Sunday, April 20, 2008

Calais RUFC – Laval (04-04-2008)

Until the day before JB and I had expected to travel to Sedan, in the French Ardennes, but as so often previous information turned wrong and the game was played on Saturday, not Friday. After some quick surfing we found an alternative, however, on the other side of northern France. So, around 15.00 we took off from Leuven to drive the roughly 225 km to Calais. After a smooth drive, we entered the city, and passed the new stadium, which should become the home of Calais Racing Union FC next season.

As we would soon find out, the new stadium would be a huge improvement in terms of luxury, though I doubt in authenticity. After a couple of detours because of lack of signing, which did bring us to a ghetto area that wouldn’t be out of place in the worst parts of Chicago, we arrived at the (old) stadium, which goes by the name of Stade Julien Denis and has an (alleged) capacity of 4.900. Though maybe not up to the latest standards in luxury, few stadiums have such a unique entrance as this one.

As the stadium wasn’t open yet, we decided to survey the surrounding area in search of food. Clearly, the stadium is not situated in the most prosperous area of the city, and this is putting it mildly. In the end, we found some food, though I held out for the friterie inside the stadium. Some 30 minutes before kick-off we returned to the stadium, bought tickets for the covered standing section at 6.50 per person, and entered the ground. There, we saw one of the most beautiful things ever seen in a stadium: a very old memorial to the club players and members fallen in the First World War. While the names were barely readable, the tombstone was still held in respect.

After a portion of petite frites with mayonnaise for 2.50, which tasted unlike anything I had tasted before (I’m still to decide whether this is good or bad), we made our way to our stand. It was fairly busy, and even entertaining, as two drummers got into an argument about who was allowed to stand where.

I estimate that some 1.000 people had come to see this game in the Championnat National (Third Division), against Stade Lavallois Mayenne FC, despite the cold and wet weather. Though Laval and Calais are both in the West of France, it is still almost 500 km, so hats off to the roughly 50 away fans!

The game started fairly energetic. After only 2 minutes Calais shot from 30 meter and the ball bounced just before the goalie. Some 10 minutes later the Laval defense screwed up and Calais shot over the goal from only 5 meters, while again 5 minutes later the Laval goalie made a great safe to keep it 0-0. Clearly, in the first 15 minutes of the game, the difference in the table was not visible; Calais are just above the relegation position, while Laval is just below the promotion spots.

However, this was soon to change. In the 20th minute a Laval players goes alone at the Calais goalie, but fails, and a minute later a strong header goes just wide of the Calais goal. In the 36th minute the visitors finally score, through a strong counterattack, which is finished coolly: 0-1. Despite two good attacks of the hosts in the last five minutes of the first half, half time score is 0-1.

The first 15 minutes of the second half are not very exciting until the last defender of Calais fouls the Laval striker and is sent off. This is the ultimate proof for the fans around us that the French Football Association conspires against their beloved Calais RUFC, as one fan explains to us with tons of convincing historical ‘proof’, and from that moment on the referee rather than Laval is the main enemy. A favorite chant is “on est vollé” (we are robbed).

Just before the last 15 minutes of the game are left, three Laval players go at the Calais goalie, who stops in first instance, and one Laval players scores the rebound: 0-2, game over! Despite being 2-0 and 1 man down, Calais keeps fighting and forces the Laval goalie into some great safes.

In the end, it is all for nothing, however, as the Laval goalie remains concentrated and stops all attempts at his goal. On the other side, the Calais goalie has to bow once more to the Laval strikers. In extra time they score 0-3. Heavily disappointed, yet strengthened in their essential belief that the Association conspires against them, the Calais fans walk back to their miserable houses in the surrounding area.

We get into our car, take a last drive through the ghetto (which looks even less inhabited by night), and start our 3 hour drive back to Flanders. We agree that the new stadium looks great, but we are happy we still visited the Stade Julien Denis!

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