Fabregues is a very attractive small town about 10 kilometres southwest of Montpellier in the Hérault department of southern France. The town has a population of fewer than 7,000 but has a history dating back a thousand years, the centre being set out in a pattern of concentric circles around the church or chateau, a form of early medieval urban development known as a circulade. The town’s history probably goes back further to the Gallo-Roman era as the name Fabregues being derived from a Latin word meaning forges.
The Stade Joseph Jeanton is a part of a sports complex dating from 1993 that sits on the other side of the River Coulazu from the medieval town of Fabregues and it is here that my wife and I arrive today with a half an hour to spare before the kick-off of the match between Fabregues and Canet Roussillon in National Ligue 3, the fifth tier of French football, which is amateur, although the professional teams play reserve or ‘B’ teams in it. We park up in the neatly laid out car park which is landscaped with trees and shrubs and then walk through a metal gate to a wooden hut where we pay the 5 euros each admission fee. The Stade Joseph Jeanton is much like most other small town football grounds in France; a pitch surrounded by a high metal fence and a single stand affording a decent view of the pitch.
The teams and referees are warming up as we walk behind one goal and round towards
the stand and buvette. I am impressed that one of the goalkeeping coaches is a woman and can’t imagine that many if any men’s teams in England have a female coach. The FA and English football in general really needs to get with the programme. We stop to ask three men in their sixties or seventies which team is which. One of them speaks a little English which he is keen to practice and he seems impressed that we have come to see Fabregues, which he describes as a good little club. At the buvette I buy a bottle of water (1 euro) and pick up a copy of the club’s directory. It is mostly adverts for local businesses, but contains details of every team in the club from the under 6 and 7’s up to the seniors. There is a statement from the president setting out the aims of the club and the overall impression is of the club being an important and well-run focus for the local community.
It is a warm afternoon and a strong breeze stretches white clouds out across the blue sky. We climb up into the stand and look out over the pitch towards the pink roof tops of circulade and the old town. This is a pleasant spot to spend the afternoon it seems. Below us the referee (Monsieur Gauthier Lapalu) and his assistants (Monsieurs Jeremy Noiret and Maximilien Demoustier) are warming up, the referee looks very young, very neat and very enthusiastic, too enthusiastic and a little officious perhaps. He seems to want to organise his assistants overly and they don’t look that impressed.
Kick-off is scheduled for 3 pm but the teams aren’t on the pitch yet, although we can see them waiting at the mouth of the players’ tunnel, everyone seems to be waiting for the referee. Eventually, after the usual introductions, Canet Rousillon, from the town of Canet some 35 to 40 kilometres to the west, kick off in their white shirts with black shorts and socks; Fabregues wear all red. The first foul is committed after about five minutes and Monsieur Lapalu quickly airs his yellow card and then takes time to explain his decision to the Fabregues bench who are perhaps miffed, and understandably so because it wasn’t much of a foul. Five minutes later a Canet player is booked, but justifiably this time. It takes another fifteen minutes for Monsieur to get his hat-trick of cards.
This is a poor game. It may be because the afternoon is still warm, but the players aren’t running about much. One or two like to run with the ball, particularly the Fabregues number eleven, who is quite good at it, but there is not much running off the ball so there is seldom anyone to pass to near the opposition penalty area and therefore there are no shots on goal to speak of, except for optimistic long range ones. In addition, the players of both teams like to fall over and scream as if fatally wounded and Monsieur Lapalu is proving to be quite fussy and precise; he runs like Forrest Gump and his shorts fit too snugly, like his mum has cut down a pair of trousers from a dark suit.
Fabregues make a first-half substitution and the substitute adjusts his hair carefully before coming on, appearing to arrange his top-notch like the leaves on top of a carrot. But the substitute claims the distinction of being the first player to have a shot worthy of the name, in first half injury time.
