Home of Cointreau, Angers is enjoying a football revival, flagship club Angers SCO taking Paris Saint-Germain to within a whisker of extra-time in the French Cup final of 2017.
Les Scolistes then celebrated their centenary year of 2019 by finishing in a solid mid-table position in Ligue 1 in May, before starting a fifth consecutive season in the top tier. The last time SCO showed this kind of consistency was back in the early 1970s, when they even made a fleeting European appearance.
In between, this pretty medieval town near the Loire, at the entrance to north-west France, had to be content to let nearest main rivals Nantes take the limelight.
The O of SCO stands for ‘Ouest’. Shortly after World War I, the local Fortin brothers who ran the Banque du Crédit de l’Ouest formed the club as SCCO Angers, the SC of Sporting Club remaining when the acronym was shortened.
But SCO Angers also link back to influential industrialist and textile baron Julien Bessonneau, involved in the earliest days of flight, who formed a sporting club for his workers in 1912.
Bessonneau also built a stadium on rue St-Léonard, in the district of the same name south-east of town, where today’s Stade Raymond Kopa still stands a century later. The conflict, and Bessonneau’s accidental suicide in 1916, ceased operations at the Club sportif Julien Bessonneau. With workers coming back from the front after 1918, the Fortin brothers duly stepped in to revive local sports activity.
By doing so, the Fortins inadvertently put an end to the other main team in town, Angers Université Club, AUC, who folded in 1919.
The Stade Raymond Kopa, of course, is named after the most famous player to have graced the then Stade Bessonneau. It was at Angers in 1949 that Raymond Kopaszweski became Raymond Kopa, starting out on his career before starring for Real Madrid and France.
Angers SCO also played at another ground in the early 1920s, the Stade Fortin on rue Saint-Lazare, north of the river Maine, but it was only after ‘Les Banquiers’ assimilated key players from the Club sportif Julien Bessonneau, and turned professional in 1945, that things started to happen.
Soon after the war, five-figure crowds flocked to see Kopa and top pre-war international Fred Aston. Angers would go on to have other periods of success, in the late 1950s and early 1970s, though the current revival was a long time coming.
Ironically, it coincided with the death of Raymond Kopa, who had married an SCO basketball player back in 1953 and returned to Angers after retiring. It was in Angers that he led his long-term campaign to find a cure for cancer – the couple had lost their son at an early age – and more than 1,000 filled medieval Angers Cathedral for Kopa’s funeral in March 2017. The stadium took his name a few days later.
Angers-Loire Airport 20km (11 miles) north-east of town is only occasionally used for commercial flights.
The nearest main international airport is Nantes Atlantique homepage 100km (62 miles away). A shuttle bus runs to Nantes train station every 20min (every 30min Sun), tickets €9 from the driver or the machine alongside, journey time 20min. Taxis Nantes (+33 2 40 69 22 22) should charge around €30, or €35+ after 7pm.
Saint-Laud is south of the city centre a 10-15min walk away. The one-line tram runs via the station and town but for the stadium you’ll need to use local buses, also run by irigo on the same ticket system of €1.40 from a machine, €1.50 on board, valid 60min. A 24hr pass is €4.
Âllo Angers Taxis (+33 2 41 87 65 00) is a reliable local service offering airport transfers, even with Paris.
Although there are no lodgings near the stadium, the contemporary three-star Hôtel de l’Europe is by the bus route and close to the only bar that passes for a pre-match haunt, Matt Murphy’s. Slightly closer to town, the Hôtel des Lices is more modest but has an LCD TV in each of its rooms, a bar and a sushi restaurant. Don’t be put off by the name – it’s on rue des Lices. Doubles go for around €50.
Near the park of the same name, the Hôtel du Mail offers a boutique stay in a historic property, not as expensive as you’d think – it’s only a three-star. Alongside on rue David, the equally venerable Maison Bossoreil pre-dates the French Revolution, its five rooms in the €100 range.
To be close to the historic sights, the castle and the cathedral, the ibis Centre Château provides sufficient comfort and convenience.
Pubs and bars are dotted around the city’s historic centre. A vortex of drinking spots where rue Bressigny meets boulevard du Maréchal Foch is also handy pre- and post-match as the bus runs nearby.
On boulevard Carnot at the northern end of the city centre, Le James Joyce offers match-watching, a decent menu in a pub-like interior and a wide terrace. On pretty place Louis Imbach nearby, board games and live music await at Le Welsh.
For a pleasant beer on the terrace in the heart of town, Le Pub du Ralliement stands on the square of the same name, with a screen inside. There’s TV sport on three ultra HD screens at Le Joker’s Pub on rue Saint-Laud, also the town’s main venue for live music.
Le Dublin’s on rue Saint-Georges provides fine dining rather than frantic drinking.