Steve MenaryComment

ST PIERRE ET MIQUELON: A DEPARTMENT FOR EDUCATION

Steve MenaryComment

The reach of the Fédération Française de Football (FFF) stretches far beyond the shores of North Western Europe. 

As debut matches go, St Pierre et Miquelon’s first international did not augur well, ending in an 11-0 tanking, but the match could be the start of something bigger.

An archipelago of eight islands located off Canada’s eastern seaboard, St Pierre et Miquelon (SPM) is the last vestige of France’s one sprawling North American empire.

SPM might be a historical anomaly, but that status led to the islands’ FA being invited by the Fédération Française de Football (FFF) to play in the second edition of the bi-annual Coupe de l’Outre Mer.

The FFF started the competition – otherwise known as the Overseas Cup – in 2008 at the behest of Christian Karembeu, who was born in New Caledonia but won the World Cup with Les Bleus a decade earlier.

The aim of the Coupe de l’Outre Mer was to provide an outlet for French overseas departments or territories that are mostly unable to emulate Tahiti and New Caledonia and join FIFA.

French Guiana, Guadeloupe and Martinique are all associate members at CONCACAF but prevented from taking the next step up by French politics. Those five sides plus the Indian Ocean islands of Reunion and Mayotte contested the first tournament in Paris. Two years later, a side drawn from St Pierre and Miquelon’s tiny 6,000 population also made the trip to Paris.

Money was not an issue as the FFF stumped up €900,000 to cover the cost of the now eight sides bringing 18 players and seven officials apiece to Paris from the Diaspora of the remaining French empire.

In his first international fixture, Yannick Lafonte’s SPM side faced holders Reunion in the first of a double-bill of group games at the Michel Hidalgo Stadium in Saint-Gratien, eastern Paris.

In an attempt to put the opposition off their guard, SPM sent the youngest players out for the warm up then switched to the first choice XI just before kick-off, but gamesmanship was never going to be enough.

That St Pierre and Miquelon’s ponderous defence was out of its depth was obvious early on, but brave goalkeeping from Gino Bonnieul and truly atrocious finishing from Reunion’s number nine Jean Michel Fontaine kept the score down to 2-0 at half-time.

Reunion were constantly offside in the first half and no better on the re-start. For 12 minutes, captain Stanislas Beck and his kept Reunion out but when Pascal N’Gongue stabbed home on 57 minutes, the game was literally up.

A defender, Beck had a dozen team-mates from his club side, AS Ilienne, keeping him company in Paris. SPM only has three teams and the Coupe de l’Outre Mer squad also included four players from AS Miquelonnaise and a brace from AS Saint-Perraise, the territory’s oldest club.

SPM initially overcame lack of quality by getting a foot into most tackles but in the second half, their opponents’ superior fitness prevailed. Reunion ran in eight more goals but for the SPAM FA’s phlegmatic secretary Herve Huet the result was of little concern.

“This is the first time we play in this competition, the first time in any official FFF game because we are such a small island,” says Huet with a nonchalant Gallic shrug. “I am very happy just to see our players here. Our level of play is very different to teams like Reunion. We only have 600 players.”

The bulk of the population live on St Pierre with 700 people on Miquelon and lack of players is not the only obstacle. Harsh winters mean the season only runs from June to September. “After that, it is not possible to play because of the weather is so cold,” adds Huet. “The snow arrives and it is not possible to play before April too because the field is frozen.”

In the long winter months, SPM’s players play futsal – the short-sided version of football popular in continental Europe – and the islanders have been entering a side in France’s National Futsal Cup since 2008.

In their next group game in the Coupe de l’Outre Mer, SPM were again only 2-0 down at half-time against French Guiana and only lost 7-0 but succumbed to 10-0 to Mayotte in their final group game. With 28 goals conceded and none scored, the 2010 Coupe de L’Outre Mer was not an auspicious start for SPM but Huet’s islanders plan to return.

SPM also avoided the embarrassment suffered by French Guiana and Mayotte in the evening’s second group other game in Saint Gratien. Both sides were locked in a tight contest when, to use a North American term, there was a bench clearer.

Virtually all the spectators in main stand at the Stade Michel-Hidalgo simply got up and left.

The reason was that Florent Malouda, who left French Guiana as a teenager with his brother Lesly to seek their footballing fortune in France, had walked into the top of the stand. A chance to secure Malouda’s autograph had trumped the opportunity to see his countrymen play.

A territorial collective within France and, like French Guiana, stuck outside FIFA, SPM is only six miles away from Canada and has joined the Newfoundland & Labrador Soccer Association. For Herve Huet and his intrepid football explorers, Paris 2010 was not a disaster, more like a start.

 

Steve Menary is a journalist and the author of Outcasts! The Lands That FIFA Forgot (Know The Score 2007), which was shortlisted for the 2008 football book of the year award.

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