Friday, 17 May 2019

No Promotion For Duchere - But A VIP Area

As we while away the hours ahead of tonight’s game, with plans being put in place for what might follow but no chickens being counted, I thought people might be desperate to hear about how the season panned out for Lyon Duchere (or just might like a diversion).

The answer is pretty well, but not well enough to get the club into third place in the French third division and a play-off of their own for a place in League 2 - against the team finishing third-bottom in the higher division (currently Sochaux but with others in the mix ahead of the final round of matches), a set-up which inevitably reminds me of St Andrews. It had been only a long shot for some time now, but going into the penultimate round there was still a very remote possibility that a strange combination of results could see them win the prize. That possibility went with a 2-2 home draw against Tours, while a win for Le Mans and a point for Laval made the outcome irrelevant in any event.

Not everything is decided in National. Rodez are champions by a distance – and will be at home to Duchere, who are sure to finish fifth, in the final round - and Chambly go up with them. Third place and the play-off spot will be taken by either Le Mans or Laval, with the former in pole position (a victory at home against Chambly would make it certain, a draw would probably be enough, although defeat and it’s all down to how Laval fare away at Quevilly Rouen).

At the other end of the table, Drancy have held on to the bottom spot they have occupied all season, Entente SSG and Marignane Gignac will go down with them. The final relegation place is currently occupied by Tours, on 36 points. They would have been all but down but for a late equaliser at Duchere but will drop out of National unless they win their last game, at home to Cholet. Even if they do it might not be enough to get above either Bourg-en-Bresse Peronnas (on 38 points) or Concarneau (39). And it just so happens that those two teams will play each other. Looking at goal difference it seems to me that a draw would be good enough for them to survive, so don’t be surprised by a 0-0 scoreline (and accusations of a stitch-up).

I was deciding last Friday whether or not to go to Duchere’s last home game, which would have been a solitary experience as my partner Suzanne was off in northern France for a weekend of relatives, including a number of new-borns. I’d decided to give it a miss, not least with our game on Sunday in mind. Before I had the chance to decide she informed me that for some reason unbeknown to me the match had already been played, with the round of matches switched from the usual Friday night to Thursday night. I’ve no idea why that was.

Had I known we would have gone, not least as I would have liked to join in the pre-match tribute to Duchere’s manager Karim Mokkedem, who it seems will be leaving at the end of the season. He was born in Lyon and has been in charge since February 2014. I think I’m right in saying he’s won two promotions in that time (certainly the second), taking Duchere from a regional fifth division to a regional fourth, then into National, the third division, and cementing a place there for a club punching well above its weight. He’s just made 100 games as Duchere manager and to say the least hands over the reins with the club in a far better state than when he arrived. There was a crowd of 237 at Stade de Balmont for the send-off. He deserved a lot more.

So next season will be Duchere’s fourth in this division, despite an average attendance of just 272 this season (compared with Le Mans’ 5,595), by some way the lowest of the league. The new manager’s going to have a task on his hands to maintain the upward momentum of the club and to manage a transition which I fear will not be easy.

On a negative note, I hope this upward momentum of the club isn’t giving some within it an overblown sense of their own importance. As you might guess from the average attendance and a stadium capacity of 5,438 it isn’t exactly crowded (although all fans are contained in one stand to keep warm; I’ve only ever seen the terracing opposite used once, when Grenoble and their dubious fans came to town). The stand has fixed plastic seats and a small central area where the seats have a little more padding. Not surprisingly it’s a good place for an old English fart to sit, especially with the raucous element in the seats below the concourse.

However, a couple of games ago there was a change, one which has been retained. These seats are now taped off in a ‘VIP Area’, with groundstaff positioned to prevent unauthorised access. At the same time what was the main entrance to the stand, past the small area selling food and drink, is now shut to ‘ordinary fans’, designated a ‘VIP Entrance’ requiring a pass to get out (I know because first time around I ignored the orders not to go out that way, only to have to turn back as you can no longer actually get out via it). So now, not only are the best seats inaccessible and nearly empty (save for a few, who looked like the family of players and possibly club officials), a member of the groundstaff has to stand at the entrance to the area, blocking the view of the pitch from a number of other seats.

We did ask the poor sod trying to authorise access to the VIP seats just what idiot had come up with such a daft idea. He indicated that it was the decision of a few people in management – but also kindly made it clear that if we wished to sit in the area he would not stop us  (I don’t think there’s any danger of this information getting him into any trouble).

Now I could be being unfair here, perhaps Duchere are only implementing the league’s stadium requirements and standards. If so it’s taken them a few years to find out. And I doubt it. It’s more likely that some muppet thinks he is a VIP; if he is a VIP there must be some others; if there are VIPs therefore there should be a VIP area ... Can’t help thinking it’s not exactly in the club’s best interests to potentially alienate the supporters it has, when it surely needs all it can get.

An outcome on this, and insight into Duchere’s future under a new manager, will have to wait for next season. Now back to that other matter this evening ...

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