france flagUS Quevilly, a club that went bankrupt in the 1970s after seven decades in French football, is warming up for the most important match of its 110-year history ten years after making its way back to amateur football from the lowest rungs of French football.

Initially a hiking club formed in Le Petit-Quevilly, a small city of 20,000 inhabitants in the suburbs of Rouen, two members, Amable Lozai and Jules Manneville, decided to break away in 1904 to create US Quevilly when the hiking club’s director rejected Lozai’s request to purchase a football. Two years later, the new football club has gathered 104 players despite having no training or playing facilities. Confined to playing in vacant lots, the players use jackets for goalposts until Lozai purchased a pitch for half a franc.

Quevilly began competing in Normandy around 1905 against the bigger clubs of the region, such as Le Havre and Caen.  During Easter of that year they adopted the yellow and black colours of their jersey, which are still in use today.

In 1910, the club almost disappeared before it had the chance to step into the limelight as the club’s pitch was seized by local authorities to be turned into a quarry. However a saviour named Albert Lebas handed the club a small piece of his own land in the North of the city and the Porte-de-Diane Stadium was officially opened in 1912.

A total of 1,397,800 French soldiers were killed in battle during World War 1 and casualties among Quevilly players included Julien Charles, Sanson, Roger, Alfred Becquet, Baillard, Lamy, Cleret, Boulogne, Ernest Laurent, Houssaye, Moreau Aimé, Alexandre Becquet and Duval.

In August 1919, the club becomes a member of the French Football Federation (FFF) created four months earlier and is assigned to the newly implemented Normandy League, whose winner gets to play in the national French league. In 1921-1922, as a symbol of its status, Quevilly signs its first foreign imports as six British players join the club; goalkeeper Walter Puddefoot and left winger Norman Deans soon make their way into the starting eleven.

Quevilly’s love affair with the French Cup begins the next year as they beat neighbours AC Amiens 3-0 to progress to the competition’s last 64. But it is four years later, in 1927, that the club will make its biggest impact in French football as it reaches the final of the French Cup after once more beating Amiens and neighbouring Rouen before prevailing against US Suisse and Marseille-based Stade Raphaelois in the semi-final of France’s most famous cup competition.

The final against title holders Marseille on May 8, 1927 sees more than 23,000 spectators make their way into the stands, including French president Gaston Doumergue – the very first time a French President has attended an official football game. Protocol requires players to purchase a top hat for the game as President Doumergue shakes hands with all protagonists on the pitch before making his way to the VIP box.  Marseille unsurprisingly win 3-0, but the Quevilly players go home proud, celebrating at the Rouen Casino late into the night.

As bigger and more powerful neighbours Le Havre Athletic Club and FC Roue turn professional in the 1930s, US Quevilly becomes the top dog in Normandy’s amateur competitions, winning the Normandy league in 1934, 1935, 1937 and 1938. The Second World War halted the club’s activities, as the hardship of travelling to away games in occupied territory restricted Quevilly to a handful of matches against local teams. A notable friendly game occurs in October 1944 against the Royal Marines, the proceedings of which would go to Quevilly player Henri Mallet who lost an arm in a bombing raid. The 1944-1945 season is also remembered for a game against Le Havre AC in which Quevilly played the first half with only seven players against eleven opponents, as the remaining four players fail to arrive on time because of a puncture on their way to the stadium.

In the 1950s, the club becomes a regular feature among the French amateur league, winning back-to-back titles in 1954 and 1955. Its third trophy in 1958 is perhaps the most glorious of all as the club comes back from a goal down against Savoie-based Annecy to score seven goals in the second half and take the title with a 7-1 victory.

Co-founder and chairman Amable Lozai (also the employer of many players working at his shipyard during the week) passes away in 1959, leaving his wife Micheline to oversee the club’s activities. The club is robbed of the title in 1962 after an away game in Corsica to play Ajaccio where members of the Ajaccio staff spend the night before the game making noise outside the hotel where the Quevilly players are staying.

In 1970, the French Football Federation reshuffles the league format to create Division 1 and Division 2 gathering professional, semi-professional and amateur clubs. Quevilly, on the back of its great achievements in the French Cup, is allowed entrance into that league where it notably faces recently created Paris Saint-Germain.

The club chairman at the time is Michel Tron-Lozai, grandson of co-founder Amable, making the club ownership a family story. However he fails to gather the financial means necessary to the installation electric lighting in the home stadium, which is a necessary condition for Quevilly to stay in Division 2. The club is thus demoted to Third Division where Tron-Lozai fails to reap the same results as his grandfather. Quevilly goes down another notch, going back to full amateur status. Abandoned by its main sponsor, the club goes into administration seventy years after it was formed. Trophies are wiped out from the archives as players spread around the region to ply their trade for neighbouring clubs.

After a lost decade in the 1970s, retired Rouen resident Robert Beauchamp decides to bring back his childhood club and reforms Quevilly on January 6th, 1979. Beauchamp is stunned to see the league’s general assembly unanimously reject his request to put Quevilly in the league where it was before going into administration, putting them instead in the fourth district division of Seine-Maritime, eight notches below, the lowest rank of French football’s ladder.

Undisturbed by this blatant disregard to the club’s heritage, Beauchamp leads Quevilly to higher spheres although the club remains anonymous deep into the 1990s. In 2000, it finally gets back to the place it belonged to before going into administration as the team is promoted to amateur division CFA. The club gets to the last 16 of the French Cup in 2005, but it is in 2010 that it finally lives up to its glorious past as new manager Régis Brouard gets the team to the semi-final of the competition, reminiscing its 1927 and 1968 performances. Quevilly loses to PSG 1-0 after a tight encounter and is promoted the same year to France’s third league, National (the last to allow amateur clubs before professional Ligue 2 and Ligue 1 come into play).

Loyal to the club’s tradition of shining in the French Cup rather than amidst the tedious to-and-fro of weekly league encounters in the third league (where it is currently ranked 14th), US Quevilly gets to the quarterfinals of the competition where it beats French giantsMarseille in extra-time, taking revenge for their 1927 defeat under Doumergue’s eyes. In the semi-final USQ dismisses another Ligue 1 club, Stade Rennes, to get the club to its first French Cup final since 1927 where it will face Lyon at the Stade de France on April 28th, in what might be the club’s most brilliant achievement in an eventful 110-year history.

Igor Mladenovic

This article originally appeared in In Bed with Maradona