The modest Breton community of Guingamp, Gwengamp to locals, is by far the smallest town to host a Ligue 1 team in 2015-16, Monaco excepted.
Cup winners over Breton rivals Rennes in 2014, flagship club En Avant de Guingamp (EAG) participated for the third time in a main European competition in 2014-15, overcoming a tricky Europa League group to give Dynamo Kyiv a run for their money. And until the 1970s – and long-term president Noël Le Graët – EAG were simply a prominent amateur club around Brittany…
It was locally born Le Graët, later city mayor, founder of his own seafood company, French FA president since 2011, who transformed En Avant from willing amateurs to European contenders.
Founded in 1912, this modest football team had no permanent pitch until ten years later. Now home to EAG’s reserve outfit, the Stade Yves-Jaguin in Pabu stands on the other side of the narrow Trieux river from the club’s current home of the Stade du Roudourou, built by Le Graët in the late 1980s.
Formidable cup fighters, in permanent rivalry with clubs from nearby Saint-Brieuc, particularly Stade briochin, EAG poodled along in the lower ranks of the French league until a 30-year-old Le Graët became club president in 1972.
With a young player-coach Sylvestre Salvi and an equally young team, EAG immediately set on a historic cup run, then gained promotion to Division 2 in 1977.
With his club a permanent fixture in the top half of the second flight and filling the Yves-Jaguin every fortnight, ambitious Le Graët saw fit to plan a new, municipal stadium, almost twice as big – and almost twice as big as the population of Guingamp.
The fact that the Stade du Roudourou has since been expanded to 18,000, and has even been used for internationals, testifies to Le Graët’s success. Guingamp is the size of Twyford or Radcliffe on Trent.
One of those internationals involved the French ladies’ team, women’s football being big in Guingamp. The attendance record for league match in the national D1 Féminine was set here in 2011-12.
By then, the En Avant men were firmly established in the upper echelons of the French game. Promoted in 1995, again in 2000 and again in 2013, EAG fielded a string of world-class strikers – Stéphane Guivarc’h, Didier Drogba, Florent Malouda – to keep pace with clubs with far more resources.
Twice EAG have won the French Cup, both times against local rivals Rennes in all-Breton affairs at the Stade de France. For the first in 2009, Guingamp then a second-flight club, the Breton anthem was played and French sports daily ‘L’Équipe’ produced its entire edition in Breton. A photo shows a visibly euphoric Le Graët celebrating with the cup aloft, completely surrounded by cheering, sweating players.
By the second, in May 2014, an unemotional Le Graët calmly watched his former modest amateur outlet triumph in front of 80,000 spectators – in the VIP box beside French president François Hollande. Both club and FA chief had come a long way in four decades.
The three airports nearest to Guingamp are little-used Lannion (serving only Paris Orly) 33km (20 miles) away, Dinard (Ryanair link with London Stansted) 79km (49 miles) away and Lorient (Paris Orly and Lyon) 90km (56 miles) away. Busier Rennes 118km (73 miles) away has links with Southampton, Exeter and Manchester thanks to flybe.
None have public transport connections with Guingamp.
From Paris-Montparnasse, a train takes about 3hr 30min, with online deals at around €20-25 one way.
The Guingamp Tourist Office has a database of local hotels.
North of the stadium by the river, Le Terminus (9 point Ezer, +33 2 96 43 76 44) is a friendly, family-run place about a 1km walk from the Roudourou.
Near Guingamp station, the Hôtel de l’Arrivée (19 boulevard Clemenceau, +33 2 96 40 04 57) and the Brit Hôtel Armor are both simple two-stars.
More comfortable, stylish and nearer the stadium, La Demeure even has a on-site hammam.
Though modest, Guingamp contains many places for beer, wine and football on TV.
Irish-style La Glycine (1 rue du Grand Trotrieux) is hidden down a cul-de-sac near a gateway to the river – there’s a big screen for games and even a room for big match nights.
In similar vein, Campbell’s Pub (14 place St-Michel) offers two screens dedicated to all games, particularly EAG’s, regular live music and even table football in Guingamp colours.
Le Panier à Salades (4 rue Général de Gaulle) takes decorative pride in En Avant Guingamp’s recent centenary and shows matches. It’s conveniently over the road from La Demeure hotel.
Au Saint-Michel on the road of the same name (No.1), between the town and stadium also broadcasts games. The Waty Bar (27 rue St-Nicholas) is more a music than sport bar but still shows regular match action.