It is almost sacrilege in England to suggest that the FA Cup is anything but the best of all the world’s domestic cup competitions. But to take such a blinkered view is to ignore the pleasures of cup football beyond the channel. I would not head for the Spanish or Italian competitions, professional organised, and planned to please the professional cups, but the low countries, Germany and France all have competitions worthy of note. The French in particular is noted for giving the underdog a chance. As in England, France plays Eight rounds of competition before the top division is included (and as in England, there are then 64 teams contesting, and the new year is upon us), although their second division teams have to start some two rounds earlier. Down the divisions, the various leagues all come in at different points, but amazingly – considering the number of rounds is the same as in England – the total number of clubs in ten times as many. The FA Cup has space for around 600 teams, but the Coupe de France has over six thousand. Of course you lose some things with this – with over 6000 teams, there is no minimum ground standards for the cup – if the ground is not suitable for the crowd expected, then the match will simply be moved to a larger stadium. The other thing the French do without is replays – but this works in a French way. The French league is just about the lowest scoring in Europe, with all but the best away teams going away and attempting just to hold onto the point for 0-0. The single match nature of the French Cup frees away teams. If there was a replay, then they would be under pressure to defend and get it, but as there is no replay they can attack even away from home.
There is one other unique selling point to the French cup, and this is the seven “Outre Mer” teams. If the remains of the British Empire are these days ignored, almost an embarrassment except when we fight wars to defend them – and these remains are encouraged to enter international competition in their own right, the French keep their remaining possessions close at hand, and politically, some are treated the same as if they were part of mainland France. Having frequently voted to keep their French connections, and against independence or a union with the Comoros Islands, the small territory of Mayotte is to become a French department in 2011, (despite the fact this would mean an increase in taxation). It became the seventh of the overseas territories to have French cup status in 2002, following Reunion, Martinique, Guadelopue, Guyana, French Polynesia (Tahiti) and New Caledonia. Mayotte is situated in the Indian Ocean, north of Madagascar and not far from to Comoros Islands – it consists of two main islands, and a number of smaller (many uninhabited) ones. Oddly, because the capital used to be on the smaller island of the pair, the international airport is not on the main island. Each year, a local cup competition will decide the territories entry into the main Coupe de France (each overseas territory gets one entry only, entering at Round 7 with the second division teams). This year the team is Kaweni, from just outside the capital. To get to play in Petit Quevilly, (a southern suburb of Rouen), they had to get to the airport by boat and taxi, then fly first to Reunion, and then from there to Paris – still a two hour coach trip to their destination.
On arrival, they find that the Amable et Micheline Lozai is a typical football ground, with no track and the sides square to the pitch. The names refer to the club president and his wife during a successful era for the club. On one side there is covered terracing along the whole length, whereas the main stand takes up about the third of the other side with other buildings to the sides, (furthest away from the entrance) is the dressing rooms, while nearer is a room used for VIP and guests. General refreshments are served from behind the goal by the entrance on a flat area. There is no access behind the far end goal for spectators.
The last picture seems to be a mixture of supporters and the visiting ‘WAGS’. Certainly some of the girls had come with the team from Mayottte, and there were some supporters that had made the journey. On the other hand, when I questioned the only people wearing Kaweni replica shirts, they turned out to be students from Lyon.
The Quevilly team have a cup pedigree of their own, they reached the final in 1927, when they lost 3-0 to Olympique Marseille. They were the top amateur club in France in the mid-fifties, winning the amateur championship twice in successive years, but after that they must have gone into some decline – as by the end of the seventies, the club was wallowing in the fourth division of the district league. This is about as low as a club can get in France, but things have picked up – over the next 22 years the club won promotion 9 times (with one relegation to compensate). This brings them back to the CFA, the highest level of amateur football in France. (The amateur title, won by Quevilly in the fifties, is now given to the winner of play-offs between the four regional CFA winners). When Quevilly were at the lowest ebb, neighbours FC Rouen were at the top level of French football – (they were relegated from the first division in 1985). Last season they met in the CFA, with FC Rouen winning the title and returning to the National level, while Quevilly finished a credible third.
While I believe I was the only English groundhopper at the match, I met up with Stephan Schlei, a German groundhopper and hitchhiker. Stephan informs all (he has it printed on a card) that he is a World Record hitchhiker, recongnised by the Guinness Book of Records. I do not quite know what this means, but I do know that Stephan travels the length and breadth of Europe through hitchhiking and sleeping rough. Last season, I had also met Stephan when watching “outre mer” teams in the French Cup, we both watched Colmar v AS Tefana (Polynesia) one day, and St. Louis Neuweg v Jeanne d’Arc (Reunion) the next, both matches won by the visiting team. On that occasion, Stephan refused to travel with me between games, preferring to make his own way – but this time he was desperate to persuade me to drive to Pontivy where the Guyanese club CSC Cayenne were to play. Sadly, I could not help, as I was in my own car, and needed to return to Calais the following evening. Stephan even offered to pay my entire expenses for the trip – although I do not think he realised I would be almost doubling the weekend milage (which cost me £100 in petrol anyway), and the road tolls in France are high – anywhere between €40 and €80 extra – and another £50 or more if I failed to make the last Eurotunnel shuttle trip before midnight.
In the end, I gave Stephan a lift to the nearest motorway services (30 miles return) for which he just paid the motorway toll of €2.80 (and he was looking for a way to avoid that), and kept to my plan of watching FC Rouen.
But what, you may ask, of the actual game between US Quevilly and ASC Kaweni. The answer was it was a predictable procession. In their eight previous attempts on the French cup, teams from Mayotte had lost eight times, scoing just three, but conceding 29. Kaweni themselves had never previously represented the islands at this stage. It took 27 minutes for the resolute defence to be broken down, but even in this time, it was always a question of when, and how many goals. The score was quickly built up to 3-0 at half time, with another two minutes after the break. Two more were added later, and the game finished 6-0. Still you have to admire the Africans for making the journey from summer in the Indian Ocean to a cold and wet city in Northern France, to face what a defeat that was surely inevitable. Still, the first representative from Reunion lost 14-0 – and they are now the most successful of the “outre mer” teams, this season, Excelsior, from Reunion were the only won to get a win this season with a 1-0 win over Quimper. Excelsior will visit Angers in December.
For me, it was on the FC Rouen….