Ligue National 2 is the fourth tier of French league football; it consists of amateur clubs and the reserve teams of the clubs in Ligue 1 and 2 and is divided up into four regional groups each containing sixteen teams. There are nevertheless many clubs at this level that have previously been in the two professional leagues, and both Vannes and Chambly fall into this category, with Chambly having had just a single season in Ligue 2 as recently as 2020; neither club has ever scaled the heights of Ligue 1 but Vannes were in Ligue 2 from 2008 to 2011 and reached the final of the Coupe de la Ligue (League Cup) at the Stade de France in 2008, although they lost 0-4 to Bordeaux.
Vannes is a coastal town and former port, which in some ways might be said to be comparable to my hometown of Ipswich due to its physical geography and former dockside and having a history dating back well over a thousand years, although based on how busy it is today Vannes seems to be thriving a little more than Ipswich at the present time, but then France is in the EU and the French realise in the spirit of egalite and fraternite that taxation and public spending allow money to be spent for the greater good.
After a lazy afternoon in Vannes spent mostly sat at a pavement café, in the gardens beneath the town walls and by the old port which is now filled with yachts, my wife Paulene and I stroll across the road from the port to the guichets where we buy two tickets (8 euros each) for this evening’s match which kicks-off at six-thirty. Entry to the Stade de la Rabine is just up the road and round the corner from the guichets and at the gate our tickets are checked, and the stubs torn off by two redoubtable looking middle-aged women. Entry takes us directly into the under croft of the steel framed south stand; walking along beneath the upper tier it feels like we are in a lofty cloister. The main stand is a plain concrete and steel structure typical of many French municipal stadiums but a little newer than most.
Getting into the feel of what is effectively the French equivalent of ‘non-league’ football, I have to have a beer. An un-identified blonde beer in a re-usable plastic cup adorned with the club crest costs just 2 euros. Paulene has a coffee and bottle of water which are a euro each, but first I must exchange my cash for the Jetons (tokens) that are the only means of paying for food and drink in the ground. I am happy to see there is also a club shop where for just three euros I add another petit fanion (pennant) to the collection that hangs above the cistern in my upstairs toilet back home. I wander about a bit and snap a few photos and then we find our seats as the PA system plays some rather strange bland electro-pop music, as it has done since we first walked in.
The main stand eventually fills up with the usual collection of old blokes, actual and would-be wives and girlfriends of players, young boys in club tracksuits who probably play for the under 13s team, and other sundry supporters of the local team. The stand to our left is completely empty; there is one lonely man in the stand to our right and the far side of the ground is a building site on which the concrete frame that has so far been erected could be compared to a sort of modern-day Stonehenge, but only if the light was very, very bad. The teams process onto the pitch and line up in a single row before two banners proclaiming the name of league National 2. Three-minutes late, at twenty-seven minutes to seven after a ‘ceremonial’ kick-off involving two older men in smart but casual clothing, Chambly Oise kick off, aiming towards the goal in front of the two-tiered stand occupied by the lone supporter.
Before three minutes have passed, Chambly win the games’ first corner. A minute later and a cross from the left is diverted into the Vannes goal by the foot on the end of the outstretched leg of Chambly’s number 19, which he has dangled beyond the defender who is alongside him. The goal catches me by surprise a bit, as it did that defender, and I clap, drawing a look of mild disapproval from the very tall, elderly man who is folded up on the seat next but one to me. To be honest I had thought Chambly were Vannes because Chambly are wearing an all-white kit whilst Vannes are wearing all-black and I couldn’t imagine that any club’s first choice kit would be all-black; I had therefore assumed that they were the away team. The French Wikipedia page on Vannes OC later tells me that Vannes OC did formerly play in black and white but changed to all-black a few seasons ago; personally, as someone who still can’t get used to seeing teams of referees, I think it was a bad decision.
The quality of the football so far is not high and the crowd is quiet, particularly the lone man behind the goal, but Chambly look the better team. In the absence of anything more interesting I note that the Chambly players do not have their names on the back of their shirts, but the Vannes players do with the exception of number 33. Also, number 9 for Vannes, whose name is Ebrard, has one leg of his shorts hanging down, but the other one rolled up. Paulene and I speculate as to why this is. Is it perhaps to remind him to kick the ball now and then with his weaker foot or, in the absence of a knot in his hankie, is it something more prosaic such as a reminder to put the cat out when he gets home.
In the eighteenth minute a cross from the right by Chambly’s number 8, a short, stocky and industrious player, is headed in unchallenged by the towering number 23. The Vannes goalkeeper Pettiogenet (number 40) gets a hand or two to the ball but cannot prevent it from hitting the net. The goal seems to further prove the point so far made that Chambly are the better team. But slowly Vannes are improving, as if they needed at least twenty minutes to warm up, and they win a couple of corners. Ebrard looks keen and almost threatens on a couple of occasions before, as the game is about to enter its second third, he dribbles into the penalty area and tumbles to the ground as a result of a probable trip. Ebrard gets up and strikes the ball to the anonymous goalkeeper’s right and with his right foot, the one beneath the long leg of his shorts. The goalkeeper gets a hand to the shot but cannot keep it out, merely pushing it into the corner of the net.
A couple of minutes after the goal the eager Ebrard concedes a free-kick as he dives in a little too keenly on a Chambly defender. The defender doesn’t seem too bothered but the goalkeeper comes running out of his goal to remonstrate with Ebrard as if he now harbours a grudge against him for having beaten him with that penalty kick. Vannes are now up and running and pressing for an equaliser and Kimbembe and Nzuzi link up well down the right and Nzuzi’s low cross travels to the far side of the penalty area where Ebrard has the time and space to sweep the ball majestically into the top left-hand corner of the stand behind the goal. His attempt was a bold one as the outcome showed.
The last ten minutes of the first half are notable for Paulene spotting that a lean-to projection from the side of the building opposite looks like it has two eyes and pouting mouth. A minute of additional time is played and I go and purchase a tray of chips (2 euros) with mayonnaise with my remaining jetons. I return to the stand to eat my chips whilst a pair of black-headed gulls swoop into the stand on the look out for any stray deep fried food that might come their way; I guard my chips jealously and give the gulls a discouraging glare.
The match resumes at twenty-four minutes to eight. In the box like building next door to the lean-to building that looks like a face, a man is watching the game, presumably free of charge, from an upstairs window. A short while later the windows are shut and we assume he decided it was either getting too cold to have the window wide open or he just got bored. The second half sees substitutions for Chambly first as number twenty-seven replaces number eleven, and then for Vannes with Mvogo replacing Duclovel. In a departure from how I have previously seen substitutions made, a woman in ‘late middle-age’ wearing a Breton jumper holds up the electronic board displaying the numbers of the incoming and outgoing players. Paulene and I assume she is the club secretary , but alongside the referee’s assistant, the coaches and the delegue principal (an overseeing official) in his rather crumpled looking blue suit, she complements an interesting tableau of touchline figures.
The second half witnesses the first concerted outbreak of support from the crowd but in the form of the treble voices of the under 13’s who chant “Allez les Noires” over and over again, until they get bored, which thankfully doesn’t take too long. More substitutions happen and Nzuzi is replaced by another anonymous player, the mysterious number thirty-four whilst anonymous thirty-three is replaced by equally anonymous thirty-two. In due course the final minutes approach and there is a discernible effort from Vannes to finally equalise. The ninetieth minute sees Vannes win a corner and in what seems like a final push both legs of Ebrard’s shorts miraculously appear to be the same length as he surges forward. But it seems like his last hurrah and having lost the ball he stands bent over with his hands on his knees, a spent force. Five minutes of time additionelle are announced, but Vannes can’t do enough to score and the initial judgement from the first twenty minutes that Chambly are the better team holds good.
With the full-time whistle we exit the ground the way we came in and head back to our car, where we will learn we have to pay a stonking 9 euros 80. If you come to Vannes for more than an hour or so try not to park at Republique. It’s not been the greatest evening’s football in truth, but Vannes OC is a decent little club with an excellent stadium and lovely people selling the tickets, the food and the drink. I sincerely hope they get back to Ligue National and possibly Ligue 2 soon. As the Under13’s told us “Allez les Noires”.