Lost in…Bayonne

Aviron Bayonnais FC vs Les Genêts d’Anglet

Stade Didier Deschamps, CFA 2 (Group H), January 10th 2015

My sort-of New Year’s resolution is to see more of the Basque Country. When I moved here in the late part of last summer, I’d hoped, as I’d done in my previous home in South Korea, to use football and groundhopping as an excuse to travel. And it should have been easy. Three of the 20 teams in Spain’s Primera Division are Basque. There’s Deportivo Alaves in the Segunda Division and a further seven teams in Segunda B (Group Two). Add the entire Tercera Division (Group Four) and that’s 31 Basque teams.

And that’s just the three provinces of the politically-recognised Basque Country. Add in the other four provinces -Navarra in Spain and three more in France- where Basque language and traditions are prominent (and the area that famously choosy Athletic de Bilbao selects its players) and you are looking at almost the same number of clubs again, at least outside the top-flight.

I will never match Matthew’s prolific groundhopping endeavours, but, given all those grounds to choose from, I only managed a poor three in 2014. Most weekends, I ended up at Anoeta watching Real Sociedad, whilst squeezing in trips to Irun (Real Union) and Pamplona (Osasuna).

I didn’t start this year well, either. On the first weekend I was once again at Anoeta watching La Real. However, it’s not everyday that Barcelona come to town, so I didn’t feel overly guilty about putting the travels back a week. Scanning the fixtures, one game stood out and it meant another visit to France.

Bayonne (or Baiona in Basque)

Bayonne (or Baiona in Basque)

Aviron Bayonnais and Les Genets d’Anglet play, what I believe, is the only Basque derby in the French leagues and they were meeting in a Championnat de France Amateur 2, (Group H), part of France’s regionalized tier five. Bayonne and Anglet are the nearest of near neighbours, and along with Biarritz form a large, Basque-coast conurbation. Bayonne were the hosts for this one and, as well it being a derby, the pull for me was their small stadium named after the city’s most famous footballing son.

Basque France is rugby country. Biarritz Olympique had been regular European contenders before relegation last year and the rugby side of Aviron Bayonnais are four-time national champions and have been back in French rugby’s top-flight for the past ten years. Wales’ Mike Phillips was recently employed by Bayonne, but Welsh influence on the team dates back much further. The rugby team’s stadium is on the Rue Harry Owen Coe, Coe being a Welshman who moved to the city in the early 20th Century and played an important part in the team’s first French title in 1913.

Clearly it takes quite the football man to stand out in these oval-balled parts of the country. Step forward, Didier Deschamps. The one-time ‘Water-carrier’ was, of course, the World Cup- and Euros-winning captain of France and is now the national team manager (not to mention four league titles, five Champions League final appearances- one and a bit wins- and a host of other trophies). He began playing football at Aviron Bayonnais, an omnisports club whose football section dates from 1930, before a professional career at Nantes, Marseille, Juventus, Chelsea, and Valencia.

My visit to DD’s hometown began with a short, early morning bike-ride to San Sebastián bus station. An hour and a half later and €14 lighter (the very reasonable cost of a return bus ticket), I was in Bayonne. I headed into the narrow, winding streets of old Bayonne, which wasn’t the best place to get my bearings in a new city. The city’s impressive cathedral, which had been visible from the bus-stop, proved a better marker.

Bayonne Cathedral

Bayonne Cathedral

Old Bayonne

Old Bayonne

The town centre had the feel of a rugby town, a Basque version of Bath, perhaps. There were posters all over for that evening’s match between Aviron Bayonnais (the rugby section) and Lyon. There a with a vast array of scrum caps and other padded rugby paraphernalia in one sports shop I visited, while, glancing through the window at least, even the Aviron Bayonnais club shop contained nothing to suggest a football section.

At the busy marketplace, people where buying their cheese and drinking (at 10:30am!) in the many bars and cafes around the market and along the banks of the River Nive. I bought some Basque fare to take home to my wife, but opted for some Japanese noodles (at Sushicube: very nice, but expensive ramen if you’ve ever got a craving for Japanese food in Bayonne) for a late breakfast/early lunch and joined in the spirit with a pre-midday beer.

Bayonne market

Bayonne market

A bowl of Japanese goodness (with Basque pork)

A bowl of Japanese goodness (with Basque pork)

Bridge over the River Adour

Bridge over the River Adour

After a bit more wandering, I crossed the larger River Adour and headed toward the old citadel. That, at least at the entrance I tried, was closed, so I began the walk to the ground. The busy centre soon become more residential, then commercial/industrial. There, next to Lidl, was the underwhelming Stade Didier Deschamps.

Heading the right way, then

Heading the right way, then

Le Stade Didier Deschamps...and Lidl

Le Stade Didier Deschamps…and Lidl

The closed citadel and my inability to correctly judge the scale on a map meant there were still around 90 minutes to kick-off. Fortunately, at the rear of the stadium was a club house. Now, I didn’t know if French club houses are like those in the UK, but from the outside there were enough shirts and flags on the wall to suggest I might be able to find some pre-game company and a beer. Unfortunately, as I approached, someone in a Bayonne tracksuit told me it was closed and pointed me back in the direction of the stadium. Clearly, ‘club house’ is not a literal translation.

