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? FC Lorient!
You may have noticed over the course of these articles that we’ve already mentioned two teams from the Brittany region of France, SM Caen and En Avant De Guingamp. Over the course of the project we’ll cover three more, Stade Rennais, Nantes, and today’s team FC Lorient. That’s five teams out of 20 all from the same region; a full 25% of Ligue 1 is Breton!
It’s fairly obvious that something is in the water in Bretagne, which was an independent duchy until as recently as 1532. Even then, it was a province that was governed in a less hands-on way than the rest of the country. Brittany is a singular culture within France, proudly wearing it’s Celtic origins on it’s sleeve, maintaining it’s own language, Breizh, and finding more ties with the other Celtic Nations that it does it’s supposed compatriots. Those other Celtic Nations include Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Cornwall, and the Isle of Man. There’s also three extra nations, Gallaecia which covers Northern Portugal and Northern Spain, Cape Breton Island off the coast of Nova Scotia – which still has native Gaelic speakers – and Y Wladfa in the Chubut Valley in Patagonia, Argentina.
This last example is absolutely my favourite. Professor Michael D. Jones was worried about the loss of the Welsh language and cultural identity in the face of the advancing English. In 1865 the Argentinian government offered them land in the Chubut Valley because, frankly, they hadn’t gotten round to settling Patagonia yet, and they figured these crazy Welshmen could do it for them. Fast forward to now and several periods of boom and bust, and Patagonian Welsh is a legitimately distinct dialect that is taught in primary and middle schools in the area. It’s possible to be in the Argentinian hinterland and have lunch in a tea house whilst holding a conversation entirely in Welsh, which is something that nobody really thought was going to happen.
Back to Brittany, and the city of Lorient plays host to the Festival Interceltique every year, inviting representatives from the nations and diasporas all over the world. They drink a lot of beer, eat a lot of seafood, and play a lot of bagpipes. Unfortunately for us, the festival seems to mostly concern art, music and dancing, with very little sporting competition taking place, at least officially . There has been one staging of a Celtic Nations Cup in 2011, but it only featured Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland, and the Republic of Ireland, who ended up winning it. Brittany wanted to be involved but were rebuffed, very likely because they weren’t officially sanctioned by FIFA or UEFA.
The Brittany National Football Team, of course, has an origin long before that 2011 tournament. Their first game was actually in 1922, when they ran out 1-0 winners over Luxembourg. They played a few more times, all against Luxembourg save once against Norway in 1923 when they got beaten 5-1, before the second World War broke out.
The founding of the aforementioned Festival Interceltique in 1971 fired interest in a football team for Brittany once more and contact was made with the FAs of the other Celtic Nations over the viability of such a meeting. It didn’t initially work out, but Alex Ferguson’s Falkirk did come and beat Lorient 2-1 in 1972, so there was some friendly play at a club level, if not a national one. Things really kicked into gear in the 80’s with the founding of L’association Aroak Vreizh in 1982 . There was a real push to get the Celtic Nations into a larger tournament, but the Scottish FA shot any proposals down, presumably riding high after their fourth successive World Cup appearance in 1986, and hoping to test themselves against tougher opposition.
This setback wasn’t enough to kill the Brittany team, however, and they reappeared in 1988, beating the USA 6-2 in an indoor game that featured Christian Gourcuff. Phillipe Tibeuf, a striker of no real merit but who garnered two appearances for the French National Team, scored a hat-trick. The senior team again went into hibernation until the formation of the Bretagne Football Association (BFA) in 1997. They wasted no time in organizing games, setting up a friendly with Cameroon in 1998. The intention was to provide a good warm-up for teams who were in the area before the 1998 World Cup, and they did just that, holding Cameroon to a 1-1 draw. It should be noted that this wasn’t a team of nobodies either; the Cameroon line-up featured Rigobert Song, Marc-Vivien Foé, and Joseph-Désiré Job, amongst others .
For their part, Brittany were able to call upon Paul Le Guen, Pierre-Yves Andre – who had a six month loan spell at Bolton Wanderers in 2003 – and, well, that was about it. There were a number of players who had experience with France at the U21 level, but no standout talents. Some kind soul has also uploaded footage of the buildup to this game to Youtube, as well as a rough highlights package, so if you’ve fifteen minutes to spare you can watch a bunch of footballers mill about whilst they listen to bagpipes. Bagpipes are big in Celtic culture.
The French Football Federation then took the steps to effectively freeze the BFA in administrative hell until 2005. Their return in 2008 saw them beat Congo 3-1, before heading to the Corsica Cup in 2010 where they lost to Corsica, but beat Togo in a third place match . In an enjoyably esoteric piece of Canadian Content, Anthony Le Gall turned out for the Corsica Cup and later that summer signed for Montreal Impact, who were in the USSF Div. 2 Pro League at the time. He stayed for a season before heading back to France. There was a disappointing loss to Equatorial Guinea in 2011 before a 1-0 win over a Mali team that featured Seydou Keita in 2013, the winning goal being scored by Yann Kermogant.
Of late they haven’t been able to get a game. The games are often charitable affairs, designed to raise money for charities operating within their opponent’s homelands. This has meant the games are always susceptible to cancellation, including the two most recently called off games against Central African Republic and Togo in 2014 and 2016, respectively.
The biggest news would likely be the appointment of Raymond Domenech as the head coach earlier this year, the BFA likely hoping that a bit of name recognition could get them some pull in international circles. They’ve added to that by releasing a list of eligible players, one that includes names like Yoann Gourcuff, Sylvain Marveaux, Jeremy Menez, Jeremy Toulalan, Jordan Veretout, Yann Kermogant, Adam Le Fondre, and Kevin Gameiro. The team would be set going forward, at least. Going by the criteria, they could also include Damien Perquis, recently of Toronto FC, and Gonzalo Higuain, who was born in Brest when his dad was playing there.
Of course, it’s not likely they’d ever get the big stars to come out and appear for them, but one can dream. As for the team itself, they look like they’re going to continue playing one-off charity matches and maintain a close-ish relationship with the FFF. I’d like to see them align with CONIFA and play in some of the larger tournaments alongside other members in France, Occitania and County of Nice, but I won’t be holding my breath.
As for Lorient, they are definitely a football team. Just. They are currently bottom of the table with just six points from ten games, the two wins coming against Lille and Lyon. They’ve only managed six goals this year, four of them being scored by Benjamin Moukandjo currently out with an injury and likely joining Cameroon for the Africa Cup of Nations in the new year, Lorient look a little bereft. Sylvain Marveaux is turning out for them this year, but has appeared in only one match, whilst Jérémie Aliadiere is your actual “so that’s where he is” player.
Sylvain Ripoli was sacked ealier this week after the loss to Dijon, but so many of his important players form last year were sold, with very little done to further reinforce the team. They lost again in a midweek cup tie to Stade Rennais and play this weekend against Montpellier. I’m likely to miss the game because I’m a good person and I’m helping a friend move house. To be honest it seems like I’m dodging a bullet there. If I can catch the game I’ll sort out a report, otherwise it will be on to Olympique Lyonnais!
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