Right before they gave Standard Liege an almighty scare in the cup, French Football Weekly’s Andrew Gibney popped over the border to see how his Lille B-Team, Mouscron were getting on. What he encountered was angry fans and an all-time classic match…
For me usually trips to Northern France are all about watching Lille, their second or youth sides, and possibly a trip to Valenciennes. This time another team took my interest, a trip across the border was needed, a trip to Mouscron (pronounced Moo-Kron) was needed.
Why Mouscron I hear you ask? Well under the new name of Royal Mouscron-Péruwelz (the team formerly known as Excelsior Mouscron) last season won promotion from the third division and has recently saw Lille increase their stake in the club to 51% – now part of the LOSC family Mouscron will become a feeder club for the former Ligue 1 champions.
The first thing that excited me was the loan deal of Costa-Rican forward John Jairo Ruiz. The 19-year old excelled for Lille II last season and reports from various sources suggested he was the best player on the field for Lille’s second team. The move to Belgium would be the best chance for Ruiz to gain first-team experience and hopefully competitive football at a higher level than France’s 4th tier.
I had managed to convince the friends I was staying with in Lille that going to watch Belgian 2nd division football was a good way to spend a Saturday night, so we jumped in the car and headed north to watch Mouscron v KSV Roeselare. After a bit of a detour around the town we eventually found the stadium, La Canonnier holds 10,000 people and is pretty impressive for a 2nd division side, but also highlights the drop from a team that not so long ago played in the UEFA Cup and also saw the likes of Walter Baseggio, Demba Ba, Luigi Pieroni, as well as famous Polish brothers Marcin and Michal Zewlakow and Belgian brothers Mbo and Emile Mpenza.
The other obvious and slightly strange sign is the badge and sign on the main stand that says “Royal Excelsior Mouscron”. Obviously they weren’t quite ready to let go of the old team just yet. That was also evident from not only the Excelsior scarves we would see walking past the Kop and also the looks being aimed at my friends Coretine and Lolo that were wearing full Lille regalia. It seems as not everyone was too happy with Lille’s presence in the RMP brand.
The words Excelsior Mouscron were still evident on the empty seating; in fact the only mention of the new club in the stadium was the flags flying above the stand and the scarves and shirts available in the closed club shop. Mouscron seems like a club struggling to find its identity.
Wandering around the ground to check out what Mouscron had to offer, as a true Scotsman I managed to stumble across a bar. Amongst the beer and food we were able to get our hands on a team sheet, and it seemed that John Ruiz wasn’t the only player with a Lille connection we would get to see. Goalkeeper Alexandre Oukidja, defender Stephane Pichot and forward Omar Wade were all on the team sheet. Former Lens midfielder Seid Khiter and ex-Lille II defender Jugrutha Domrane would also start for the Belgians. Interestingly, Mouscron’s starting XI had only two Belgians taking the field – something that the fans may need to get used to.
The last name on the team sheet was the one that brought the most excitement. Manager Arnaud Dos Santos played over 150 games for Lille back in the 1970s. Earlier in the day while looking through a book on Lille’s history, I had commented on the fantastic moustache sported by Monsieur Dos Santos back when he was a player and there he was 30 years later. The moustache may have turned from black to white, but it was still as prominent as ever as he walked out the tunnel to watch his team train.
With no expectations of what to expect from the Belgian second tier, we would never have predicted the spectacle we were about to witness. Roeselare took the lead after seven minutes when left-back Romain Haghedooren pounced on a poor defending. The lead only lasted four minutes as club captain Stephane Pichot played in a beautiful cross from the right and Jerome Mezine rose highest to head the ball back across the goal and into the top corner. The 37-year old Pichot turned back the years: the right-back played over 100 games for Lille and showed the class he can still bring to any side.
One each at half time, it had been an interesting yet unspectacular game so far. However the best was yet to come. We managed to catch a few words with John Ruiz at half-time. The body language from the forward was not good, hands in his pockets, and you could see that he was not happy to be on the bench. Having had the pleasure of watching Omar Wade play once for Lille II a few years ago, I wouldn’t be happy to be behind him in the pecking order either.
Another player we had the pleasure of speaking to was Arnaud Souquet. The midfielder who used to play for Lille (only making two appearances) played the first half in a league game against Rennes scoring his only goal for the club in the process. He also made an assist in the 5-1 UEFA Cup victory against Slavia Prague in 2009. The former France u-20 international was disappointed to be left out for the game, as dos Santos thought he was too lightweight to play against Roeselare. Souquet let it be known that he still had Lille in his heart, and hoped one day he would be able to make a return.
The second half would finish as one of the greatest halves of football I have ever witnessed. Mouscron took the lead with 25 minutes to go; the ball was played into the box towards Omar Wade, he chested to towards Mezine, and the impressive midfielder finished with aplomb, his right foot volley crashing past Gilles Lentz. Again the lead was short lived. Mouscron had just cleared the ball from a Roeselare attack, all eyes moved up field until the whistle was blown and the referee walked up to Mouscron ‘keeper Oukidja and showed him a red card. We will probably never know what the on loan keeper actually did but the signals pointed towards an off the ball elbow. Roeselare had a penalty.
During the commotion we witnessed one of the Mouscron players walking towards the penalty spot where he would for about two minutes continually rake his studs over the penalty spot, easily trying his best to make the area as disturbed as possible. Can’t say it’s something I’ve ever seen before. Unfortunately it made no difference and Anthony Di Lallo pulled his side level.
Ten minutes later Di Lallo was involved again, this time he launched into a badly timed challenge and the referee had no chance but to show him a second yellow. Now with five minutes to go the scores and teams were both level. In stoppage time the game would go what can only be described as batshit mental. Just into time added on and the captain Pichot would turn provider again. Getting down the right he found substitute Sebastien Alliotte, his low cross was met by Khiter and the former Valenciennes man applied the finish; the home fans were going crazy.
This adrenaline must have spilled onto the players as less than a minute later we had our third red as captain Pichot lashed out and kicked the back of one of the Roeselare player’s legs. The referee spotted it, as did I, and the 37-year was shown a straight red. Deep into injury time Roeselare would push forward, and with five minutes of injury time gone they would win a late free-kick on the edge of the box. The silver haired defender Sebastien Dewaest lined up the ball, stepped back and met the ball sweeter than he will all season. De Vlamynck saw it late but the substitute goalkeeper couldn’t keep it out. The players and fans from Roeselare erupted. Positioned just above us in the stands there was a lot of interaction between them and the Mouscron fans, which just added to the enjoyment. This was proper football. Excitement and passion in abundance.
In all the excitement of scoring the late equaliser, Dewaest had over done his celebration a little and the referee would end the game by showing the Belgian his second yellow, meaning both sides would end on nine apiece. A truly phenomenal game and one I won’t forget for a long time.
During the week, Mouscron were at it again, taking the lead against Standard Liege in the cup. It would go all the way to extra-time, losing 3-2 in the end. Sales of blood pressure tablets may be up this week in Mouscron.
The fans may not enjoy the situation their club is in, but they showed no signs of letting that get in the way of their support. Players like Mezine, Khiter, Pichot and Ruiz will excite and engage the fans this season, with Lille looking for a place to nurture their talented youngsters it seems that they may have found the perfect place in Mouscron to do that.
Andrew Gibney is the mastermind behind Anglo-writing, French loving football website French Football Weekly – a fine read and podcast. Check it out here.