AS Fabregues 0 Canet Rousillon 2

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.

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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 36538176213_715c21d13e_ocirculade 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.

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Gallia Club Uchaud 1 FAC Carcassonne 0

I am on holiday and travelling with my wife down through France to Marseillan Plage in the Hérault département.  Careful research has turned up the good news that we can take in a football match en route. The match is a league game between Uchaud and Carcassonne in the Languedoc – Roussillon section of the Occitanie region’s Division Honneur; the sixth level of French football.

It is now about half past one and we have stopped at an ‘aire’ on the A9 motorway just a few miles from Nimes; with a half hour stop for lunch we will still make it to the Stade Municipal in Uchaud with time to take in the ambience before kick off at 3pm. As we lay out our lunch on a concrete picnic table, a lady about our own age asks if she can share the table with us; being nice people, and in the interests of the entente cordiale, we agree and she joins us with her daughter, who is mentally handicapped. Through a winning combination of our useless French and her slightly less useless English we converse. She is a lovely, friendly ladywith a kind, smiling face and with her daughter Gladys ( a name that sounds much better in French; Gladeece not Gladiss) is on her way from their home in Grenoble for a week’s holiday at Grau du Roi, at a centre that provides holidays for handicapped people and their carers. Gladys, a pretty, joyful young woman, who today wears a large pink flower in her dark hair, is now twenty-nine years old and her mother has brought her up and looked after her on her own all that time. From Monday to Wednesday Gladys now lives in a home, but for the remainder of the week with her mum.  Having eaten lunch, we say goodbye wishing each other bons vacances; we feel a mixture of sadness and humility but also great happiness to have met Gladys and her mum as we set off back onto the motorway towards Nimes and then Uchaud.

Uchaud is a very small town about 8 miles south west of Nimes on the D113, which was the main road between Nimes and Montpellier before the A7 motorway was built. The D113 follows the route of the old Roma road, the Via Domitia. Uchaud is typical of such French towns, appearing to be just two rows of mostly slightly scruffy two and three-storey buildings either side of the road, although in truth it does spread out a little beyond.  According to Wikipedia, in 2014 Uchaud had a population of 4,230.

Just past the very centre of the town we turn off to the left down the Rue Jean Moulin which takes us over the motorway; to the right we see a set of floodlights and then we turn right down the Chemin des Poissoniers. Easing our Citroen C3 between a pair of concrete posts scarred by generations of other Citroens, Renaults, Peugeots and probably Simcas that were less expertly driven, we enter the unsurfaced car park of the Stade Municipal and come to rest beneath the welcome shade of a plane tree. It’s about twenty-five to three.

The Stade Municipal is not much more than a football pitch bounded by a high chain-linked fence. There is a changing room block and buvette (refreshment stall or buffet) at one end of the ground  and a tiny, open, metal ‘grandstand’ which has a capacity of about a dozen people. Otherwise there are just a couple of large rocks and two benches on which to sit and watch the match. The floodlights we saw belong to the neighbouring rugby club. On the opposite side of the ground by the half-way line are the dugouts, including a one-man dugout for the délègue principal, who oversees the whole staging of the match; today’s délègue principal is Monsieur Alain Mistral. He is the only person wearing a suit, although he has taken his jacket off because of the heat. Along this side of the ground runs a low grassy bank with a few young trees on top; a row of rhododendrons punctuate the side of the ground where the benches, rocks and grandstand are, although sadly by now most of their deep red blooms have died off. Such decorative plants are sadly lacking at most English football grounds.

It is free to watch games at this level in France and the players are amateurs playing for the love of the game, so there is no turnstile and we just pass through a metal gate and head for the buvette. The teams are already on the pitch and we ask two gentlemen of retirement age which is which. Uchaud are in all green whilst Carcassonne wear red and blue stripes with blue shorts in the style of Barcelona or, seeing as this is France, Stade Malherbe de Caen. Perhaps confused by my ‘Allez les Bleus’ t-shirt, the gentlemen ask who we are supporting; it seems rude not to support the home team, but I explain that back in England my team is Ipswich (‘les bleus’ of my t-shirt), and my wife adds that she follows Portsmouth; the Frenchmen are Marseilles fans. At the buvette we buy two filter coffees (one euro each); there’s none of your instant rubbish here. We walk about a bit and explore before eventually settling down on one of the rocks in time for kick off, which is slightly delayed because one of the assistant referees seems to be having a bit of trouble inspecting the goal net at the buvette end of the ground. But eventually we hear an electronic beep which signifies that the referee  (Monsieur Boris Gil) has synchronised his watch with his assistants (Monsieurs Laurent Mazauric and Anthony Chaptal) and the game begins.

