The Greatest French Club Side Of All Time
The time has come to reveal the team picked as “The Greatest French Club Side of all Time”….Before we reveal the #1 team a huge thanks goes out to Juliet Jacques for writing a fantastic series.
1. Stade de Reims, 1948-1962
Founded in 1931, Reims began in the Division Honneur Nord-Est when the French league was launched, becoming professional after promotion to Division 2 in 1935. They finished sixth in in 1939, but when the top flight was expanded after the war, Reims were included.
Reims secured their first championship by a single point in 1948. The defence was built around Robert Jonquet, known as ‘The Hero of Highbury’ after his majestic display there for France in 1951, and Roger Marche, later Les Bleus’ most capped player.
With Albert Batteux, an influential midfielder five years earlier, as manager, Reims won their second title in 1953. Batteux soon built a team that would nearly become champions of Europe and, as the core of the French side that illuminated Sweden 1958, the world. The following year, Reims came second, but they reclaimed the championship in 1955, thanks to sublime deep-lying forward Raymond Kopa, thirty goals from René Bliard, and Batteux’s flexible take on the 3-2-5 formation.
Reims’s title defence faltered – they never won consecutive championships – but their free-flowing attack dazzled in the new European Cup. Léon Glowacki scored three in their 4-2 win over Denmark’s AGF, before they beat Vörös Lobogó (now MTK) of Hungary 8-6 over two pulsating games. Three second-half goals secured their triumph over Hibernian, and Reims were in the final.
Within ten minutes, Reims were 2-0 up, through Michel Leblond and Jean Templin’s near-post strikes. Alfredo di Stéfano and Héctor Rial pulled Real Madrid level after half an hour, but winger Michel Hidalgo headed Batteux’s side back in front after 62 minutes. Almost immediately, Marquitos equalised, before Rial’s second ensured that the Spanish giants won the first European Cup.
Kopa so impressed Madrid that they signed him – he proved integral as they kept the cup for the next two years. Reims rebuilt their attack around Just Fontaine, who scored 34 goals in 26 matches as they won their fourth title in 1958 – and then 13 in Sweden as France finished third, losing an epic World Cup semi-final to Brazil. Their 5-2 defeat owed much to an injury to Jonquet, still the defensive cornerstone for club and country.
Most of France’s blistering World Cup attack played for Reims, and were just as clinical in Europe the following season. They beat Ards of Northern Ireland 10-3 in the first round, Finland’s HPS 7-0 in the second, before losing 2-0 at Standard Liège in the quarter-final first leg. Three goals in the last twenty minutes at home – one from Roger Piantoni and two from Fontaine – set up a last-four tie against Switzerland’s Young Boys. Again, they lost the first leg, but comfortably won the second to make another final, this time in Stuttgart. This time, Madrid beat them more comfortably, Kopa starring in their 2-0 win.
Kopa returned to Reims that summer, inspiring yet another title. With Batteux still in charge, they won their final championship in 1962, beating Racing Club with the narrowest goal average. However, with key players ageing, this was their final triumph: two seasons later, Reims were relegated. They spent the Seventies in Division 1 without recapturing former glories,but after falling again in 1979, they never returned.
Best XI: Paul Sinibaldi; Simon Zimny, Roger Marche, Robert Jonquet; Michel Leblond, Armand Penverne; Léon Glowacki, René Bliard, Just Fontaine, Raymond Kopa, Roger Piantoni.
Honours: French champions 1949, 1953, 1955, 1958, 1960, 1962. Coupe de France 1950. European Cup runners-up: 1956, 1959.
Congratulations to Stade de Reims, they are now inducted into the French Football Weekly Hall of Fame.
The countdown in full: