Wednesday, 6 June 2012

L’Île Rousse 0 Calvi 2 (aet)

Corsica Cup final
Attendance: approx 1,000

So there I was on holiday with the family tucking into wild boar with sweet polenta in a restaurant at Calvi in northern Corsica when I noted that the waiter wore a t-shirt with “Finale!” emblazoned across it. Below were the words ‘Coupe de Corse’, the crests of Calvi and L’Île Rousse football clubs and the date ‘6.6.12’. That was the next day. Soon I was asking about more than the bill and, having found out the match was taking place in L’Île Rousse just 22km away, re-shuffling our itinerary. What serendipity: I had to go. Euros? What Euros?

The rivalry between Calvi and L’Île Rousse dates back over a quarter of a century. The latter was developed by Pascal Paoli, leader of independent Corsica, in the 1760s as a “gallows to hang Calvi”. He needed a port for the export of olive oil since Calvi was still in the hands of the rival Genoese who’s naval blockade was stifling the economy of the fledgling government. Today Calvi is the superior football club. Cup holders, having won the competition for the first time in their 78-year history last season, they play in the fourth tier of French football while L’Île Rousse, three times cup winners in the mid-80s, compete in the top division of the Corsican league (tier six). The scene was set, then, for a fiery Balagne (that’s the name of the region) derby. Think Everton playing Liverpool in the FA Cup final and you’re about right – in Mediterranean island terms.

I had no problem finding the ground. It was bang on the main coast road just as the waiter said, the road was bunged up with traffic and the tinny PA blared across the entire neighbourhood like a Muslim call to prayer. My fears about this being a one man and his dog final were unfounded; the attendance was about a thousand. Among all the smoking Gauls I suddenly I felt like an Englishman very abroad. I paid my eight Euros to a couple sat at a table and chairs. All that was missing from a Northern Premier League-type admission was the offer of a raffle ticket. All free vantage points were taken: trees, walls, mounds and the roofs. 
A track leads below pitch level and along one of the two empty sides of the ground, around the back of a large pavilion-style clubhouse with first floor viewing area and to the far side of the pitch where there are five deep concrete terraces for sitting on. The artificial 3G pitch is tightly enclosed all round with a 12ft high fence which means the only way to get an unobstructed view is to stand on the top terrace. The vista extends far past the clubhouse over to the lighthouse perched on the red (at sunset) island that gives the resort its  name.
The teams came out to a riot of flares and air horns from the Calvi fans (clip here), many wearing black wigs and their faces painted black and white. It was more like the fall of the Bastille than the preamble to a game of non-league football. Thereafter, though, the fans strangely fell pretty much silent other than for the general murmur of chat. The fireworks were over in more ways than one; the standard of football and quality of the contest were woeful. Throughout the game the pattern was that Calvi dominated possession but were feeble in the final third while L’Île was restricted to a few breakaways. The best of them was when a striker flicked the ball over the keeper only for the ball to be booted practically off his toe by a Calvi defender appearing from nowhere. “Sacrebleu!” we all called. (Well, I did). 
Things sparked up briefly just before half-time when the tackles started flying in. Lots of ‘handbags’ followed and the Île coach had to be twice be restrained as the teams headed for the clubhouse. Right: this is going to get tasty in the second-half, I thought. But it didn’t. The game was as dull as the last few FA Cup finals  you watched before you gave up. Youths entertained themselves by lighting their last flare in the car park, two girls took pictures of them together on an iPhone and the fella in front of me twisted a blade of long grass between his fingers. It’s funny how you only get extra-time when you don’t want it – and this was always shaping up to be one of those matches. The ennui of the crowd of the crowd had spread to the teams who, by now, were like two weary boxers slugging it out having long abandoned the game-plan.
To practically everyone’s relief, then, a few minutes into the additional period Calvi finally broke the deadlock when a striker managed to round the keeper without getting the ball trapped under his feet as he looked about to do. I let out half of a relieved “yeah!” before remembering I was among the Île fans. Thankfully no-one noticed. Such a pity we never had a home score as that would surely have got the game going and resulted in the sort of ding-dong derby this final should always have been. Just before the turn-around and again on the break a Calvi striker fired home from just inside the box. Game over.
The trophy presentation was a shambolic affair conducted on the pitch which I managed to reach via the clubhouse. I think I can safely say that I'm the only spectator for whom the celebration brought back memories of Tadcaster Albion's finest hour. The smell among the flag-waving celebrants was a strange mix of sweat and champagne. And with that I joined the convoy of honking mopeds on the N197 back to Calvi, contributing a couple of cheeky little toots in my Focus hire car. Poor match, yes, but I wouldn’t have missed the total experience for, well, all the olive oil in the Balagne. 
Back home: Here’s what Calvi’s ground looks like. I trod the turf at dusk after that fateful dinner and while some lads were having a kickabout on it then returned for pics the next day.

The other final: I went to York’s Conference play-off final against Luton at Wembley. Not quirky enough to be blogworthy – but a grand day out nonetheless.

The big picture: The size of pics on Blogger always frustrates me. Click on any of the pics to view the full album.