Thursday, 23 May 2019

Sad Demise Of Lyon Duchere

We know that our club is not unique in having a stupid owner (although ours does take the biscuit and gives us regular reminders of his stupidity). Sadly it seems it’s not a phenomenon confined to the UK. I indulge from time to time in an update on the fortunes of my adopted French team, Lyon Duchere, and concluded a recent note looking at their change of manager – and the peculiar amateur installation of an unnecessary and unwanted ‘VIP’ area of seating inside the ground - by saying any insight into Duchere’s prospects will have to wait for next season. I was wrong. Seems a good deal more than I was aware of is going on – and I’m sorry to say the news is not good.  

I had a look on the Duchere club site and was surprised to see ‘an invitation to participate in choosing a new name for our club’. Now when it says ‘participate’, this amounts to expressing a preference between three options: Lyon Metropole Football (LMF), Sporting Club de Lyon (SCL), or Racing Club de Lyon Metropole (RCLM). It’s obvious from the start that the missing options for ‘our club’ include keeping the present name or anything that contains ‘Duchere’.

The posting says that “the upcoming 2019-2020 promises to be a new start for Lyon Duchere AS” and that the name change will be part of a “new project” being launched over the next five years. It goes on to say that the changes “are seen today as real opportunities to become the popular club of the city of Lyon by which every Lyonnais can feel represented. For this, the club has decided to have its new name chosen by its community and all those who wish to participate in this new chapter of our history”.

I think we recognise utter bollocks when we see it (and we do regularly get fed it, including the reasons given for the bag restrictions at the new Wembley – do they really think people actually believe such garbage rather than the rules being geared around maximising sales of extortionately priced goods to a captive audience?). And before a certain Roland jumps up and shouts about fresh evidence that football fans are utterly opposed to change, it’s bollocks because it’s a lie. For a start the new name is not being chosen by any community other than the current ownership, which has restricted the choice to three, not one mentioning Duchere. And there is almost a veiled threat in the reference to “all those who wish to participate”, as if to say those who do not wish to participate can get lost. And this is a way by which ‘every Lyonnais’ can feel represented? I think not.

A little research throws up previous articles in French sporting publications suggesting that if Duchere won promotion to League 2 (the French second division) it would change its name. It hasn’t won promotion but ... And here comes the acid test. A recent article in L’Equipe concluded that with the Stade de Balmont “totally obsolete” it is not excluded that the club “eventually migrates to the Matmut Stadium of Venissieux” (which is where the Lyon rugby team used to play before moving in 2017). The Duchere press release on the name change and project states that “nos equipes continueront d’evoluer au Stade de la Sauvegarde et au Stade Balmont”. Strange choice of wording. The translation would be ‘our teams will continue to evolve’ at the two stadiums (the former is for the junior Duchere teams), which rather leaves it open whether the first team will continue to play their home games in Duchere.

Call me an old cynic, but I suspect they will not. The press release of course talks about not forgetting the club’s history and origins, about retaining the ‘Sang et Or’ colours, from the city of Oran. That just makes it sound more likely that a move away is all but done and dusted. After all, if the club stays in Duchere what is the point of changing its name? And if a move is confirmed, one would suspect after a decent interval there will be the gradual severing of any remaining ties.

Duchere is a district in the north-west of Lyon, in the 9th arrondissement. Basically from the centre(s) of town cross over the Saone to the side of Old Lyon, follow the river north and you reach Vaise. From there you slog your way up a pretty steep hill to get to Duchere. I don’t think there’s a higher point in what might be considered the city of Lyon (not far away you do have the Mont d’Ors but that is further out), which is why on a clear day from Suzanne’s balcony on the seventh floor you sit and look at Mont Blanc and the full range of the Alps. Duchere is surrounded by Ecully, Champagne-au-Mont’d’Or and Vaise of course. But it’s a bit like Norwich. Nobody goes somewhere via Duchere. You either go there or you do not.

Duchere is a multi-ethnic community, somewhat ironic having its origins in the provision of housing for the pied noir. It doesn’t have a good reputation throughout Lyon and most of the people living in the city have probably never been there. I’ve always found it to be friendly and welcoming, even to a stupid Englishman who doesn’t seem able to learn the language well enough. It’s also a growing district, with new construction going on all the time, with efforts to build a sort of ‘new Duchere’ which the local community can – and does – take a pride in. But I’d accept that if you were trying to create a second football club for the city as a whole, one which might generate popular support among those who at least want an alternative to OL and the Champions League (but not the title of French champions for some years now, given the dominance of PSG), you would not choose to locate it in Duchere. I doubt that anyone not connected to the club or living in the area goes to the games, casual support from elsewhere is non-existent. But the fact is it is there and it is the team of Duchere, as it has been since 1964.

I don’t know much about Venissieux. The map shows it is south-east Lyon (ie directly opposed to Duchere), close to the Confluence (where the Saone and the Rhone meet up). The stadium is obviously bigger than Balmont (with a 12,000 capacity) and is I assume in a much better state. Perhaps most important – from an owner’s perspective – is that it is a couple of minutes walk from a metro station, making it easily accessible to many parts of Lyon (but not Duchere of course, the nearest metro being down the hill at Gare de Vaise).

It has been disappointing - to me, also presumably to the club owners - that the crowds at Duchere games have not risen since promotion to the third flight. By the same token I’ve seen no effort to promote the home games, to try to get the local community more involved. To be fair there are signs of such efforts being made at the youth level, with more Duchere tracksuits/tops in evidence on the streets.

So I could have some sympathy if the club owners had announced something along the following lines: ‘We wish to create a real second football club in Lyon, one which can continue the progress of the past five years. However, we feel that this is not possible without a better, more modern stadium, one which is more easily accessible to a broader fanbase, with higher crowds necessary to help fund the development of the club. It has therefore been decided to give our club a new name, one which would appeal to all the people of Lyon, and regrettably to move to play senior home games in Venissieux”.

This could be accompanied by some sort of initiative to retain current fans: “We hope that Duchere fans understand the reasons for the changes and come with us on the journey ahead, ensuring that the club never loses its roots, which will also be cemented by keeping the youth teams based in Duchere. To that end, we will be inviting Duchere supporters to join us for a guided tour of the stadium at Vennissieux, as well as offering travel discounts to those from Duchere buying tickets for next season’s home games”.

That would at least give the appearance of being inclusive. Instead what we have is: ‘We’re changing the name, to something that we can sell more easily, and pretending to give people a say in selecting a new one. And we’re going to move away from Duchere. If you don’t like it, tough. Bye’. Or in Duchatelet-speak: ‘We know best, your job is to agree with everything we do, however daft’.

Now I’m not close to the club and could be reading this all wrong. There may be other factors involved, perhaps both positive and negative (there is of course a potential racism element involved in changing the name to dissociate the club from Duchere). I’m not aware of any campaign to oppose the changes, any lobbying of the media or local politicians. Perhaps there will be as and when the ground change is confirmed (and perhaps by then it will be too late). I’m ready to join. But as things stand the Duchere owners are giving the supporters of the club a ‘take it or leave it’ option – and so from my perspective, as things stand, the Lyon Duchere football club that I have enjoyed supporting has ceased to exist. Life in Lyon will be that much poorer.

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