Coupe de France: Rennes v EA Guingamp – Return Of The Breton Roar
Five years on and the memory remains vivid and beautiful in the hearts of all Rennes and Guingamp supporters alike. From the Gare Montparnasse to the Stade de France, a joyful and noisy Breton crowd had taken over the capital for a weekend. The Red and Black colours shared by both Breton clubs were everywhere, while the white and black Gwen-Ha-Du – the Breton flag – were floating in an atmosphere of Celtic music, Galette Saucisse and Breton pride.
Five years have gone, and they are back for a rematch. On Saturday night, at the Stade de France, you will once again hear the Breton anthem (which could sound familiar to our Welsh readers) before the Marseillaise, before a crowd of rivals waving the same flags and wearing the same colours overwhelm the pitch with an almighty Breton roar. It has been widely acknowledged that the 2009 final was the most incredible atmosphere ever experienced at the Stade de France – the very place where Les Bleus were crowned in the 1998 World Cup – in front of the biggest audience ever gathered for a sporting match played in France.
So as we get ready for the second Breton final in Coupe de France history, here is a look at the relationship between two clubs so similar yet so different, whose healthy rivalry has graced Breton football with some of the most iconic moments of the region’s football history.
Rennes vs Guingamp : A cordial rivalry
With four clubs in the top flight, six in the top three tiers of French football, and plenty more battling their way in the top amateur divisions (CFA and CFA2), Brittany is a land of football and innumerable rivalries, local and regional.
Brittany is also a land of passionate and knowledgeable football fans. With the highest density of licensed football players in any region in France (see the map by @matamix ) and a leading club in each of the five departments of historical Brittany (including Nantes and the Loire Atlantique department), rivalries are abundant and come in countless forms, from the visceral hate between Brest and Guingamp to the indifferent sympathy between Rennes and Lorient.
While the Breton derbies opposing Rennes and Nantes, and Guingamp and Brest, frequently turn out to be heated affairs in the stands, often in a climate of insult, hostility and spiteful behaviour, the Rennes-Guingamp relationship is more a friendly rivalry, tinged with culture clash, banter and tongue-in-cheek humour between the “peasants” from Guingamp and the “citizens” from Rennes.
It could be argued that part of this friendly relationship is due to Guingamp’s only rather recent emergence in French elite football. Indeed, although Guingamp have had a professional status for over thirty years, they only played their first top-tier season in 1995-1996. Moreover, their “Asterix village” status – an 8,000-soul town facing up against the likes of Paris, Marseille, Lyon… or Rennes – and reduced budget attracted the immediate affection of football supporters throughout the country, including in the Rennes fanbase.
Another natural reason for the rather mild nature of the “Rouge et Noir” rivalry is the composition of the clubs’ supporting bases. Until the second half of the 20th century, Rennes was the flagship club of Brittany and the only Breton team to represent the region in the national top-flight. Even as Nantes burst onto the scene after the Second World War, soon achieving considerable success, Rennes remained the club to support for anyone living north of the Loire River.
With the emergence of Brest (1980s) and then Guingamp and Lorient (1990s) at top-flight level, Rennes saw its zone of influence trimmed in Western Brittany, but the memory of the 1965 and 1971 Coupe de France victories are still fresh, and Rennes remain the Bretons’ favourite club. As you can see on the map, however, the area of influence of Rennes and other clubs collide, leaving fans from many Breton towns and cities sitting on the fence.
It is not unusual, during a Rennes-Guingamp encounter, to meet Guingamp-born Rennes-supporters or Rennes-based Guingamp fans struggling to choose one side over the other. “How do you celebrate a brilliant victory, when half of your heart is bitterly disappointed with a humiliating defeat?” asked one of them, remembering his mixed feelings after the 2009 Coupe de France final (read the blog (in French)).
On the Pitch : Advantage Guingamp
Since Guingamp first reached the top flight in 1996, the two teams have come up against each other in 19 matches: nine in Guingamp, nine in Rennes and one at the Stade de France. And, despite the assumed difference of status between the two sides, with Rennes installing itself as one of the top teams in French football while Guingamp roller-coastered its way between the first three divisions, it is the “peasants” who hold a strong advantage over their neighbours from “the city”.
In total, Guingamp have won eight of the north-Breton derbies, Rennes have won six, with five draws, in what have often been tight affairs… with occasional fireworks as in April 2001, when a rampant Stade Rennais silenced the Roudourou with a 1-6 trouncing of Guingamp in their own stadium. Rennes would go on to achieve an unexpected sixth-place finish in Ligue 1 in that season with Guingamp achieving a safe mid-table position in tenth.
