When we think of trophies in football, we immediately think of the most prestigious ones; the World Cup, the Champions League, the Premier League, etc. Football fans may also mention the FA Cup, which is the oldest cup competition in the game.
Despite those listed above, there is one trophy that is truly unique: La Coupe De France. In this article, examples of memorable moments are described alongside incredible narratives that the cup has created.
Coupe de France – The World’s Biggest Cup Competition
Coupe De France: The Biggest Domestic Cup in the World
Late on the 31st January 2021, most clubs were scrambling for last-minute deals for players. However, Paris Saint Germain and OGC Nice were battling out for a quarter-final spot in the Coupe De France. Nice came out as eventual winners after emerging victorious on penalties. Their keeper, Marcin Bulka, was seen celebrating with all his heart as he knocked out his parent club from the competition. It takes some serious ‘cojones’ to celebrate against your parent club, especially when the game was played in Paris in front of PSG fans.
This is one of dozens of stories the French Cup generates on a yearly basis.
The interesting fact about the competition is that not only clubs from metropolitan France participate in the competition. Clubs from overseas departments and territories also participate. Just this year, Les Jumeaux M’Zouasia AS travelled over 9000 km from the small island of Mayotte to face Ligue 1 giants Girondins De Bordeaux in the 10th round of the cup. The island, which is located between Madagascar and Comoros, has a population of around 270,000. This was their second journey to metropolitan France in the space of two weeks, meaning they had done over 48 hours of flying in the space of fourteen days. The gulf in quality was demonstrated as Bordeaux came out 10-0 victors, however, this game was more than the result. Footage went viral online after Bordeaux ultras ‘Virage Sud’ cheered and celebrated with the away team, congratulating them for their wonderful cup run.
Les Jumeaux M’Zouasia are just one of dozens of clubs represented each year from regions such as Guadeloupe, Martinique, French Guiana, Réunion, French Polynesia, Mayotte, and New Caledonia. To put this into context, a one-way trip from New Caledonia to metropolitan France can take over 25 hours, involving multiple layovers and time in airports.
This idea of incorporating overseas teams started in 1961/62 and has become part of tradition ever since. The furthest a team from ‘non-metropolitan’ France got to is the Round of 32, and it has happened 3 times.
Overseas clubs can even qualify for the Europa League should they win the French Cup. UEFA confirmed on their website that ”Sides from overseas territories are entitled to play in the Portuguese and French domestic cups. The situation in France is even more startling, given that sides from Mayotte, Reunion, Guadeloupe, Martinique and French Guyana could all theoretically qualify for European competition as French Cup winners.”
The Magic of La Coupe de France
Domestic club knockout competitions are popular in every country. In England, you will always see a tinfoil FA Cup in the stands, or the word ‘cupset’ plastered over all the newspapers. The beauty of these cup competitions is that anybody can beat anybody. Superstar footballers can lose to part-time plumbers. Over the years, the likelihood of cup upsets has decreased due to the money invested in elite football, resulting in a bigger quality gap between top teams and lower league sides. These effects have been seen in most domestic cups across western Europe, but France managed to retain the phenomenon. The Coupe De France has multiple rules that impede the success of bigger clubs, including the fact that higher-ranked clubs must play as the away team if the opposition is at least two levels below them in the football pyramid.
This means that professionals often face difficult conditions on awful amateur pitches, giving an advantage to amateur clubs both in that they are more used to the playing surface and that they also have the majority of support for them. Over the year, there have been incredible stories of amateur or semi-pro teams beating Ligue 1 or Ligue 2 sides. Most notably was the Coupe de France final in 2018.
Les Herbiers VF, who played in the Championnat National ( 3rd tier of French Football), made an incredible run to the French Cup final. They faced European giants Paris Saint-Germain in front of over 70,000 fans. What made this story even more remarkable is that Les Herbiers were relegated to the National 2 that season, meaning their league season had been something of a disaster. Les Herbiers, who are from the department of Vendee in western France, beat some of France’s most notable clubs in their run to the final, including Lens and Auxerre. They faced fellow 3rd-division side Chambly FC in the semi-final.
This match-up guaranteed that one non-league team would make it to the French Cup final, a joy to behold for football fans around the country. FC Chambly beat Ligue 1 side Strasbourg to secure their place in the semi-final. Les Herbiers comfortably won, though, with their 2-0 victory securing their place at the Stade De France. Les Herbiers became international heroes as their story spread throughout the footballing world. They started the competition by playing in front of 200 fans, and finished the season by playing for a crowd of over 70,000 at one of France’s most iconic venues.
Les Herbiers sold 15,000 tickets for the French Cup final, which is approximately the population of their hometown. Hundreds of cars, buses, and trucks made the 4-hour trip to Paris in what would be the most historic moment for their club. There was no doubt that PSG would win the game, but this was more than the result. This is the story of a small town in western France that moved its entire community to Paris for the day of the final. PSG eventually beat Les Herbiers 2-0, however, the trophy celebrations brought one of the best stories in the Coupe De France. Thiago Silva, who was the PSG captain, invited Les Herbiers’ captain to lift the cup alongside PSG’s players in a great moment of sportsmanship.
A Non-League Team Is Set To Reach The Semi-Finals Again This Year
This year’s edition of the French Cup has brought multiple surprises. As mentioned earlier, reigning champions PSG are out of the competition following their loss to OGC Nice. The quarter-finals occur between the 8th-10th February. OGC Nice will face Olympique Marseille in the Mediterranean Derby, whilst Monaco host Amiens, and Nantes host Bastia. The interesting fixture is Bergerac Perigord vs Versailles, who will battle it out for a place in the French Cup semi-final. These two clubs currently play in the National 2 (the fourth division in French football), meaning that one non-league team will make the French Cup semi-finals. Bergerac Périgord already knocked out Saint-Etienne & FC Metz, who are both currently playing in Ligue 1. FC Versailles knocked out Ligue 2 side Toulouse FC to reach a spot in the final 8.
The French Cup will have a different winner in 2022, and it could well be a non-league team.