It is Friday evening which means the French Ligue 2 will commence the proceedings of the football weekend. After a baby break of mine, another match report from the Stade Jean Bouin in Paris’ plush 16 arrondissement where Red Star met RC Lens.
Lens came with a strong position and some positive results from their last 5 matches, having won 2, drawn 2 of their and sit comfortably in second place in the table. Quite the opposite end was the natural habitat of Red Star for large parts of the season until a 5-match unbeaten streak since early February saw them gather some vital points in the battle against relegation but more importantly, strenghten their confidence. In late September Lens beat Red Star 2-0 in front of a 25000 crowd. There won’t be a similar crowd tonight yet with some of Lens in the ground there will be some atmosphere, something that has been missing in the previous matches of Red Star here.
The Black Faces
RC Lens are one of the most popular clubs in France. Established in 1905 they always had close links to the local mining industry, hence their derrogative nickname ‘Gueules noires’: the black chops. The more common term associated with them is ‘Les Sang et Or’, referring to their colours: red and gold. They have kept these since 1924. They’ve started playing in green and red, after WWI they recommenced wearing sky blue, only to change a third and final time 5 years later to red and gold.
They have never been overly successful, winning the league in 1997/98 and the French League Cup in 1994 and 1999. In the Europe context Lens surprised themselves to reach the semi-final of the UEFA-Cup in 2000 where they were defeated by Arsenal. What is fascinating about this club is their fanbase that even in the second division turn out in numbers. In fact, their support must be considered as one of the best in the country.
On paper this could be a very clear matter for the Ch’tis, as people from the North are commoly referred to in Paris and further South. Yet even Lens were beaten by Strasbourg, Amiens and Nimes among others already this season. Likewise Red Star, who last season almost managed to win back-to-back promotions have not looked the same this year and have easily lost games that could (should) have been won. Ingredients for an entertaining evening indeed.
Highs and Lows
What a game it was! It had everything you could wish for as a neutral observer! A dominant visiting side that almost played Red Star off the park in the early stages of this contest, a home team that gradually got back and took a deserved lead after half an hour. The visitors had the better start to the second half when they equalized; once Red Star took the lead only to concede two late goals. One of them was a howler of a goal, the other a classic suckerpunch as it came in injury time.
The away end of the ground was alive and kicking for this fixture. For the first time in a long time there were more visiting fans than home fans which was largely due to the diasporic nature of Lens supporters. Not only were they numerous, they were noisy and gave a good example what could be done with the help of continuous drumming: it simply drowned out red Star’s most loyal support. They never had a chance. Likewise, they never gave up singing, clapping, screaming, supporting.
Without hesitation both teams gave a clear statement of their intention: winning. RC Lens, not long ago gracing Ligue 1, had the better start and fears were rising Red Star may be in for a hammering. That didn’t come. Instead, they fought themselves back into the game and placed some fine piercing passes into the Lens defense for about 10 minutes. After half an hour they reaped their deserved reward when Ngamukol put the hosts 1 up. Delight in the Kop. A long cross from the left surprised everyone, including Ngamukol but he reacted quickly enough to put the ball into goal. There was now only Red Star playing for the rest of the first half.
The second half had an identical beginning as the first: Lens all over Red Star. With 6 minutes gone into the half, the score was level as Bourigeaud hammered the ball into the net. Crosses came in from both sides and there was a portion of luck for the home side that they didn’t concede one or two more goals. More than once, Lens playing in white, came close but found their master in Lembet who prevented worse. Other chances flew wide or over. After roughly a quarter of an hour this energetic period was over and it looked as though a draw was on the cards. If there were more goals to come, the side scoring first would win the match.
It wasn’t. There was drama to come. With 80 minutes on the clock, the three points were staying in Paris. Palun accelerated from defense to midfield where he put a pass wide to the right to Ngamukol whose cross was converted by San