Colin Crawford is a museum worker with a well cultivated taste for the arcane and unusual. Buy him a cup of tea and he’ll talk about anything to do with soccer.
This season Colin is exploring Ligue 1, club by club. This week? En Avant de Guingamp!
It is one of those universal truths that everyone loves an underdog. This rings even truer in the realm of sports. Borussia Dortmund was everyone’s second team for a few years, when they railed against the establishment of Bayern Munich and dared to make their way to the Champion’s League final in 2013, a game they lost 2-1 to their domestic nemesis from Bavaria. Borussia broke the golden rule for being everyone’s back-up team when they kept on winning. They weren’t necessarily collecting silverware, but by being there-or-thereabouts when people spoke of title challenges and trophy contenders the underdog aura quickly evaporated and they became just another Big Club.
A far more effective way of playing your way into everyone’s hearts is with runs in domestic cup competitions. Indeed, in England this is the main way the tournaments are sold to the public; the ‘magic of the cup’ is invoked in an effort to drum up fan enthusiasm where it has faltered in recent years. En Avant de Guingamp is a team that has mastered the art of the cup run, electrifying fans and giving them memories to pass on to their children whilst remaining a charmingly regional outfit. In a slight deviation from regular programming, I actually spoke to a fan of the Breton club – an old friend from my Liverpool days – Liam Kelly. You can find Liam on Twitter, here.
Liam isn’t a journalist, or an expert pundit, he’s just like you and me; a regular guy who is mad about football. He’s part of the masses that make the game what it is. I’ve always been a strong believer in the power and necessity of oral history from those that have lived experience and this is a great opportunity to get the viewpoint of someone who is part of the Guingamp crowd. We sent messages to and fro around the game against Lorient last week and answers may have been edited for clarity or brevity.
Colin Crawford: How and when did you get into supporting En Avant de Guingamp? As a young lad from Liverpool you’re a Reds fan first, so what caught your eye about the small team from Brittany?
Liam Kelly: My interest in football is massive, but I was dealt a bit of a blow when I moved to rural Brittany as part of matter abroad at university. I was placed in a small town, seemingly quite far from anything at all. Fortunately my exile was ended when a colleague who is a big EAG fan asked whether I would like to go to a game with him.
CC: How closely do you follow the team now? Is it weekly check-ins, or more of a general, whenever you remember, sort of thing?
LK: Having spent a considerable amount of time in France, I am definitely a fully fledged ‘guingampais’ ! I watch games quite often, usually streaming online (are you allowed to say that?) but I do follow very closely, keeping up with everything going on at the club.
CC: Have you attended any Guingamp games live? Was it at Stade de Roudorou and who were they playing?
LK: Yes, I attended several games at the Roudourou in 2011/12, notably the victory over rivals Nantes (formerly a part of Brittany) and made an away trip to Le Mans, which although it ended in a 2-1 defeat (after a cross which ended up looping into the net) really was a brilliant day. An excellent French picnic on the roof of the car cannot be underestimated! A fair amount of the day was taken up in the wine aisle of the supermarket by my French pals, arguing over which wine we should buy… It has to be said, the Roudourou is a cracking stadium, with a great atmosphere despite its small size – although it probably is a suitable size bearing in mind the town of Guingamp only has 8k inhabitants. The French national team have frequented the stadium in recent years, essentially down to former EAG President Nöel Le Graët becoming President of the French Football Federation.
In 2014 I also managed to obtain a ticket for the Coupe de France final at the Stade de France in Paris. What a weekend. We were playing our fiercest rivals, Breton neighbours Rennes. A 2-0 victory followed, and I didn’t sleep for the rest of the weekend. Bretons know how to celebrate, shall we say.
CC: Hold on, you were at the 2014 final? Talk about that day for me.
LK: The day was great, with it being Guingamp against Rennes it was a real Breton invasion of Paris – guaranteed party time! In a nutshell I got to Paris, dropped my stuff off, met my friends and went from there…alcohol ensued. The game was pretty straightforward in all truth, Guingamp dominated and in a repeat of 2009, won 2-0. Despite the defeat, we were all Bretons, so there was still a great atmosphere around Paris that night.
CC: Has there been any lasting effects from that cup win?
Not sure on legacy as such, it’s just taken as one of those things, I think. Guingamp always have the potential to surprise and shock, but when it comes to cup finals versus Rennes, the standing joke is that it’s a 2-0 win for Guingamp!
CC: Has your support of Guingamp spurred you on to visit the area? Have you taken an interest in Breton culture, or even of the Cote d’Armor?
LK: I lived in Brittany for a year as part of my year abroad, and although I have not been back to my little town of Loudéac yet, I will be back. The region holds a special place in my heart, and En Avant de Guingamp was a big part of that. My other football club was Loudéac OSC, the local team who I played for – a club that also means a lot to me.
CC: Why should other people support Guingamp? Are there any good twitter follows, news outlets or forums to keep an eye on?
LK: Why not! I do have a real connection with the region and the club so it means a lot to me, but life is never dull with EAG. My friend who got me into the club prophetically told me early on that Guingamp are something of a cup team, which I reminded him of as we met up for a fantastic day in Paris in 2014. As it is such a small club, even though it has been going since 1912, the official lines (Twitter, website etc.) are pretty good. I do chat with French friends about the club too, which is always helpful.
CC: What, in your mind, is their highest achievement? Who have been your favourite players to pull on the jersey?
LK: Cup wins aside (2009 and 2014), getting into Ligue 1 and staying there is probably up there. In terms of budget, EAG have one of the lowest in the league, so to do so well with the resources available is admirable. For me, local hero Christophe Kerbrat is hard to beat. A player who came up through the amateur route and is now playing at the highest level is what we all dream of.
Notable players of recent years also include Gianelli Imbula (now at Stoke, via Marseilles and Porto) as well as Didier Drogba and Florent Malouda, who starred in the early 2000s. Arsenal centre-half Laurent Koscielny also spent the 2003-04 season at the club. Looking further back, two World Cup winners from France ’98 played there, Stéphane Guivarc’h (famous for being a flop at Newcastle) as well as the classy Vincent Candela, who earned his move to Roma off the back of a couple of years at EAG.
A lot of the success in recent years has been down to the superb management of Jocelyn Gourvennec, who recently departed for Bordeaux. A real class act who was very good at moulding players to fit how he wanted to play, as well as working on a tight budget.
CC: Any thoughts on the coming season? What about the game against Lorient tomorrow? A Breton Derby! Bragging rights up for grabs!
LK: A good win last night over Lorient (who are a nice club too!) in a Breton Derby. Generally Breton football is good-natured, with Rennes being probably the spikiest, although games against Brest are pretty fiery affairs too. Having been top of Ligue 1 over the international break, EAG are in a good moment, and long may it continue! A top half finish would be fantastic, but as referred to earlier, the goal overall is to carry on consolidating the position as a Ligue 1 team.
Guingamp have started the new season solidly and currently find themselves in 8th place with three wins, two losses, and two draws to their name, the most eyebrow raising of these being the 2-1 victory over Marseille. Moustapha Diallo currently leads the team in scoring with two goals, but veteran Jimmy Briand is on hand to lighten the load when needed. They have another Breton derby this Friday when they take on Rennais in a rematch of the 2014 Coupe de France final and I will be watching this.
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