Monday, 11 February 2008

Allez La Douch

As a life-long Francophile and one who enjoys regular trips to Lyon and elsewhere in France - indeed someone who some friends say is turning increasingly Gallic (the accordion and beret do count against me, although I haven’t yet perfected the shrug, I’m beginning to think that takes a lifetime) - I thought it would be good to cement what has been to date only a passing interest in French football. But I can’t help thinking I’ve just decided to make yet one more rod for my back.

(A digression. It made me laugh at the time. I was off to Lyon recently and went to buy a ticket to get to Stansted. Seeing my travel bag, the guy in the ticket office asked if I was going anywhere nice. ‘France’, I said. ‘Lovely country’, says he, ‘I especially like the Pyrenees and the area around Toulouse’. ‘I’m going to Lyon’. His face dropped a little, a frown developed, and he said, with no trace of irony, ‘blimey, they’re really French down there’. I loved it that the best insult he could find for the French is the degree to which they are French, and the implication that there might be some Platonic form of perfect 'Frenchness'.)

I have been to the Coeur de Gerland (50,000-plus capacity) to watch Olympique Lyonnais. Great fun it was too, especially the crowd in the ‘bad boys’ stand jumping up and down in unison while singing. For anyone who knows nothing about French football Lyon have become accustomed to running away with the title and regard it as pretty much their own; their main ambition now is to win the Champions League. I shall be cheering them on in the upcoming clash with Man Utd. They are rich, successful, stylish, with a strong following (and seemingly largely without the nasty element that follows Marseille or PSG), a superb ground, and every prospect of maintaining their dominant position (given the Champions League money inflow).

It should be a no-brainer, shouldn’t it? All I need to do is cite Kelly Youga, formally adopt Lyon as my French football team, and bask in the reflected glory of following sure-fire winners. However, we’re not Charlton fans for nothing. Life was just not meant to be that easy. When driving back to Suzanne’s flat during a recent visit to Lyon I noticed we passed a football ground. I thought it was a local municipal stadium. ‘No’, she said, ‘it’s where Lyon-Duchere play.’

It seems that AS (Association Sportive) Lyon-Duchere was founded in 1964, by pied-noirs, the French-Algerians who were abandoned by De Gaulle. The rights and wrongs of the Algerian war of independence are not the subject of a frivolous blog post. Without wishing to sound glib about a horrible, bloody conflict sometimes you end up on the wrong side. I always favoured the Confederates in the American Civil War, I’m not sure why. Maybe it was because they appeared from a distance to be the plucky underdog. Suffice to say the pied-noirs comprised some 10.4% of the Algerian population at the time of independence and were offered the choice by the new regime of ‘la valise ou le cercueil’ – literally the suitcase or the coffin. Most chose the former and nearly 1m left Algeria for France. Albert Camus, my adolescent hero (still a hero), who played in goal for Algeria, was a pied-noir.

Lyon is an affluent as well as beautiful city, one that has made great efforts over the past 10 years or so to improve its presentation and image. It is of course not without problems, but my limited impression is that it does not have the same tensions as Paris and even Marseilles. I was in the centre of Lyon last year when there was supposed to have been a ‘riot’ (if you read the papers). From what I saw youths were enjoying congregating and attracting attention, with the police a little jumpy in light of the very real protests in areas of Paris and other cities. But it was little more than showing off. My partner Suzanne lives in what would be considered by many a not very good area of Lyon. However, her flat, halfway up a tower block, has a balcony with fabulous views over the city and beyond, on a clear day, you sit back and look at the Alps. It’s not a bad way to pass a lazy afternoon. And I have never felt the slightest bit uneasy in the area (although this may have something to do with being mistaken for a plain-clothes policeman).

So I’m presented with a choice: formally adopt the champions of France or a run-down, non-descript team that has no chance of winning anything – but which was founded by the people of my hero, is located in the area where Suzanne lives, and which plucks all the other heartstrings. No contest really.

It seems that Lyon-Duchere’s finest hour came when in 1993 they won the French Third Divison. To take their rightful place in the second flight they needed to have professional status, which was denied them by the football authorities in France (I’m trying to find out why). This in turn led to their players occupying the French Federation in protest. What followed seems to have been an exodus of their best players and relegation in 1994/95. Then it was bankruptcy and liquidation in 1996. A new club was formed and Lyon-Duchere now ply their trade in the equivalent of the French fifth division (to put that in context Lyon’s reserves play in a higher league).

What else have I unearthed about Lyon-Duchere? It seems their nickname is La Douch, This might make sense, given their name, but I always thought a douche was a shower – or a more intimate wash. The dictionary definition in English is ‘jet of liquid directed on to or into the body’ or ‘a disagreeable surprise’. Wikopedia lists four ‘famous’ current players, none of whom I’ve heard of (and one’s claim to fame is to be a former Lyon B player). Of their all-time roll of honour I have heard of only one, Eric Abidal.

However, to any of you who might doubt the natural alliance of Charlton and La Douch scroll down the Wikopedia entry to reach ‘former coaches’. There is listed one Richard Ruffier. They might have spelt his name the French way, but it’s obvious who we’re talking about.

They play at the Stade de Balmont, which has a capacity of 5,600. Their colours are yellow and red. Not surprisingly their main rivals are OL – and according to some reports their superstar neighbours were not best pleased when La Douch were becoming popular in the early 1990s. And Lyon-Duchere have been in the news recently, having made it to the last 32 in the French cup. They have just played top-flight Lille and lost only 1-0. Last season they finished fourth in their league, listed as CFA2 Groupe D. I don’t know how they’re doing this season, but I intend to find out – and hopefully to provide regular updates, perhaps get to a match this season.

I can’t help thinking it’s a marriage made if not in heaven then somewhere else that provides evidence that god might not exist but does have a warped sense of humour.


Wyn Grant said...

Je vous ai compris

ChicagoAddick said...

What is it with us Addicks? I always find myself loving an underdog. Great post BA, I hope you can get to a game and give us a full report.

Anonymous said...

Second teams find you, never you finding them. The beginning of an adventure... My sentiments are the same as Chicago's keep us informed.

Anonymous said...

Supporting the underdog its my a Achilles heel. Always interesting to find out the history of a small club where it is probably identical to the start of many of our English clubs including Charlton on Woolwich Common. Was it Calais then in the French Third Division who romanticised the French Cup by reaching the final and losing narrowly to Monaco 1-0 after they had dominated.

Anonymous said...

Vicar here. Only just had a chance to catch up with the blog. A wonderful story BA and nice to see the other heartfelt comments.

Remember, in Gods eyes there are no underdogs!