First Lewis Hamilton got himself into trouble with Formula 1 race stewards after his misfired gag – “maybe it’s because I’m black …That’s what Ali G says,” he said with a smile about being penalised in the Monaco Grand Prix – and then Monaco went down. And this, to the relief of those without the least interest in le football, is the last French Fancies of the season …
Well Patrice Carteron’s Dijon were already up, and yesterday Eric Roy’s Nice survived the dramatic final day of Ligue 1 despite losing at Valenciennes, so once-mighty Monaco joined once-mighty Nantes in France’s Championship equivalent, Ligue 2. There was nothing much at stake at the top, of course, because the title was already Lille’s.
Monaco’s fate was in their own hands, but the fixtures list left them a tough last game, against Lyon at home, and they lost 2-0. That meant they could stay up only if Nancy stumbled at home to already-relegated Lens. Nancy 4 Lens 0 soon snipped that lifeline.
I am not especially disappointed to see Monaco go down. Just as the state itself is a jumped-up small town, and its royalty little more than an overblown system of aldermanic power (you’re right, M Salut has no invite to the Albert and Charlene wedding in July), the football club – with its amusing average attendances of 6,358 – can be said to pète plus haut que son cul. Seven league titles, five Coupe de France finals as winners, one Champions’ League final as losers. And now off to play in the footballing backwaters of Angers, Metz and Guingamp.
“Monaco are a monument of French football and I’m devastated for everyone that loves this club,” said the ASM coach Laurent Banide, overlooking the fact that Monaco isn’t in France at all. The Ligue 1 official website had him ” choking back tears”, which I thought was a phrase on which Private Eye‘s Ron Knee, ashen-faced manager of Neasden FC, had copyright,
Then there was a glorious typo – “how can we be relegated with 44 pints?” – but we can all sympathise with what we know Banide was actually saying. It is indeed harsh to be relegated with so many, um, pints on the board.
And so to Eric Roy, the man whose surging run and pass set up Niall Quinn’s opening goal in the 4-0 first-half demolition of Chelsea a dozen or so years ago (they got one back but SuperKev was agonisingly close to a hat-trick that would have made it five) . Like Monaco, they had the chance of doing it for themselves, though I always feared they would struggle at Valenciennes, who despite having a positive goal difference could also have gone down on the final day. After losing 2-1 but hanging on thanks to Monaco’s defeat, Eric said his team had “escaped through the smallest door – but it was the doorway to heaven”.
As if to rub salt in Banide’s wounds, he added that Nice had started the season with eyes fixed on 42 points, only for the finishing haul of 46 to be too close to danger for comfort. I read speculation a few weeks ago that Nice might have plans to replace Eric, so can but hope he gets a shot at another season.
This, then, is how it ended among the bottom nine of Ligue 1:
12 Valenciennes FC 38 10 18 10 45 41 +4 48
13 AS Nancy Lorraine 38 13 9 16 43 48 -5 48
14 Montpellier Hérault SC 38 12 11 15 32 43 -11 47
15 SM Caen 38 11 13 14 46 51 -5 46
16 Stade Brestois 29 38 11 13 14 36 43 -7 46
17 OGC Nice 38 11 13 14 33 48 -15 46
18 AS Monaco FC 38 9 17 12 36 40 -4 44
19 RC Lens 38 7 14 17 35 58 -23 35
20 AC Arles Avignon 38 3 11 24 21 70 -49 20
So Arles-Avignon couldn’t get past that 20-point tally, beaten 3-1 at home by Sochaux and you have already seen above what happened to Lens. They were the obvious no-hopers of the division but how close it was above them. Bordeaux, I should note, managed to clamber to a seventh top by beating Montpellier 2-0. Take a bow M Jean-Louis Triaud, president of Bordeaux: seventh top, as all Sunderland supporters can tell you, is where big boys and big clubs finish.
There you have it. Fancies. Ligue 1 football is not as exciting as Premier League fare, attendances are much smaller and the you cannot honestly see Lille making much headway in the Champions’ League next season. But I hope some Salut! Sunderland readers have enjoyed the flavour of French Fancies sufficiently for it to return after the close season.