Chambly’s unlikely ascent to Ligue 2 a success story built on family roots

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Founded just 30 years ago by the late Walter Luzi and his two sons who are still in charge today, the club from the Hauts-de-France region have long punched above their weight

26 June ~ Several clubs that have reached the second tier of French football in recent times have rightly been regarded as minnows but recently promoted Chambly can reasonably claim to be the smallest of them all. The team from the Hauts-de-France region, about 40 kilometres north of Paris, will play in Ligue 2 for the first time in their history next season after finishing second behind Rodez in France’s third-level National.

What makes Chambly’s climb to these heights phenomenal is that this was the 12th promotion of their existence since they were founded as a family club in 1989. They haven’t suffered a single relegation along the way. Their journey to their current position among the top 40 clubs in the country is unprecedented, even though feted forefathers such as Guy Roux’s Auxerre have trodden a similar path from the amateur ranks into the top two divisions in previous decades.

Chambly is a town of 10,000 inhabitants and attendances hovering around 1,000 in National reflect the size of the population. In 2019-20 Chambly will have one of Ligue 2’s smallest budgets but the club are used to such circumstances: even in National they punched above their weight, winning promotion against clubs with more financial muscle and greater sporting pedigree.

Another remarkable element to the Chambly story is that the very same family that founded the club is still in charge today. Three decades ago Walter Luzi and his son Fulvio wanted to establish a football club. Of all the town councils they spoke to, it was Chambly’s that granted the wish of using a local pitch. With Walter as president, Fulvio as coach and Fulvio’s brother Bruno as the team’s centre-forward, FC Chambly Oise were born, starting life at the 14th level of the French game. Walter, born in Italy, moved to France as a teenager and picked the club’s black-and-blue striped colours in tribute to his favourite team, Inter.

Having helped the team to several promotions as a player, Bruno retired in 2001 and was appointed manager. The same year Fulvio moved upstairs to become president, replacing the boys’ father. Further promotions followed before Chambly made it into National for the first time in 2014. They finished 14th, ninth, fifth and 12th in their first four seasons in the third tier before clinching promotion to Ligue 2 in April this year. While Fulvio and Bruno continue to manage matters on and off the pitch, Walter died at the age of 77 during Chambly’s French Cup quarter-final win over Ligue 1 Strasbourg in February last year. (They were beaten in the semis by another third level team, Les Herbiers.)

For all the goodwill neutrals are bound to bestow upon the club, the Luzi brothers will be under no illusions about the size of the task that awaits them. One issue has already been tackled: Chambly’s Stade des Marais isn’t fit to host Ligue 2 matches so home fixtures will be split between Stade Pierre Brisson in Beauvais and Stade Charlety in Paris. Round trips of 80 kilo­metres for home games mean attendances may not grow as much as would normally be expected following promotion. Fans will also be concerned that the excellent home form (with no defeats in 16 games) on which Chambly’s successful promotion campaign was built may disappear with the change of surroundings.

There’s also the question of whether Chambly will be able to build a squad strong enough to survive in Ligue 2. Their 13-goal top scorer Joris Correa has already left to join divisional rivals Orleans where, according to media reports, he’ll earn five times his Chambly salary. Chambly have acted swiftly to replace him, signing Ivory Coast international Junior Tallo, who has had unremarkable spells in France at Lille and Amiens.

Playmaker Guillaume Heinry is ruled out until 2020 having suffered a serious knee ligament injury. Theirs is an old team, too: the average age of the 14 most frequently used players during their promotion run-in will be 29 by the start of next season. Yet the physical, committed style of football with which Chambly have been associated while scaling the football pyramid should ensure they are robust opponents.

Over the past decade teams promoted from National have done better than you might expect in Ligue 2: only eight have been immediately relegated back to National, with 14 surviving and seven earning a second consecutive promotion straight into the top flight. Chambly would settle for consolidation, although given the miracles the Luzi brothers and their late father have worked over the past three decades, it would take a brave person to bet against them doing a little better than that. James Eastham

This article first appeared in WSC 388, July 2019. Subscribers get free access to the complete WSC digital archive – you can find out more here