French epopees

Quevilly surprised everyone as they qualified in the French Cup final, after beating with 2-1, Rennes, in the last second of the match from the semifinals. The surprise was so huge, because the defeated squad occupies a first half spot in Ligue I, meanwhile, Quevilly struggles on 14th place in the third tier! But they made it in the final and might play in the Europe League, if Lyon, the other finalist will qualify for the Champions League. This is a ‘must have’ condition only if Quevilly won’t eventually win the trophy. And they should try hard to reach the cup, because, this may be a once in a life time chance for a team that plays mainly in lower divisions. Still, for Quevilly will appear for the second time in their history in the final of Coupe de France, after the 1927 edition, when they lost 0-3 against Olympique de Marseille.

But now, we won’t talk too much about Quevilly, because the team founded in 1902, but never recognized as a professional club still, has one step to take to be covered by glory. Until then, we will throw some words about Calais RUFC, the only club from the fourth French tier to ever reach a Cup last act. And it didn’t happen too many years ago. Calais was founded in 1901 and 99 years after, yes, in 2000, they missed by a whisker a historical trophy, as they lost the final against FC Nantes, in the last minute. 2-1, after they led the Bretons with 1-0 until the 50th minute.

Calais started very early the competition and the first game came against Campagne-les-Hesdin from Division 1 Departamental (eleven tier), in the fourth round. Gerard (3), Dutitre (3), Rioust, Hogard, Boulanger and Vermandel, secured an crushing 10-0 away victory, with five goals in each half. Well, nothing quite unusual and so an away match at Saint-Nicolas-les-Arras was about to go. The team from Regional League rose some problems, but three goals in the first half, from Jandau, Gerard and Becque, solved another equation: 3-1 win and qualification to the sixth stage of the competition. Here, another longed-name team was expecting, but this time for CFA2, which means only one level less than the one in which Calais was playing at that time. A tight encounter, but the victory was on the visitors side, thanks to Gerard and Dutitre, which were the men to overpass Marly-lès-Valenciennes with 2-1.

Mission completed and this meant the first match one home soil. The opponent, Bethune, was also from CFA2, and raised serious difficulties, but Dutitre, kept his calm and with a goal in the last minute of the first half, secured a final 1-0. The 8th round also brought the first adversary from CFA, exactly the same level of Calais. And when everybody expected a very tough and rough dispute, Calais surpassed with a crushing 4-0 over Dunkerque. Baron with two goals in the first ten minutes, Gerard and Hogard made it all very easy.

The 1/32 phase was coming and here, the little team held Lille, then in the second tier, in a 1-1 tie after 120 minutes, thanks to a piece from Cygan in the 68th minute. After, they executed them at shoot out with 7-6 and gained the right to play further against Langon-Castet FC, from the fifth league. Considering this, Calais shouldn’t have any problems and they didn’t as they beat the opponents with a convincing 3-0 (Gerard (2) and Dutitre). Now, the round of 16 was on its way, and Calais was going to face another second division side, AS Cannes, but their big advantage was, once again, the home soil, on which they also played the previous two games. 1-1 after 120 minutes again, with Hogard equalizing in the 118 minutes, but a different scenario from the spot. Calais won 4-2 and pushed through the quarter finals, was, finally, a first league team stepped on their way: RC Strasbourg.

It looked like the end from the point of view of many specialists, but Calais continued with the big surprises. And now, the victory came in the regular time, as the hosts shocked by putting an incredible 2-1, which qualified them for the first ever Cup semifinal. Once again, Hogard was the hero, but this time alongside with Merlen, both scoring in the first half.

Bordeaux was expecting, but fortunately for Calais, they match was going to be held by the stadium from Lens, so they had some support from the crowd. 0-0 after 90 minutes and the stoppage time was about to come. It came, and another history was written by Calais’ players during only a half an hour. Jandeau made it 1-0 in the 99th minute, but Lilian Laslandes equalized in the 108th minute, so it seemed like the game was reaching the penalty kicks. When most believed less, Milien (113) and Gerard (119) hit an incredible 3-1 win, which assured Calais the final, a last act played against FC Nantes, on Stade de France, in front of 78.586 spectators! The audience didn’t make the amateur players nervous and they opened the score in the 34th minute, when Dutitre surpassed the opposite captain, Mikael Landreau.

The miracle was about to fulfill, but in the second half, FC Nantes settled the balance evenly, as Sibierski scored in the 50th minute, before Caveglia gave the decisive hit, in the last minute. 2-1 and so a dream, a very beautiful one, came to an end. It was that kind of dream which you have, you enjoy and when it nears to its final, you wake up and realize that this wasn’t real World. For Calais was more than a dream, but an incomplete dream, one ended in a little nightmare. How can you call, if not like this, a goal conceded in the last minute?

The Calais people named this an ‘Epopee’ and they wanted to mark this by giving the name to their new stadium, inaugurated in 2008. From 1958, for a half a century, Calais played their home games on a small arena, called Stade Julien Denis. Only 2.100 spectators could be held by this location, from which only 742 could get access to a sit. So, after the performance from 2000, a thing was clear: Calais must have another, more modern, home base. And so, Stade de l’Epopee was built. With a new capacity of 12.432 places, the costs for the stadium rose up to 22 million euro.

First match, on 27th of September 2008, against Laval, in the 9th day of CFA2, gathered 11.825 spectators, which still remains the record. Unfortunately, after a white draw at half time, the visitors came very confident from the dressing rooms and ruined the local celebration, by putting in four goals. So it was 4-1, eight years after the miracle from Stade de France, and the Cup final against Nantes, looked in a very far past, even though less than a decade passed.

But did this little town from the North must have such a modern stadium? One of the most extreme situated cities from France, Calais has nearly 75 thousand inhabitants, but even though, their love for football isn’t very big, because of the poor performance of the squad. Excepting the incredible achievement from 2000, no other notable thing happened in the history of Calais RUFC. But maybe it will happen in the honor book of Quevilly two weeks from now. Let’s wait and see and maybe will enjoy another memorable moment of sublime football, after the story of Mirandes, from Spain. OK, they reached only the semifinals, but you cannot compare the Spanish Cup with the one from Spain. And in fact, Mirandes pushed out three sides from Primera…

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