Between 1995 and 2002, Guingamp would only win two in ten derbies, but the tide would soon turn for the Cotes d’Armor side, following a historical 3-0 home victory at the Roudourou in August 2002. Since then, it is Guingamp who have had the upper hand over Rennes, winning five of the following nine confrontations, including the most important of all, the 2009 Coupe de France final. Rennes are now without a win against Guingamp since January 2004, over ten years!
Memories of 2009
On May 9th 2009, an incredible Breton frenzy took over Paris, as the French capital was invaded for a weekend by a red and black wave from Brittany. For the first time, the Celtic region of France had sent two of its representatives to the Stade de France, and the stands still vibrate from the warm and thunderous atmosphere of a glorious spring evening at Saint-Denis.
Journalists, supporters and even the police force would agree for once, no-one had ever seen an atmosphere so passionate yet so full of joy and good nature at the Stade de France. The Prefect of Saint-Denis even took the exceptional measure of removing the riot police from the Stadium surroundings just one hour after the final whistle; there was simply no need for any police presence in the big Parisian Fest-Noz!
On the pitch, everything seemed to finally click together for the Stade Rennais, as a decent season in Ligue 1 culminated in an all-Breton final against then Ligue 2 strugglers Guingamp. The memories of the 1965 and 1971 cup victories resurfaced, and the Rennes fans could already imagine the players being paraded through the streets of the city and to the town hall, just like their predecessors thirty-eight years earlier. The Guingamp fans, however, could only remember the bitter taste of a final defeat in 1997, losing to Nice after a dramatic penalty shoot-out and a final miss by captain and club legend Coco Michel.
So, when Rennes’ US international full-back Carlos Bocanegra opened the scoring in the second half, the Rennes end of the stadium erupted in an indescribable explosion of joy and relief. For a couple of minutes, Rennes had forgotten nearly four decades without a trophy, had forgotten Jerome Leroy’s and Moussa Sow’s shots on the woodwork minutes earlier. With twenty minutes left to play, the cup was theirs and the fans could finally breathe.
For a couple of minutes only, since Guingamp reacted immediately, scoring through their Brazilian striker Eduardo three minutes later, before clinching the win through a nearly identical goal by the same player in the 81st minute. Rennes would push in the latter stages of the game, but despite a few late opportunities, the Coupe de France 2009 would be Guingamp’s while Rennes continued to be cursed by an inability to control their nerves in big occasions.
Watch the Full 2009 Coupe de France Final :
To say that the aftermath of the 2009 final wasn’t dealt with comfortably by either team would be a massive understatement. In Rennes, Guy Lacombe left the club with a bang a few weeks after the final, complaining about the lack of ambition of his team, and regretting not having been allowed to recruit additional players during the previous transfer window. He would be replaced by Frederic Antonetti, whose track record in Rennes, while decent for the middle two years, wasn’t good enough to satisfy the fan-base and the management.
Worse, further defeats to lower-tier opposition were felt as more open wounds amongst the supporters, culminating in a humiliating 2-1 defeat at third-tier strugglers Quevilly in the 2010 Coupe de France semi-final. The last-minute defeat despite an early lead created a permanent rift between the Corsican coach and his supporters. Despite another cup run to the 2013 Coupe de la Ligue final and this year’s Coupe de France journey, the trust isn’t completely rebuilt between the begrudging, irascible public of the Route de Lorient and its players. And after all the disappointments of recent years, only a great victory will satisfy the Rennes fans, and unleash the deafening passion which has only appeared intermittently over the last decade at the Stade de la Route de Lorient.
For Guingamp, meanwhile, things took a turn for the worse in the league. After winning the Coupe de France, the North-Bretons would be at the receiving end of an 8-2 trashing by Hamburg in the play-off round of the Europa League before experiencing relegation to the National at the end of a catastrophic Ligue 2 season.
With the departure of manager Victor Zvunka and the arrival of former Rennes and Nantes playmaker Jocelyn Gourvennec, however, Guingamp slowly started rebuilding its squad with an alloy of young and experienced players, clinching their return to Ligue 2 just a year after their relegation – thus saving their professional club status – before eventually returning to Ligue 1 only three years after their drop to the third tier.
You could think that a few years of hardship would have dented Guingamp’s determination and love for the cup. Well, rest assured, they have returned with the same spirit and, once again, the “peasants” will give everything to beat their big Breton brothers, and continue their incredible love story with the Coupe de France!
Tomorrow, read our full preview of the 2014 Coupe de France final!