Carcassonne kick off defending the town and motorway end of the ground and kicking in the general direction of the Camargue and Mediterranean Sea. I am quickly struck by the total absence of any tattooed forearms on any of the twenty-two players, something that is completely unthinkable in England. There are plenty of the ubiquitous beards, but not one tattoo, although the Uchaud number eleven, who bears a passing resemblance to the former Bastia and Lille full-back Julien Palmieri, does wear a bandage on his left forearm.  Could it be a tattoo that went horribly wrong? Does he have a tattoo but covers it up because no one else has one? Do tattoos remain the preserve of convicts in southern France?OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The pace of the game is quick, which is surprising given that it is a warm afternoon with a temperature of a good 25 or 26 degrees, but nevertheless it takes more then five minutes for the first shot on goal, from Uchaud, and then another ten minutes before the next OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAone, from Carcassonne; both shots are from angles, across the face of goal. Uchaud have an uncharacteristically solid, English looking centre half at number four, whilst as well as having a Julien Palmieri lookalike at number eleven, their number six bears a disturbing resemblance to former French international and alleged sex-tape starlet Matthieu Valbuena.

The match is quite absorbing even though there are very few attempts on goal, but we still find time to notice that the badge on the shirt of the assistant referee appears to be OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAattached with velcro; his shirt, shorts and socks all look brand new as if this is their first outing; he’s like an outsized boy on his first day at school. Carcassonne look the slightly more accomplished team and have more forays forward, but Uchaud are well organised and in Palmieri (who the rest of the team call Kevin), Valbuena and their captain they have three players who stand out for their skill and good positional sense; their goalkeeper contributes too with his constant calls of “parlez vous” (talk) and “garde” (keep it) as well as the odd catch from a cross. Carcassonne finish the half with a flourish winning the game’s first corner and then seeing their number three place a free-kick carefully over the angle of post and crossbar, before their dreadlocked number eleven runs in behind the Uchaud defence only to hit a low shot beyond the far post.

Half – time, or mi – temps as the French would have it brings a return to the buvette for a bottle of water (one euro) and a wander to the far side of the ground to view the second half from a different perspective. There are plenty of people stretched out on the grassy bank and it brings to mind a football spectating version of Georges Seurat’s painting “Un dimanche après – midi à l’Ile de la Grande Jatte” (a Sunday afternoon at the island of Grand Jatte). There are no advertising hoardings, no programme and no team sheets to amuse us today so we have to talk. Of course, being a conversation with my wife I dont recall anything she says to me, although we do wonder how many people are here watching the game and decide there are at least 120, not including the people who have parked their cars right next to the fence and are watching from behind the wheel.

As the second half begins we too sit down on the grassy bank, but despite the warmth of the day the grass feels a bit damp and it seems likely that the bank has benefited from some ‘fall-out’ from the watering of the pitch, which is in pretty good condition given that the summers in these parts are on the hotter side of scorching. We don’t move however before the Uchaud goalkeeper misses a punch and has to rely on one of his full-backs to clear the ball for a corner. Carcassonne’s number two then has a yellow card waved at him by Monsiour Gil for roughly tackling Uchaud’s number ten and captain.

Now watching the game from behind the goal, the second half is slower than the first and not quite as good as some of the players start to rely a little more on breaking the game up, some by appealing for fouls, others by committing them. With twenty minutes to go there is a very quick drinks break, soon followed by Uchaud’s first corner, which is won by their young substitute wearing the number thirteen shirt. Heading into the final ten minutes Carcassone’s number seven is booked and not that suprisingly because he has been consistently overplaying the “who, me ref?” role for some time, whilst also provoking a series of complaints from the Uchaud players and coaches.

Despite Carcassonne’s less than always sporting approach, my wife and I agree that they look a little more likely to score because they seem just a little bit sharper. Seconds later the Uchaud number thirteen turns and lofts a diagonal cross to the corner of the Carcassonne penalty area where Uchaud’s number two controls and shoots across the alice – band wearing goalkeeper towards the far post. The Carcassonne number six runs back and attempts to clear his opponent’s shot off the line, but both he and the ball merely combine to bulge the net as Uchaud take the lead to the cheers and applause of the crowd. Carcassonne do not now seriously look like scoring an equaliser and only succeed in using up a bit more of the ink in Monsiour Gil’s biro or the lead in his pencil, as their number nine becomes the third player to be cautioned.

With the final whistle, there is a very small ripple of applause, which quickly dissipates and the crowd depart whilst we safely negotiate the perilous posts at the entrance to the the car park and are once again on our way south. It’s been an entertaining afternoon in the sun, in surroundings reminiscent of step six of the English non league, but with football of a slightly better standard and better coffee.

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