Lens force kick-off time u-turn
3 April ~ Although it began in the 19th century, the Coupe de France is not one of Europe's more prestigious trophies. The approach taken by the broadcasters France 2 and Eurosport towards televising games from it reflects that. Earlier in the tournament the Nice v Nancy tie was played at 2pm on a Wednesday – the complaints presumably quashed by the usual fatalism of football in the face of TV, plus the fact that many clubs in France struggle to attract a five-figure crowd for even their most attractive fixtures, let alone an early round of the Cup.
But when broadcasters tried to have a game between Lens and Bordeaux, two of the best-supported clubs in the country, played at 5pm on a Wednesday, the resistance was stronger. Even playing badly in their semi-regular sojourns in Ligue 2, Lens regularly attract 15,000 to games – despite being shovelled out to Friday and Monday nights. That is not a massive figure by English Championship standards but still enough to beat half the clubs in the French top flight.
Since dropping through the trapdoor narrowly avoided by Paris Saint-Germain a couple of years ago, hopes of a swift return were quickly replaced by struggles to avoid an unprecedented drop into third level. After an abject start to this season, the return of club-favourite full-back Éric Sikora as manager resulted in an abrupt reversal of form. Too late for promotion to be a realistic prospect but remarkable enough to give rise to hopes that a run to the Cup final might not be beyond the team.
So the prospect of a game kicking off when many of them would still be at work, meaning they'd miss one of the few chinks of light in the recent gloom, was too much to take. Led by sites such as Moustache Football Club Lens fans, backed by their Bordeaux counterparts and the club itself, mobilised through Facebook and campaigned for the game to be moved back. Quickly the support grew and, somewhat to their surprise, they were successful. The FFF (French FA) intervened to have the game played at 7pm.
The broadcasters' reaction to this unexpected reverse was either, depending on your point of view, to stick to their guns or throw a sulk. They announced that, given the change, they would no longer be showing the match.There was some mild consternation at this – no matter what the kick-off time a 1,000-mile round trip from Bordeaux to Lens isn't going to tempt many – but on the other hand a 5pm kick-off would have been too early for many to catch even on TV.
Nonetheless, with tickets only €10 (£8.50), fans resolved to fill the stadium. And they have; helped by the publicity generated by the fight, the sold out signs went up on March 28. Wednesday April 17 will see more than 40,000 cheering on a club that has always been proud of its support and there may well be an internet broadcast of some kind for those of us more distant.
It is a result which some fan groups are now looking to use to rekindle interest in a few other battles, not least the wish to bring back Ligue 2 matches from their exile in the fringes of the weekend. That will not be the easiest fight to win, especially in what has never been a well-supported league, but this tiniest weakening of the grip of TV has given them hope. Matt Hopkinson SoundsXP.com
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