“It was a dark and stormy night” – as Craven Cottage’s own Edward Bulwer-Lytton might have put it. Despite Montpellier needing only a point against already relegated Auxerre to win Ligue 1 there was still a feeling that it would never be that simple, as indeed was the case.
The first drama came twenty minutes in – Oliver Kapo puts Auxerre 1-0 up against Montpellier. The balance of le championnat swings so unexpectedly in the direction of Paris.
Then, not ten minutes after the Auxerre goal PSG go a goal down to Lorient. Almost immediately following this deserved Lorient lead, record signing Javier Pastore misses two golden opportunities to equalise. This is too much to bear for the travelling Parisiens, who force the game to be stopped briefly as the flares rain down.
While PSG were forced to contemplate how they’d wasted a chance to go top when John Utaka – yes, John Utaka of Pompey fame – equalises for Montpellier. Game on Montpellier.
PSG then begin their comeback. In quarter of an hour Pastore and Motta put PSG in the lead. Could two Qatari signings save PSG’s season?
Fans angry at Auxerre’s disappointing season (but were nevertheless impressive this evening) give us our second major delay of the evening, again, after flares are thrown on the pitch. This time for almost half an hour. The local authority dictated that riot police must evacuate the aggrieved stand before play can continue. During this time we see the PSG team huddled around a television waiting to see if Auxerre might be able to win the title for them.
As it stands, of course, at 1-1, Montpellier are still set to win the title. But they have plenty of time to reflect on the fact that if they slip up – the title goes to Paris. So close, yet so far from achieving one of the most remarkable stories in European football. How will this delay affect them?
Shortly after play restarts Montpellier star (and Les Bleus star this summer?) Oliver Giroud almost puts Montpellier in the lead with a blistering shot that Sorin is good to get his fingers to. Both Giroud and Paris’s Nene are on 21 goals. How sweet a title-winning goal that gives him the golden boot?
In fact it takes 6 minutes following the crowd trouble before John Utaka – yes, again, John Utaka of Pompey fame – scores his second on the night to win a historic first title for Montpellier Hérault Sport Club.
“It was like Fulham won the Premier League”
This was the outcome that French football fans wanted. This is everything that is wonderful about French football. Montpellier had spent a fraction of newly wealthy PSG – €2 million and €160 million, respectively. People had expected Montpellier to struggle after losing some of their better players. At the start of the season they were 109 to 1 to win the title.
This made Montpellier’s title win more poignant in some respects. It is true that France is in desperate need of a force in Europe – Ligue 1 has just dropped out of the big five leagues in Europe – but it feels like an end of an era in which anyone might win. Even given Olympique Lyonnais’s seven season run of titles, Ligue 1 has had more winners in the modern era (i.e. the Sky Sports era – forgive me!) and Montpellier’s win has given us a fifth winner in five seasons. Does a Paris dominant in Europe come at the expense of losing some of Ligue 1’s magic?
Dominic Conquest is a Norfolk bor and Fulham fan since 2007/08 (the glory Sanchez days) after moving to London. Francophile and reluctant Parisien.