January 31, 2023



‘This is unjust’: Amiens president rails against relegation from Ligue 1 | Football

6 min read

When son of the city Emmanuel Macron was elected president of France on 7 May 2017, the people of Amiens must have expected that proud event to be the highlight of their month. However, the small northern city straddling the River Somme was the centre of attention again a fortnight later, when Emmanuel Bourgaud scored a 96th-minute winner against Reims on the final day of the Ligue 2 season to take Amiens from sixth to second in the table. With the last kick of the season, Bourgaud had earned the club promotion to Ligue 1 for the first time in their history.

For club president Bernard Joannin this was the culmination of 11 years of work, most of which was spent in France’s third tier, the club only regaining professional status in 2016. Joannin, a 70-year-old former PE teacher who owns several Intersport franchises (think Sports Direct, although the suave, affable Frenchman could not be more removed from Mike Ashley), had the people of the city in mind when he bought the club. “I took over in 2009 with other local businessmen and my objective was to give back to the city what they had given us by helping us to build successful businesses,” he says.

Joannin has done that and more, giving Amiens fans two consecutive promotions and three straight seasons in the top flight – even though the club has one of the smallest budgets in the division. This season, under new Slovenian coach Luka Elsner, has been more of a struggle. Despite earning impressive comeback draws – 4-4 against PSG and 2-2 against Marseille – earlier this year, Amiens were 19th in the league, four points adrift of the clubs above them, when quarantine was announced. The atmosphere within the squad remained positive, however. “They were totally motivated, close-knit, focused on staying up,” says Joannin. “We had no issues with the confinement because this pandemic is terrible.”

Players were given individualised training programmes and tested for coronavirus. They all tested negative and were waiting to find out when they could return to action. However, on 28 April, the French prime minister Édouard Philippe announced that there would be no professional contact sport until August, setting off a chain of events that led to the LFP – the governing body that runs the top two divisions in France – announcing that the season was over.

“I think the FFF and LFP took too hasty a decision,” says Joannin. “I agreed with the decision to suspend the league, but not to stop it. Look at Germany – they started again this weekend. England, Italy and Spain have restarted training.” The LFP’s next announcement was that PSG would be crowned champions and Amiens would be relegated along with Toulouse.

Joannin was outraged. “One cannot impose relegations when, out of a 38-match season, only 28 matches were played – representing only 74%. You can’t decree a competition – a sporting contract – completed when one quarter of the competition is yet to be played. The French rugby, handball, basketball leagues all declared their leagues over but, for the sake of humanity and solidarity, they cancelled all relegations.

“Across society this lockdown has returned us to true values. And this is what that shocked me the most about the LFP – that lack of humanity and solidarity during a time when everyone on the planet is showing each other great humanity and total solidarity. I just regret that. That’s the word. Regret.”

Regret and a sense of injustice. “We were still due to play the three teams directly above us in the table. This decision is unjust. It makes no sense. It has no basis. It is a punitive decision. Sport and competition make me tick. When you fail in competition, you lose and you move on. But here, we didn’t lose. We’re being relegated by administrative means. And I cannot accept that.”

Amiens president Bernard Joannin.

Amiens president Bernard Joannin. Photograph: AFP Contributor/AFP/Getty Images

Joannin acted immediately, putting a proposition to the FFF and LFP to void the relegations and expand the division to 22 teams next season. His proposal noted that the extra four games per season could simply be fitted into the slots left open by the defunct Coupe de la Ligue and, to allay financial concerns, Amiens would give up a share of television rights, as well as saving the LFP the need for parachute payments. “It really was a fair proposition which, in an exceptional situation caused by Covid-19, would have been a humane, solidarity solution, penalising no one financially.”

Joannin’s appeals to reconsider fell on deaf ears, so he took legal action. His appeal to the Paris administrative tribunal is due to be heard this week. “To be clear, we are not asking for any financial compensation. What we want is the cancellation of the arbitrary relegation of Amiens. Full stop. We believe that the legal arguments are in our favour. I believe in French justice and I believe that we will be proven right.”

Amiens SC have been joined by Amiens Metropole, the city authority, in their appeal. Relegation would have drastic implications for both parties: “In financial terms, relegation would mean the club losing €40m in revenue. It would be necessary to drastically reduce Amiens’ budget.” Would that lead to redundancies? “I don’t want to leave anyone behind, but no one can achieve the impossible. We’ll try to find solutions for everyone. But I can tell you, as shareholder, that I will meet the challenge and the club will not die.”

“As for the city, in terms of notoriety, the name of Amiens has never been as mentioned in the media as since the club has been in Ligue 1. There are also economic consequences for local businesses. Amiens airport welcomed other clubs’ private planes and our plane when we played away from home. Hotels welcomed away teams and fans. For every home match I would employ more than 300 people, from stewards to hostesses. Take the stadium too – if we go down, the convention is that our rent will be reduced by half. So, the relegation would mean a real economic hit for the city. That’s why the city is also fighting it.”

Gaël Kakuta celebrates after scoring for Amiens against PSG earlier this season.

Gaël Kakuta celebrates after scoring for Amiens against PSG earlier this season. Photograph: Jean Catuffe/Getty Images

The club’s model is to nurture their own young talent and find bargains in the transfer market, and then sell both for profit. This approach – which has produced players such as Tanguy Ndombele, now at Tottenham, and Serhou Guirassy, who is likely to follow him to the Premier League this summer – means the club have to plan ahead in the transfer market. “As we have very limited financial resources, we are obliged to wait until the final day of the transfer window – 30 August – to do our business,” says Joannin. “So, the first months of the season are always difficult for us. It takes time for the coach to work out his best team and to set a tone for the group. That’s why we always finish strongly – we build momentum.”

Notwithstanding all talk of solidarity, humanity and momentum, Amiens were second bottom and without a league win since November. Why should anyone believe they would have stayed up? “It’s what we call the Picard fighting spirit,” says Joannin. “Let me take you through Amiens’ recent history. When we were promoted from the third division, we secured promotion on the final day. When we were promoted to Ligue 1, we secured it in the final second of the final match. When we stayed up in our first Ligue 1 season, we secured safety on the final day. The same again last season.

“Amiens always have a strong final quarter of the season. It’s the spirit of the people of Picardie. You need to understand that the Picardie region is a land that has often been invaded and the locals are used to fighting – against lots of things. Against unemployment, against the cold, against difficulty. The people of the region are fighters.”

This is an article from Get French Football News
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