The 2018 French Cup Final provides the romantic football fan with potentially the greatest David v Goliath fairytale of all time.
The beautiful game has been known to provide us with it's fair share of spectacular fairy tales. Underdogs who come good against all the odds, proving that in the end, it really is a game of 90 minutes, of eleven v eleven, Football keeps us coming back for more because on their day, anyone can win. Greece and Denmark have both lifted European championships in 2004 and 1992 respectively. Denmark, even more astonishing as they failed to qualify and were summoned very late to the tournement due to Yugoslavia falling into the grip of a brutal civil war. Wimbledon and Wigan both lifted FA Cups overcoming the giants of their era. Nottingham Forest incredulously won back to back European Cups, even more impressive were the Italian Seria A 1985 champions Hellas Verona and 2016 English league title won by Leicester City as over a season long campaign small, unfashionable teams confounded all pundits by being the dog that repeatedly had their day.
Tonight, in Paris, another name might join the pantheon of minnows who are dismissed as cannon fodder and return home with the prize, as lowly third division Les Herbiers face money monolith Paris St. Germain in the French cup final. This is the most extreme mismatch ever seen in a professional final, and the gulf between the two is astounding. The Parisians, possibly the richest club on Earth are to face a team struggling to stave off relegation from the professional game. The entire budget for the lowly third division outfit would barely cover the wages of Neymar for two weeks. PSG are looking to clinch their fourth consecutive double, Les Herbiers seem a mere leaf on the breeze, but these pairings sometimes bring out the magic of the game. The old cliché of the entire town coming out to support the team seems stunningly accurate, a ticket allocation of 15,993 has been sold in a town with a population of 15,000. The entire country will be willing them to perform the most astonishing giant killing feat in football history, with the exception of PSG fans of course.
French domestic football is not well regarded by many fans, but the technical standard is high and smaller clubs have a history of doing well in the cup in recent years. In the last five years alone 15 amateur or semi-professional clubs have reached the last 16. The "gulf" is narrowing in France as the Football Association rolls out rules to protect lower league football, including home advantage and no replays.
Les Herbiers only turned professional three years ago and tonight's final is the centenary year for the competition. The players have been spending the week in a chateaux outside Paris, where the national team usually train and prepare. They have drawn inspiration from the minnows of the past, including the astonishing story of Guingamp who used an epic cup run to fund an assault on league promotions leading to them cementing their place as a regular in the top flight. Their exploits inspired a French cinema satire in 1979 and such "Giant Killing" is a much revered tradition in French football culture.
If this all sounds rather familiar to the English ear it is hardly surprising. The Coup de France was launched by Henri Delaunay, chairman of the forerunner of the French Football Federation, who was inspired by the passion, spirit and romance of the English FA Cup. The idea of open invitation to all clubs is even extended to overseas territories!
With odds, literally stacked against them, the small town from Western France could potentially make history, it is sure to be a final that will rack up a large audience across France, perhaps a global audience might even turn their attention to French domestic football to see if the underdog of the century can pull off the impossible.
Vive la chance