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.


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

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.


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.


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



Going to Tourcoing (US Tourcoing)

Union Sport Tourcoing was formed in May 1898 by the head of the Lycée Gambetta, Albert Fromentin, and Charles Van de Veegaete, an international standard referee who would become Tourcoing’s greatest benefactor. The English professor at the school, Monsieur Beltete advocated the formation of a football team, which came into being in 1902.

Upon the death of Charles Van de Veegaete in 1958 the club elected to change the name of their ground from Stade Albert Fromentin to its current name, the Stade Van de Veegaete. The club have also erected a large bust of their long serving patron at the ground. The club have played at their current ground in Rue de Gand since their early years although the current grandstand is believed to have built in the 1970’s.

The club really hit the ground running and within eight years had won the Championship of France, a tournament run by the Union of French Societies of Athletic Sports. Initially it had been a competition for Parisien clubs but had been extended out to the provinces. Amazingly for a final, they trounced Stade Helvétique de Marseille by seven goals to two, clinching the trophy in fine style at the Parc des Princes. They also reached the semi finals of the competition on three occasions. They also reached the semi-final of the Coupe de France in 1921. Tourcoing vanquished SC Choisy le Roi, Stade Français, AS Française and Racing Union Calais before bowing out to the powerful Olympique Paris 3-2 in extra time at Lille. Tourcoing’s last Coupe de France run of any note came in 1937/38 when they reached the last 32 losing to then Second Division FCO Charleville by a single goal.

Even though Tourcoing remained strictly amateur several of the players were selected for the national team. Eventually the club turned professional in 1933, becoming founder members of Ligue 2. However, their first venture into the paid ranks would last just five years. After World War II the club had a brief alliance with Roubaix, forming CO Roubaix-Tourcoing, before demerging in 1957 to become UST once again. The club spent many seasons in the amateur ranks before merging with a top amateur club AS-Jean Macé Tourcoing in 1990. UST incorporated AS’ yellow colours with their own black and white. Around this time the now named Tourcoing FC became a magnet for youth development and due to some clever mother club stipulations, Tourcoing have financially benefited from transfer fees for their two most famous alumni, Didier Drogba and Yohan Cabaye, who both spent their formative years with Tourcoing. In 2010 the club reverted to the US Tourcoing name and also went back to black and white shirts.

This season has been Tourcoing’s most successful for many years and today’s match is something of a celebration as they have won the top division of the regional Nord Pas de Calais competition with some ease. This allows promotion to the fifth tier CFA2 which, although still amateur, it is a national rather than regional competition. Today is the last game of a highly successful campaign and before the party really gets going the club say a classy farewell to 35 year old centre back Cédric Leman who is named captain for the day. He lasts 40 minutes before he leaves the field to a genuinely respectful ovation. In warm conditions the hosts struggle with the heat and their decision to dye their hair white in celebration of the title win proves foolhardy as the dye ruins their genuinely unusual, and dare I say audaciously designed, pink kit. A goal looks increasingly unlikely with both keepers more than up to the efforts being sent their way in what is a pretty dour encounter. The home side make a change and introduce Adnane Nsangou to the fray. Moments later the lanky striker recently signed from Wasquehal bursts through a labouring Dunkerque defence. He totally miscues his shot which catches the keeper by surprise. Kashala can only parry the mishit shot to his left and Nsangou steers the stray ball into an unguarded net. It’s a sloppy goal that somehow sums up this most typical end of season encounter. The welcoming locals, noisy and enthusiastic throughout, doubtless celebrated their rare success well into the night.

Tourcoing is proudly French and was the scene of an especially fierce battle in 1794 between the French and the defeated British and Austrian troops. Given the town’s proximity to Belgium, which lies less than two miles away, Flemish influence is particularly evident in the bar as all beers available were Belgian.

As for the title of this piece disappointingly Tourcoing is not pronounced Tor-co-ing but in fact it’s Tor-kwang, but given it is so late in the season I am exerting some poetic licence for once.

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Sunday June 1st 2014 – Nord Pas de Calais Ligue Division Honneur

US Tourcoing (0) 1 (Nsangou 68)

USL Dunkerque II (0) 0

Attendance: 357 (at Stade Van de Veegaete)


1. Samuel Reschid, 2. Sudney Badohoun, 3. Nicolas Renard, 4. Nadir Touhami, 5. Cédric Leman (c), 6. Oceana Periera, 7. Kevin Alves, 8. Julien Merreillie, 9. Yassine Delbergue, 10. Kevin Gallo, 11. Laurent Petitpierre.

Subs: 12. David Duquesnay (for 5,41 mins), 13. Adnane Nsangou (for 7,66 mins), 14. Serkan Ozsaglam.

Dunkerque II:

1. Tshianke Kashala, 2. Martin Pollet, 3. Gregory Terriere, 4. Hugo Demary, 5. Florian Haelewyck, 6. Sebastien Henaux, 7. Abdelwahab Baalla, 8. Mike Kinsley Guillaume, 9. Joveta Mateus Nhanga, 10. Gabriel Oudjani, 11. Yan Kabon.

