Sunday, 6 October 2019

04/10/19 Review: AS Béziers vs Bastia-Borgo

AS Béziers 1-1 Bastia-Borgo (Championnat National)
Stade Raoul Barriére

Bonjour and welcome to a special edition of 'Pint of Football', or "Pinte de Football" as it should be known for this French instalment. In the midst of holiday exploits that saw my partner and I travel up from Perpignan to Montpellier and back again, we managed to squeeze in an evening over at Béziers in the Occitanie region and along with a mooch into the town there was also a date with Stade Raoul Barriére to look forward to as a bonus. Prepare yourselves for my latest venture over to the south of France to see AS Béziers take on islanders Bastia-Borgo.

The latest of my visits to a see the beautiful game in a rugby ground 

Yes, with visits already made this season to Burton RFC's Peel Croft ground in August and more recently a trip to Butts Park in Coventry to see Cov United versus Haughmond, I am starting to get a bit of a reputation for visiting stadiums primarily used for rugby and in all fairness they have been fabulous so far. For tonight, it was to be even bigger and better a trip as we ascended on the monumental 18,000 capacity stade for what would be the ground's second match of the day. The afternoon had already seen one win for Béziers as the rugby team triumphed 20-15 over Oyonnax in Pro Division 2, but for us it was all about the football and so we arrived just in time to see the battle between two of the Championnat National's midtable sides. With tickets priced at just ten euros a pop this third tier game was bound to be value for money, with the equivalent of our own pound sterling not even covering the cost of parking at some of the big grounds in England. The one thing I've enjoyed about my trips to Italy, Spain and now France for the football is that they make it comfortable, affordable and accessible for all and this Friday night in the floodlights would prove to be all of the above with all ages coming out to cheer on their local side. For me, this would be my sixth match in a foreign ground, after visiting Mallorca in Spain, as well as four of Italy's finest during the EURO U21 Finals back in June.

We also poked our heads into FC Séte's Stade Louis Michel on the way in
At the start of proceedings today's hosts found themselves sat in the lower realms of the table and despite being a newly reintroduced club to the division following last season's relegation from Ligue 2, they weren't exactly setting the league on fire so far after picking up just two wins from the opening nine matches. The merger club, who are only 12 years old, have had some good times since forming off the back of AS Saint-Chinian, FC Béziers Méd and Béziers-Méd Football Cheminots and they achieved professional status for the first time in 2018 when they won promotion to France's second tier. Of course, they came straight back down with a 19th place finish but after fighting hard in a tough division they will be disappointed not to be higher up in the early stages of their return to the third step. Their opponents, from the island of Corsica, were another merger team in the form of Bastia-Borgo who are (surprise, surprise) a combination of CA Bastia and Borgo FC. Only into their third year as a new club, the club was promoted last season after finishing 2nd in National 2 Group C behind Nantes Reserves. The one thing that this scenario did get me thinking about was the potential for success for smaller clubs to gain through merging in difficult times. When I think of the struggles that Bury FC, Bolton Wanderers and my own side Macclesfield Town are having, I do wonder if a merge option would help the three sides who are only 36 miles apart! Buryfield Wanderers FC.... could work? Maybe not!

These guys seem happy enough with sharing a club with neighbours
Inside the surrounds of the ground we stepped into a pleasant entranceway that included a club shop, a food stand, drinking hole and of course the unforgettable "Jeton Drop". Now I'm no expert when it comes to French, so forgive me ignorance when I thought for a moment that the club had developed its own currency in the form of jetons, which actually just means 'tokens' in English. However, these delightful red coins that cost 1.43 euros a pieces would prove to be the only way that one can buy food and drink in the ground. I'm not sure what the reasoning is, but with the purchase of a beer and a coke for five jetons, we were delighted to be given proper AS Béziers plastic cups which of course are now my favoured beer holders at home. I think there was some sort of recycle for more jetons scheme going on, but as we aren't going to be back any time soon we decided to keep them as mementos! I also purchased a scarf in the club shop to add to my collection, so it was a win-win for me so far.

Here we are, all kitted out with my official club scarf and pint cup
The game was looming by now and as is a tradition of mine I decided to predict the outcome, with Soph and I both picking out the hosts to win. I went for a 2-0 Béiers victory whilst Sophie predicted more of a roller-coaster ride by opting for 3-2. And with that, the teams came out to the infamously known Pirates of the Caribbean theme tune and the 8pm match was underway with the away side defending over to my left in the first-half. The Corsican side were under the cosh from the word go and in just the third minute the home side's leading forward was looking to add to his impressive goal tally so far this season. Kévin Testud's third minute strike was close, alas not enough to beat Stephen Milosavljevic in the Corsican goal. Moving on into the tenth minute, more action came our way but this time in the form of a bad foul on a Béziers player. The chants from the crowd were indistinguishable, so I decided to try out shouting "rouge, rouge, rouge" as per the classic English chant.

It didn't work
The home side continued to press and they went close again through Francisco Roldán after Bastia-Borgo handed them the ball in a dangerous area, but this missed effort would not be the last they'd get. Twenty-two minutes into the match a rapid break from the halfway line saw the reds burst forward, with the ball eventually being unselfishly laid off to Roldán so that the Spaniard could slam home his first goal since moving north of the border from Elche Ilicitano. Béziers 1-0 Bastia-Borgo. If the hosts thought it would be plain sailing from then on they would be mistaken, with just three minutes elapsing between the opener and the equaliser from Bastia's captain. Born and bred on the island, their number 11 has spent all but one of his playing years with a Bastia based side and the 31 year old was in the right place to receive the ball from the right-wing and place it past Vincent Viot. Béziers 1-1 Bastia-Borgo. With less than half an hour played we hoped that this would be the start of a butfest, with the word "but" meaning "goal" in this instance, however in actual fact the remainder of the game would see chances coming few and far between and it wasn't until the second-half that the next notable strike was registered.

Still, at least we had the sunset to take in
Testud and Roldán continued to be the main attacking forces after the restart but much like our supply of jetons the entertainment factor was limited, with half-chances and intricate passing displays dominating the rest of the game. Even with the introduction of substitutes, such as possible futuristic android F-X Fumu Tamuso, there was to be little more additional momentum gained, with the exception of when attacking right-back Robin Taillan went as close as you could possibly go with a strike on to the underside of the bar. Very unlucky, but it was not to be for the home team and the game would end as it started, with the sides all-square.

Amazing ground, average game
No sooner had the game finished did we scoot off to the car in search of an easy escape back to the hotel, but in doing so we apparently missed a post-game scrap that saw Souleymane Aw and Cedric Odzoumo. I'm not sure what happened between the French visitor and the Senegalese youngster, but the match report shows them as both being "sent off" in the 95th minute. If anybody was there and knows, I'd be interested to hear what happened.

It just goes to show, never leave before (or just after!) the final whistle
Either way, the experience of another ground on foreign soil was something very special for me as I aim to continue to take my search for greatness as far and wide as I can. That's ground number 173 ticked off for me and with Non-League Day taking place this weekend in England, I'll be no doubt checking in somewhere far less glamorous than Stade Raoul Barriére!