Village team's big-time dream shattered
Luzenac's players take part in a training session in Toulouse, southern France, on August 8, 2014 - by Pascal Pavani
Luzenac's fairytale rise from obscurity culminated in their winning promotion from the third tier of French football last season.
But on Friday, they were brought down to earth with a jolt as the Professional Football League (LFP) ruled they could not take their place in Ligue 2.
The ruling said: "The club does not have a ground which conforms to the required safety standards."
Last season, the club from the Pyrenees, whose own Stade Paul Fedou has only one stand and 400 seats, played their home games at nearby Foix, where the capacity was just 3,000.
And they had suggested playing their home games at Toulouse rugby club's Ernest Wallon stadium.
However, the League said they had not offered an alternative "solution of a ground which did conform to these standards" and a unanimous vote of the 24 members of the committee means they will have to start the new season back in the third tier.
League president Frederic Thiriez justified the decision to exclude Luzenac on the grounds of safety.
Speaking exclusively to AFP, he said: "The problem with Luzenac is extremely simple. How can you play in a professional league without a ground?
"Their ground does not meet the safety requirements and nor did the alternative they proposed, the Ernest Wallon stadium (in Toulouse)... and in any case they did not have the agreement of Toulouse (rugby club) to play there."
He added: "I'm very sad for the Luzenac players who won the right to play in Ligue 2 on the field, but they should blame the management of the club who were incapable of fulfilling their responsibilities."
Thiriez explained that the Toulouse stadium did not meet League standards as there was no CCTV system in place, a major requirement at football grounds to combat the possibility of spectator violence.
The latest blow came a day after they managed to persuade the League's financial watchdog, the Direction Nationale du Controle de Gestion (DNCG) that their budget met the requirements laid down, after an earlier refusal by the DNCG to grant them access to Ligue 2.
- 'Not one euro in debt' -
As Fabien Barthez, the French World Cup-winning goalkeeper who is the club's managing director, pointed out during the campaign: "We are not one euro in debt."
They had also won a court ruling in Toulouse last week permitting them to play in Ligue 2, even though it would cause the League the embarrassment of having to redraw the fixture list to accomodate 21 teams instead of the usual 20.
So, there will be no happy end to the fairytale which has warmed the hearts of French football fans up and down the land since Luzenac clinched promotion back in April.
Basically, they are considered just too small to move into the big time.
It is a major blow to Barthez, who has been behind the phenomenal transformation of Luzenac from an amateur village team to a club knocking on the door of Ligue 2, an inspiration for small clubs everywhere.
But five years ago, they were still an amateur team in the regional leagues.
Luzenac seemed set to fold due to financial problems before a wealthy Toulouse businessman, Jerome Ducros, came to the rescue.
Ducros appointed Barthez, born in Lavelanet, another small town 30km away and already Luzenac's honorary president, as managing director with a brief to build a team capable of delivering promotion.
Barthez, with an increased budget, picked up players out of contract and the club finished top scorers in the division, with Cameroon striker Ande N'doh leading the way with 21 goals, and second in the table, earning automatic promotion.
“We had planned to gain promotion in three years so we are well ahead of schedule!” declared Ducros.
But Luzenac have now been deprived of the chance of emulating Auxerre, who in the 1980s rose from the amateur leagues to become a force in the top flight, and became French champions in 1996.