10 Programme free

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Red Star prog

Red Star ticket

 

 

The Three Euro Bobbydazzler (Havre AC)

Havre Atheltic Club are France’s oldest recorded football club, tracing their roots back to English residents in the port town forming an athletic and rugby club in 1872. A quixotic melange of football and rugby rules were employed before association rules were fully adopted in 1894, a year after Mulhouse albeit that side were in Germany in those days.

So when an old but only moderately successful club suddenly built a new all singing, all dancing 25,000 seater stadium for 80 million euros it would be rude not to check it out. We arrive in Le Havre conscious that the new arena is opposite the old stomping ground of HAC, the Stade Jules Deschaseaux. It’s still an impressive sight itself, all pre-cast concrete and wavy roofs cleverly set into a steep hill. It is also fortressed like a maximum security prison. Pleas to gain admittance into the crumbling relic fall on deaf ears and we have to content ourselves to the match ahead.

The Le Havre commune have a decreed a condition that the club must follow “commune week” once a year and charge the populace a minimal fee for entry for one game. Luckily for us it means we gain admittance to this stunning edifice for the princely investment of three euros. A wafer thin but gratis programme is secured and then we find our seats. To be fair the stunningly cheap ticket offer has not meant a full house, far from it. We estimate between 3,000 and 4,000 occupy an ocean of empty blue seats. It comes as as a shock to us all that after the game websites declare 9,112 are in attendance. Internally the ground is aesthetically pleasing, the single wave on the main stand confirming its superiority over the uniform stands around the rest of the stadium.

In the concourses prior to kick off the blue casing we long to see illuminated remains dim but casts an interesting hue around the internal skeleton of the stadium. The concourses are further enhanced with brightly coloured tiled walls.

The game itself between two mid table sides flashes by, Yohann Riviere gives the home side the lead before halftime with a crisp shot, only for Vincent Gragnic to restore parity moments after the restart. Though both sides have ample opportunities to create a winning goal, profligate finishing, however, sees the spoils shared. The home players are unjustly booed off the pitch at the final whistle.

On departure the full majesty of the Stade Oceane becomes clear. The encircling blue exterior is alight with electricity and emits an ethereal electric blue glow, like a remake of Close Encounters of the Third Kind has chosen the harbour front at Le Havre as a film set. Full marks for the audaciousness of this new build and its undoubted beauty but one wonders what they will have to do to fill the stadium on a regular basis.

Havre Athletic Club (1)1 (Riviere 42) Nimes Olympique (0) 1 (Gragnic 48)

Attendance: 9,112

HAC:

1. Zacharre Boucher; 19. Benjamin Genton(c); 13. Cyriaque Louvion; 3. Benjamin Mendy; 10. Walid Mesloub; 5. Zargo Toure; 8. Distel Zola; 17. Alexandre Bonnet; 11. Yohann Riviere; 20. Geoffrey Malfleury; 22. Riyad Mahrez.

Subs: 9. Riad Zouri (for 22, 62 mins); 6. Julien Francois (for 10, 70 mins); 14. Bengali Koita (for 20, 70 mins); 16. Johnny Placide; 21. Maxime Le Marchand.

Nimes:

16. Cyrille Merville; 33. Salaheddine Sbai; 22. Aurelien Bauche; 18. Benoit Poulain (c); 29. Vincent Gragnac; 11. Mouritala Ogunbiyi; 13. Komlan Amewou; 27. Pierre Bouby; 19. Moussa Sidibe; 12. Seydou Kone; 10. Nicolas Benezet.

Subs: 7. Matthieu Robail (for 11, 85 mins); 9. Romain Thibault (12, 90 mins); 1. Haidar Al-Shaibani; 4. Sebastien Piocelle; 21. Yassine Haddou.

Yellow cards: Riviere (HAC) and Sbai (Nimes)

Gallery