In January 2016, a bitter stadium-share cup-tie derby ended with extra-time drama in front of a near full house. The location? Rome? Genoa? Milan?
No. The quaint, historic, lakeside resort of Annecy. An international destination for paragliders, close to Alpine ski resorts, the capital of Haute-Savoie has been home to Annecy FC since 1927. Actually, that’s not strictly true, as it was FC Annecy who competed at mainly amateur level for 66 years until debts and relegation finished them off. It was the club reformed in 1993, Annecy FC, currently competing in the Group D of the fifth-flight CFA2, who were involved in the recent heart-stopping cup tie.
Their opponents are better known to European football followers. Until May 2015, Évian Thonon Gaillard FC, often referred to as Évian TG, were in Ligue 1, competing against the likes of Paris Saint-Germain and Olympique Marseille. Ligue 2 champions in 2011, they had been a top-flight outfit for four seasons until spending most of the 2014-15 campaign in the relegation zone.
Évian TG are based at Thonon-les-Bains on the southern shores of Lake Geneva, with Switzerland just across the water. Alongside is Évian-les-Bains, a high-class spa retreat and home of the Evian mineral-water empire.
The club’s foundation date of 2007 is somewhat misleading but not as confusing as the tangled family tree woven close to Geneva that links Thonon, Gaillard and Ville-la-Grand with Olympique Croix de Savoie 74, Évian’s immediate forebears.
In 2010, promoted to Ligue 2, rebranded and turned professional thanks to backing from Evian, the renamed Évian Thonon Gaillard FC had to find a suitable stadium. Denied by UEFA to play in nearby Geneva, Évian TG were forced to move to Annecy, and the Parc des Sports, home of… Annecy FC.
With Évian TG gaining immediate promotion to the top flight in 2011 and Annecy FC struggling to crawl back up the divisions after the five-tier punishment in 1993, the two clubs were never likely to meet.
As one official said at the tiny Annecy FC office in a hidden corner of the Parc des Sports, when asked if his club still played there: ‘It’s Évian who play here as well! They’re the ones who moved in. We’ve always been here!’
On January 3, the draw for the round of 64 of the Coupe de France – the equivalent of the third round of the FA Cup, with a history of upsets – threw together these two unlikely bedfellows.
At a chilly Parc des Sports, a stunning free-kick from Jimmy Dechêne had the Parc des Sports crowd on its feet. Right on half-time, the Rouges of FC Annecy were level with their moneyed counterparts, who had gone ahead through Sekou Keita, on loan from Atlético Madrid.
On the hour, Yanis Méguirèche found himself one-on-one with Évian TG goalkeeper Johann Durand, whose professional experience told. With the game still pegged at 1-1, brave rearguard action by Annecy ran the clock to extra-time. On 95 minutes, another Keita shot was handled off the line by Annecy’s Mickäel Desbiolles. Red card and penalty, converted by Keita himself.
At 120 minutes, the water barons had won out against the ten men of Annecy, 4-1, a result that flattered the nomads from Thonon-les-Bains.
So, FC Annecy go back to life in CFA2 Group D –where they can at least look back on a 2-0 pre-Christmas win over Évian’s B team – while Évian TG face an uncertain future in Ligue 2. Les Roses are no longer in the pink as far as significant sponsorship from parent company Danone is concerned and Ligue 1 now seems very far away.
The nearest airport to Annecy is Geneva 43km (26.5 miles) away. A Transalis Lihsa Transdev bus T72 leaves every 2-3hrs for Annecy (€21, journey time 1hr 30min). From the airport terminal, walk straight out through the parked taxis and the bus stop is ahead. You pay in Swiss francs according to the day’s rate, and in euros back from Annecy.
At Annecy, you arrive alongside the train station, with local buses opposite. Attempting the airport transfer to Annecy by train would require two or three changes (at Geneva-Cornavin and Annemasse) and take an hour longer.
Local Taxi Annecy (+33 4 50 45 05 67) charges around €100 from Geneva Airport for up to four passengers.
Local buses in Annecy are run by Sibra. A single ticket from the driver (€1.40) is valid for 1hr. A 24hr pass is €3.70.
The nearest hotel to the stadium, on the main road avenue de Genève from town, is the mid-range Bellevue. With its own restaurant, it offers half- and full-board rates as well as standard ones from €68/single, €73/double. Canal Plus is among the in-room TV channels.
Several establishments enjoy picturesque locations along the narrow Thiou Canal in the historic centre close to the lake. These include the traditional and affordable Auberge du Lyonnais, with restaurant tables on the waterfront and the notch-above, olde-worlde Hôtel du Palais de L’Isle. Nearby are the wallet-friendly Hôtel de Savoie and the Privilodges Apparthotel Le Royal with its range of studios and suites.
Conveniently close to the train and bus stations, the Hôtel des Alpes belies its two-star status, with 32 tastefully renovated rooms. Nearby, the Best Western Carlton is a business-friendly four-star.
Bars, pubs and brasseries dot the historic centre around the canal.
Pride of place should go to contemporary Le French flair, a short walk from the canal, where a love of rugby does not preclude a support of Évian TG. Quality mixed drinks, tasty tapas and a sparky clientele put the FF above the standard range of tourist-friendly spots by the water.
These include Le Milton Pub, more pricy restaurant than pub, and the Captain Pub, which separates its ‘pub irlandais’ (12 draught beers, five dozen by the bottle, three screens for sport) from its restaurant. The terrace is a great spot day or night.
Further along the canal, Finn Kelly’s has been Annecy’s main Irish pub since 2002, with big-screen football and outdoor drinking.
Also nearby and well located, the Café Curt is a justifiably popular spot for discerning drinkers.
Tucked away from the canal, ‘Chez APO’ is a funny little bar that happens to be an occasional hang-out for Évian TG fans.