I popped into the Lidl and got some cheese to go with my earlier purchases, and then went to the cafe across the street for a coffee, a delicious ham and cheese baguette, and a very welcome toilet-break. Having exhausted the surrounding entertainment, there was nothing left but pay my €5 and go into the ground.

Lovely wooden beams

Lovely wooden beams

Fencing in the fifth tier...what were they expecting?

Fencing in the fifth tier…what were they expecting?

The 15:30 kick-off time was a further deference to the rugby team, who were kicking off at 18:30, but the start was still almost an hour away. There was a small concession selling beer, but, as none of the few people already inside the ground were partaking, I didn’t want to play up to British stereotypes and be the first.

After looking inside the one stand and taking a little walk around the ground, the area around entrance was beginning to fill. The atmosphere was pleasingly convivial. This was the first league game in Bayonne since November and there was lots of New Year cheek-kissing among the home support. There were also lots of kids in Bayonne tracksuits and muddy boots, probably having played for one of the club’s many young teams in the morning. People were also drinking beer, so I finally felt comfortable enough to buy myself a cold €2 beer.

I took a seat ten minutes before kick-off and enjoyed the bizarre pre-game entertainment; an archery battle set up by a local adventure sports firm. As kick-off approached, most of the 1,500ish seats were taken, with a few small pockets of Anglet fans making the very short trip. After the teams had come out, an impeccable one-minute silence was observed in remembrance of those tragically killed in Paris earlier in the week, while the players and mascots held up Je suis Charlie posters.

Confetti greets the players' arrival

Blue and white confetti greets the players’ arrival…

...while the players greet each other

…while the players greet each other

The first thirty minutes of the game were very entertaining. On show were players of obvious talent, but without perhaps the necessary physique to play at higher levels. The pitch was causing problems and there were more sliding tackles than I’d seen in quite a long time (although David Moyes’ ‘tactical’ victory over Barcelona the previous weekend wasn’t without the occasional last-ditch slide). Another very noticeable thing was the lack of much abuse- from players or fans- for the referee. One rare example was when Bayonne’s #9 cleverly turned on the edge of the box, but went down as he got his shot off (it looked like a dive to me).

Anglet hit a post, and then saw the rebound saved by Bayonne’s impressive keeper, in a shocking red and white kit reminiscent of the worst 90s goalkeeping horrors. So, it was against the run of play that Bayonne took the lead around the half-hour mark. Idarramendi’s outside of the boot shot was spilled by the keeper- the pitch can’t have helped- and dos Santos scored the rebound. Bayonne started to take control and should have gone in 2-0 ahead. Anglet’s playmaker Gary Bourhis was frequently on the receiving end of some harsh Bayonne treatment, but it was working as he frequently gave the ball away. One misplaced pass allowed Bayonne a 3-on-2, but the sky blues failed to capitalize.

More adventure sports fun

More adventure sports fun at half-time

The adventure sports firm were back out at half-time, but most people were at the bar and there was no chance of getting another beer before the game re-started. Once it did, it wasn’t long before the home doubled their lead. Desroc combined well with Idarramendi, and he scored his sixth goal of the season.

A good crowd and some happy home fans

A good crowd and some happy home fans

Bayonne looked more likely to add a red card than a third goal, collecting several yellow cards over the next 30 minutes. One of the many fouls gave Bourhis a shot at goal and his left-footed free-kick was curled passed Elissalde. The final fifteen minutes were played out in the same manner, Bayonne countering when they were able to win the ball and fouling when they weren’t. In the last minute, one of Anglet’s many long balls fell to their substitute striker, but he smashed it against the bar from 8 yards, and the rebound was fluffed wide. Full-time.

Given how much I’d enjoyed my hours walking in the city and that Aviron Bayonnais played in the sky blue of my old pub team in Seoul, I was happy for the home win. I got the bus back into town and picked up my first ever Corsican lager for the bus ride home, another homage to old friends in Korea. It was great to be at a small, full ground and sat so close to the action that you could really hear the many crunching tackles. And both teams managed to play a bit, too. My five goal average from trips to Paris and Bordeaux may have been ruined, but I certainly saw enough for Anglet to be on the list of Basque teams I should try and visit in 2015.

HIGHS: Nice community feel to the club; Fun, aggressive derby, played in the right spirit; A decent standard of football and some good goals

LOWS: Not much around the ground; my map-reading skills; expected more Didier for my Deschamps 

4 thoughts on “Lost in…Bayonne

  1. Pingback: Lost in…Madrid | Lost Boyos

  2. Pingback: Lost in…Bordeaux (Nouveau Stade) | Lost Boyos

  3. Pingback: Lost in…The Basque Country (and beyond): A 2014/15 Review | Lost Boyos

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