French Football League (Ligue 1)

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Published: 08/10/2013

The top flight of French football leagues belongs to Ligue 1, previously known as Division 1 and still referred to by many as “Le Championnat.” The league consists of 20 elite teams, with each of them playing a schedule of 38 games between August and May. At the end of the season, three teams are promoted from the second division Ligue 2, while three Ligue 1 teams are relegated. In the UEFA rankings, Ligue 1 holds the sixth position among all national leagues in Europe.

Succeeding in Spite of Conflict

The early history of French football was marred by organizational disputes, particularly disagreements over the role of professionalism in sports. Oddly enough, the world governing body for association football, FIFA, was established in Paris, France in 1904, even as the nation’s two leading football authorities, the Comité Français Interfédéral (CFI) and the Union des Sociétés Françaises de Sports Athlétiques (USFSA), were squabbling over representation in the 1908 Olympics. They ended up send two separate teams that year, which was a complete debacle in the eyes of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Continuance of the rivalry thereafter resulted in no French representation for football in the 1912 Summer Games.

In 1913, the IOC turned its affiliation with France from the USFSA to the CFI, which had developed strong ties with FIFA since 1907. In 1917, CFI organised the first Coupe de France (French Cup), a national knockout competition open to all football clubs, amateur and professional, even though professionalism at that time was non-existent. The inaugural tournament featured 48 clubs. It was won by Olympique de Pantin, who triumphed over FC Lyon by a score of 3–0 in front of 2,000 spectators at the Stade de la Légion Saint-Michel in Paris.

In 1919, CFI reformed itself as the Fédération Française de Football Association (FFFA). Two years later, the USFSA officially merged with the federation, setting the stage for an era of cooperation and leadership in French football. In 1930, the National Council of the FFFA voted 128–20 in support of professionalism in French football, leading to the formation of the 14-team National League in 1932 and its first champion, Olympique Lillois, in 1932-33. A year later the league’s name was changed to Division 1 and two more teams were added in 1934–35 along with a promotion/relegation system.

Meanwhile, the Coupe de France was becoming increasing popular, alternating among many stadiums, from the Parc des Princes to the Stade Pershing and Stade Olympique Yves-du-Manoir in Colombes as well as the Stade de Paris. Although World War Two caused the suspension of all professional football activities, clubs continued to play in regional competitions. After the war, Division 1 football resumed with the allotment of teams increased to 18. By 1948, the number of clubs participating in the annual Coupe de France had increased to over 1,000, causing numerous preliminary rounds to be added. For the 1965-66 season, Division 1 grew to the current 20 teams, and in 2002, the present name “Ligue 1” was adopted.

Creating Domestic Champions

Nowadays, the annual Coupe de France competition features more than 7,000 clubs, with eight regional rounds and some regions holding as many as ten, leading up to 14 rounds of single elimination. Because the competition is so large and full of amateurs, the professional teams of Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 have also held their own “Coupe de la Ligue” tournament since 1994, with the first League Cup title going to Paris Saint-Germain for a 2–0 finals victory over Bastia.

To date, three clubs have won a trio of League Cups—Olympique de Marseille, Paris Saint-Germain and FC Girondins de Bordeaux. The professional club with the most Coupe de France victories is Olympique de Marseille with ten. As for Ligue 1 championships, AS Saint-Étienne are the leader with ten, while Olympique Lyonnais have seven. Internationally, however, French clubs have not fared well, with only two having ever won a European competition. In 1992-93, Marseille claimed the European Cup (now UEFA Champions League) and Paris Saint-Germain won the 1996 Cup Winners Cup (discontinued in 1999).

Coming into the 2013-14 season, Paris Saint-Germain were the reigning champions. Most recently relegated were Brest, Nancy and Troyes, while promotions from Ligue 2 brought up champions Monaco, runners-up Guingamp and third-place Nantes. The other 16 clubs hoping to gain the Ligue 1 title are Ajaccio, Bastia, Bordeaux, Évian, Lille, Lorient, Lyon, Marseille, Montpellier, Nice, Reims, Rennes, Saint-Étienne, Sochaux, Toulouse and Valenciennes.

Published on: 08/10/2013

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