Sunday, April 20, 2008

Le Mans UC72 – AJ Auxerre (12-04-2008)

What’s wrong with those websites on French football? Months ahead I had planned to see Laval play on Saturday 12 April, as I was in Rennes for work, and then a couple days before the game I find out it is played the day before. Fortunately, I found an alternative, ‘just’ one hour further by train. So, instead of another game in the French Third Division, I found myself watching a game in the top flight of French football, the Ligue 1, though of a lesser-know team, Le Mans UC 72. Strangely enough, it was (re)founded in 1985, after its predecessor Le Mans Union Club 1972, founded in 1902, got into financial troubles. So, where the “72” stands for is beyond me!

It had taken me 1.5 hours by train to get to Le Mans, a fairly uneventful town under Paris world-famous for its 24 hour car races. From the railway station it was another 30 minutes by foot to get to the Stade Léon Bollée, a modest stadium with an official capacity of 16.500. As the weather had been bad – wet, grey, cold (just like home!) – I coughed up 25 euro to sit on the covered stand.

To kill over an hour before kick-off, I circled the ground various times, ate some truly bad stadium food, and checked the (temporary) fan shop; which was remarkably well stocked. Still, the price for nicest fan shop went to the bus of the supporters club, which sold a range of their own stuff.

Le Mans has been a regular in the French Ligue 1, but has seldom impressed. This season it is one of the main surprises of the league, fighting for one of the spots for European football. This might explain the fairly decent turnout of some 7.000 (I guess), given the weather and opponent

The Association de la Jeunesse Auxerroise is a completely opposite story, having played in the top of French football under legendary coach Guy Roux, it has fallen to the bottom part of the league in last years. Still, it is the only French team that never relegated. Coming from a small town of 40.000, some 325 km away from Le Mans, the roughly 100 away fans provided for a decent turnout.

As my cell phone was empty, I was unable to make any notes during the game. What I do remember, almost one week and many other things later, is a rather poor atmosphere, despite the decent crowd and colorful fans.

I also remember how poor Auxerre has become. Having seen them on tv and in away games a couple of time over the past ten years, I remember technical and attractive football. Now there is no player that catches the eye and the team as a whole do not bring much either. Their current place, just above the relegation zone, seems optimal.

Le Mans is a team without any truly remarkable players, but a strong collective, which plays attractive football. Though I doubt Le Mans will ever be a real challenge to Olympique Lyon, or will go far in the Uefa Cup, should they qualify, they are a strong sub-topper in the French First Division. Their 3-0 victory, in the end, was more than deserved.

Although I left early, as I had to make my last train to Rennes, I had a nice evening. Le Mans UC72 is a nice reflection of football in small town France: small-scale, but friendly and positive.

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