Subs: 12. Julien Popieul (for 10,65 mins), 13. Antoine Alvarez (for 7,76 mins), 14. Valentin Venza (for 2,65 mins).


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Tourcoing ticket



Allez Calais – Remembering an Epic Cup Run

While it is scarce indeed for any club outside the Premier League to reach the F.A.Cup final, it is not unknown for modest clubs to have epic runs in the French equivalent competition, the Coupe de France. Back in 1999-2000, amateur side Calais Racing Union enjoyed one of the highest profile journeys to the final in the modern era. They became the first fully amateur side in history to reach the final in the competition long history.

Formed in 1902, the “sang et ors” (Blood and Golds) were in the fourth tier CFA 1 in 1999 and were managed by a Spaniard, Ladislas Lozano. He had fled Spain with his family to escape the horrors of the Franco regime and though a talented player himself his nationality prevented any great club or international career in his adopted homeland. At the time of the great cup run, he was a foreman for the council looking after the areas sporting facilities. At the time the football club played at the tiny Stade Julien Denis, home for 80 years at the time and now used by their reserves. The club did not move to their magnificent Stade de L’Epopee until 2008.

Calais in 2000 was a depressed place, 17% unemployment and nearly half the town’s population of 75,000 people earning under £5,000 a year. The cup run bought the often bypassed port town to national attention, France was gripped by “Calaismania”.

They has defeated the likes of Saint-Nicolas-les-Arras (3-1), Marly-les-Valenciennes (2-1) and Bethune (1-0) before being paired with Second Division side Lille. The match against their huge near neighbours surprisingly took place as the tiny Julien Denis and the home side pulled off the shock defeating Lille 7-6 on penalties after a 1-1 draw. The draw fell kindly for the northerners in the next round, a home tie against fifth tier Langnon-Castets. The home side ran out comfortable 3-0 victors. This put the amateurs in the eighth-finals and a pairing against Second Division Cannes. The home tie was moved to Bolougne’s Stade de la Liberation and resulted in another penalty shoot out success, 4-1 after a 1-1 stalemate. Into the quarters Calais were paired at home to Division 1 giants RC Strasbourg, surely the end of the road for the minnows. Staged at Lens, incredibly the dock boys won 2-1 against their mighty visitors. Lens was again the venue for the semi-final and 40,000 Calaisens decended on the Stade Bollaert for the game against Ligue 1 heavyweights Girondins Bordeaux, a nation held its breath surely lightning wouldn’t strike twice. Boasting internationals Christophe Dugarry, Johan Micoud, Lillian Laslandes, Sylvan Legwinski and Ulrich Rame surely it was a game too far. It wasn’t. Goalless at full time the minnows won 3-1 in extra time with goals from Jandau, Millien and Lestavel.

The semi-final triumph sent the town into pandemonium, the players enjoyed a £10,000 a man winning bonus from a local benefactor and partied hard in a middle of the night reception at the town hall. Streets were packed at 3am for the victory parade and a 4.30am the town hall hosted a duck and foie gras dinner for the triumphant club. The celebration took its toll on Lozano, collapsing to the ground and spending three days in hospital. When he came round the then President of France, Jacques Chirac, rang him to send best wishes and say “Can we meet in the Stade de France”.

The ticket allocation for the final didn’t sit well with the club or commune. Their allocation of 19,300 was less than half their supporter numbers for the semi final. The club appealed to other clubs to buy their allocations, but were quoted outrageous prices. Those lucky enough to secure a ticket were helped out by the commune subsidising travel to Paris for the final. £17.50 return secured a place on clapped out trains pressed into service for the journey to the capital.

The final took place on May 7th at the Stade de France in front of a huge crowd of 78,586. Nantes Atalantique of Ligue 1 were overwhelming favourites despite the redoubtable battling qualities of the CFA amateurs. A tense first half saw Nantes dominate possession yet squander several chances to secure an advantage. Unbelievably in the 34th minute, it happened, Racing broke downfield and won a corner. The ball then ended up in international goalkeeper, Michael Landreau’s net courtesy of Jerome Dutitre. The rank outsiders held on until half time heading to the dressing rooms with a one goal lead. Four minutes into the second half, Nantes’ Antoine Sibierski levelled the game at 1-1. Just as the game looked like it would head to extra time, the Ligue 1 side were awarded a penalty in injury time. Sibierski beat Cedric Schille with his spot kick to break a nation’s collective heart. Sportingly Landreau, the Nantes captain allowed his counterpart, Reginald Becque, to lift the cup with him as an acknowledgement to a courageous adventure. Thus little Calais Racing joined a club of three sides, alongside Ouakam of Senegal and Nigeria’s Leventis United, from outside a countries third tier to reach the final of their nation’s major domestic club competition.

(First published in the ”Miles Across The World” column in Southend United’s matchday programme v Bristol Rovers 13/04/13)