Qualified for the final of the Coupe de France, the girls of Yzeure are preparing to challenge PSG this Sunday at Gaston-Gérard for the biggest challenge of their career. Above all, if the cup has become accustomed to giving pride of place to amateur clubs among boys, this is only the second time that a D2 team has managed to climb to the last step on the women’s side. . With the ambition to write an extraordinary story.
On June 5, 2009, as a curtain raiser for a France-Turkey match, the public at the Gerland stadium witnessed a moment in the history of French women’s football. The final of what is still called the Challenge de France – which became the Women’s French Cup two years later – pits the Montpellier armada against Le Mans, a second division club. Beaten by the vice-champions of France, the Sarthoises are then far from imagining that it will take thirteen years to see a second division team again reach this point. It is now done. The lucky one? Women’s Football Yzeure Allier Auvergne (FFYAA).
In the depths of the Allier, where many farmers have chosen 100% organic, the club of the commune of Yzeure has chosen 100% female. Non-professionals, the ladies occupy an honorable third place in Pool B of D2. “The players are forced to work on the side, so they have their working days all week and in the evening we meet at 6:30 p.m. / 7 p.m. on the field for training sessions” , describes the coach, Ophélie Meilleroux. With the smallest budget of their championship (275,000 euros), 28 times lower than the Parisiennes. The Yzeuriennes are forced to manage Guy Roux-style finances, which leads to an abyssal gap in terms of quality in the apprehension of meetings: “When you compare the two preparations, it’s completely different. We don’t have a weight room, we don’t have a treatment room, the physiotherapist comes to a small room of three square meters to give the players some care before training. These are Spartan conditions” deplores the coach, also vice-president and youth technical manager.
What keeps this club alive is love, that of its volunteers and its public, the best attendance in the division. The heart, the players also have a lot, climbing the ladder against women’s sections of professional men’s clubs like Nantes, Toulouse and Lille. Even if the residents of the Bellevue stadium have had a little success in their journey, not crossing any formation of the first division. The representatives of Auvergne have won three games in a row after the suspense of penalties. An exercise which, paradoxically, has never been worked on in training. This collective success, the former French international prefers to attribute to the values of her group: “This notion of combativeness, of solidarity that they demonstrated with each other. Even at this stage of the match, they did not lower their heads. »
The charm of the cut
This qualification of the FFYAA for the final of the Women’s French Cup represents a real achievement. Thirteen years later, the girls of Le Mans are no longer alone. “I am happy that they are the ones who accompany us in this small list of second division clubs [qualifiés en finale]savors Xavier Aubert, at the head of the women’s section of the MUC72 in 2009 during the final lost against Montpellier (1-3). For an amateur club attached to no one, it’s great. The Coupe de France remains the only competition where amateurs rub shoulders with professionals, we remain on this charm of the cup. » A competition that has regularly given pride of place to small thumbs on the men’s side, but struggles to offer itself to amateur clubs for women. “I think that until recent seasons, there was a big gap between these teams, even if today it is closing” says Ophélie Meilleroux.
The observation is the same on the side of Xavier Aubert, also passed on the bench of Yzeure during the 2012-2013 season. “13 years ago, it was unthinkable to see a D2 team go to the final. We had beaten three D1 teams, it was an extraordinary journey, the culmination of the club’s project. » Outstanding courses which could however multiply in the years to come. “Today, we see that many professional clubs have invested in women’s football, and this allows for higher level matches. In the next few years, we may see other amateur teams go far, we see that this year, Yzeure wins its semi-final against Nantes. » This year, it is the daughters of Ophélie Meilleroux who will carry the torch of amateur women’s clubs. “It’s not a pressure, we are proud for us at firstassures the one who took her place as No. 1 on the bench last February. I had a lot of support from amateur clubs like ours. It’s nice to represent these clubs that are in the shadows. »
And to take advantage of the opportunities to take a little light for a club which experienced the D1 between 2008 and 2014. “It’s good because Yzeure works a lot for the development of women’s football” , appreciates Xavier Aubert. A chance for a women’s section which is not attached to a professional club, like many of its opponents. “A few years ago, the gap between the D1 and D2 teams already existed. It still exists, but even today in D2, you have to be structured, have the financial means ” continues Aubert.
With the locomotives of Olympique Lyonnais and Paris Saint-Germain, French women’s football is very well represented on a European scale. But it may be the two huge sequoias that hide a forest of poorly watered small shrubs. The professionalization of women’s football is still developing, due to its recent enthusiasm. This is why the teams of the first two French divisions can still have amateur status, which keeps some clubs at a precarious level.
We are expecting more than 1,000 Yzeur supporters in Dijon on Sunday. No you are not dreaming, you will be more than a thousand pushing our blues for their Coupe de France Final! ?What an extraordinary enthusiasm!!! It must be said that this is an EXCEPTIONAL & HISTORIC event!! pic.twitter.com/3scH1lwqht
— Yzeure Women’s Football (@YFeminin) May 9, 2022
Faced with this, no choice for the FFYAA, which plays the family club card with a workforce of the most cosmopolitan (Haiti, Israel, Portugal, Senegal, Canada …). “If our players come to Yzeure, it’s not for the conditions, they know itrecognizes the coach again. When we present the club to them, we don’t sell them dreams. They know the conditions before signing. They come to experience emotions, to progress individually and to have results at the collective level. » Strategy which has rather paid off so far, especially as on the emotional side, the interested parties should refuel during this final. But be careful not to get overwhelmed. “The biggest regret is that we started playing the final after 20 minutes because we had prepared like an amateur club for a big national event. When you arrive in Gerland and you have never seen the stadium, the girls were more spectators at firstplays again thirteen years after Xavier Aubert. Despite everything, it remains one of the most beautiful memories we could have had, and the following year, we went up to D1 with the same group. » This could give some ideas on the Allier side.
By Harrel Mbadinga-Obame and Tom Binet
All comments collected by HMO and TB.