With half-time we leave the stand to get out of the sun and the breeze, and to get away from the body spray of the young man next to me, which smells like pine disinfectant. This stadium has advertisement hoardings and they remind me of those at Eastern Counties League grounds. There is one for a Pompe Funèbre (undertaker) and one for Auto Ecole Thierry (Terry’s Driving School) as well as one for Pub Resto O’Papa Chico, which sounds like an Irish, Mexican pub. The local butcher, Bouchère des Beaux-Arts sounds a step up from an English pub meat raffle, but in a country that takes food seriously, such a name is probably not pretentious.
For the second half of the match we stand, peering through the fence from the opposite side of the ground to the main stand, where we are shielded from the wind by a hedge.
The second half starts well as the first discernible passing move of the game in an opponent’s half results in the Fabregues goalkeeper diving at the feet of the Canet number seven, to make a decent save. Just a minute later Canet’s number eight collapses to the turf inside the Fabregues penalty area and a penalty kick is awarded by Monsieur Lapalu. It seems a trifle harsh, but Monsieur Lapalu takes so long ensuring that no ones’ toes are in the penalty area that the number eight has far too long to think about his kick and when he eventually takes it, it provides a relatively easy save for the Fabregues ‘keeper, who dives to his right and smothers the ball completely to keep the scores level.
The game now enters a ridiculous stage where players fall like nine pins every few seconds; any physical contact apparently leads to mortal injury. The best moment is when three players come together and all three end up lying on the ground pleading for attention. If the Keystone Cops had played football it would have looked like this. It is at once both amusing and pathetic. The game is stopped and miraculously all three players recover to carry on. A banger goes off in the bushes close to where we are stood; everyone ignores it although some teenage girls trying their best to look innocent look like they might know who was responsible.
With an hour gone Canet somewhat surprisingly take the lead. The ball lands at the feet of their number ten; he shoots and the ball is saved, but the rebound bounces off him and into the net, although he may have adjusted his feet quickly enough to ensure the direction of the rebound was goal-wards rather than anywhere else. A good number of Canet supporters in the main stand celebrate. A second banger goes off in the bushes close to where we are stood and there is a delay as Monsieur Lapalu checks with his assistant that all is okay; he indicates that his ears are ringing a bit but otherwise he is fine. Monsieur Lapalu then checks with the Délègue Principal monsieur Jean Pierre Jullian, but carries on with the re-start. Fabregues are stung into action and are unlucky to have a goal disallowed five minutes later for offside when the ball was possibly heading into the net without the extra touch from the offside player. I detect the scent of cannabis on the breeze, but can understand why people watching this game may seek solace in illicit drugs.
There is about a quarter of an hour left and Canet’s number nine lofts the ball onto the roof of the goal net as his team hit Fabregues on the break. Two minutes later Fabregues’ number five stretches out a leg to win the ball, he does so, but he then catches his opponent too and Monsieur Lapalu deems this a foul and cautions number five for a second time this afternoon resulting in his sending off. To his credit number five does not complain, although having won the ball he probably had cause to. Monsieur Lapalu goes on to also caution Fabregues’ number three as he organises the human wall to defend the resulting free-kick.
Fabregues continue to search in vain for an equaliser and they seem more capable and energetic now that the sun is lower in the sky, casting a long shadow over the pitch from the adjacent sports hall. But with four minutes of normal time remaining Canet hit them on the break again as their number 10 feeds the ball beyond the Fabregues full-back for the moustachioed number two to run on to. The Clark Gable look-alike rounds the goalkeeper and scores. Canet celebrate wildly whilst Fabregues cannot believe they have conceded a goal to a bloke with a moustache.
The result is assured now and Canet almost claim an undeserved third goal as number nine strikes the ball against the cross bar. Monsieur Lapalu even seems to have lost interest a little and has seemingly relaxed his grip on the proceedings. Only two minutes added time are played, which is a relief for everyone. Canet and their supporters celebrate noisily again as the final whistle blows.
This has been a poor game, perhaps the worst I have ever seen in France. It is a shame because the Fabregues club appears to be such a well-run, ideal community based club; but I guess all teams have off days. I hope this was one of those days for both teams, because even though Canet won, they were terrible too. Monsieur Lapalu should also learn from this game too and we will look out for this name in Ligue 1 in may be ten years’ time.