Something that has long fascinated me amongst the narrative of football is those teams who appear at the top table from below – and the tales they have to tell. I’ve written a few about Serie B sides for ForzaItalianFootball, but there was a few other teams who caught my eye while I was doing so. This series is not formal, by any means, so don’t hold out for a huge amount.
Ligue 2 was a strange place in the mid 1970s. It was split into two groups, but still created a champion after a two-legged final. When in 1974, Nancy were relegated from Ligue 1 on 41 points, with the worst goal difference of the four teams who had reached that figure, it was not immediately apparent what the future held.
It goes unremarked that French football at that time was trying to reward attacking play, but it is the inevitable conclusion of leagues that award bonus points. When the Red Thistles were relegated, they accrued eight bonus points – one for every time they had scored three or more goals. Below them, Paris FC had nine, while champions Saint-Étienne managed 11, one in a 6-0 hammering of Nancy.
Ligue 2 had a slightly different system, their bonus points coming for victories where the margin was two goals or more. The arrival of Joaquim Martinez, who had scored just once for a Racing Santander side relegated from La Liga was unlikely to set tongues wagging, but there was talented players within the Nancy squad, who perhaps needed the step down in order to truly shine.
Before the season started, AC Ajaccio were expelled for financial reasons, meaning that when Nancy kicked off in August 1974, they did so in a 17 team league instead of the usual 18. Despite the relegation, Jean-Antoine had retained most of his squad from the previous campaign. Martinez arrived to cover the hole left by the departure of 11 goal Raul Castronovo, departed to Malaga, and midfielder Denis Bauda had moved on to Ligue 1 newboys Paris Saint-Germain.
That stability obviously helped the side remain settled, so the visit of Mulhouse on the opening day was an opportunity to show what they could do. Within half an hour’s play at the Stade Marcel-Picot, it was 3-0, and by full time two new signings had a brace, and Nancy had a bonus point for a 5-0 victory.
As well as Martinez, Sylvain Jannaud, recruited from Chaumont, scored twice, while 19 year old midfielder Michel Platini had opened his account in what was to prove to be a memorable season.
The youngster added another couple of goals in the next game, another 5-0 drubbing, this time against Toulouse. Having hit the ground running, Nancy began to fly. Martinez couldn’t stop scoring, Platini was clearly developing into one of the stars of the French game, and victories, and points, built up quickly.
They swept aside Montluçon, Blois and Chateauroux before slowing a little in narrower wins over Toulon and Béziers. By the time Nancy lost a game, in late October, they were five points clear of a Montluçon side over whom they had a game in hand. That defeat, at Martigues, was goalless after 55 minutes.
The hosts grabbed a quick 2-0 lead before Nancy struck back immediately. The decisive goal, making it 3-2, came after just 65 minutes. There were other defeats, most notably a 4-0 reverse at Avignon but nobody really threatened the Red Thistles; even after a hammering like that, there was a seven point cushion back to Cannes – and averaging two points in a division that, even with its bonuses, is two points for a win, is quite phenomenal.
There was also a Coupe de France run to consider. A successful team, full of goals, Nancy eased through their first two rounds easily, winning 8-1 and 9-1 against lower level sides and though Ligue 2 Gueugnon ran them close, a comfortable win over third tier Saint-Louis when the competition brought a memorable tie against that super Saint-Étienne side. A draw in the home leg left the tie delicately poised, but for all Platini’s efforts, Nancy couldn’t quite finish the job, and lost 3-2 in the return.
All eyes turned to the league, where Nancy’s lead remained six points over Cannes and Toulon. There, the travails of a long season began to tell, and victories turned to draws, and draws defeats. There were still some memorable wins, however. The best of those came in the last home match of the season.
Having already clinched promotion and with mid-table Sète the visitors, Platini turned on the style scoring four in a 6-0 hammering that sent a message out not just to the B division that Nancy had clinched, but the opposing group, where Valenciennes were the also-promoted representatives in the playoff to decide who would win the title.
A cagey affair in late July saw the two draw 0-0 at the Stade Nungesser, but back at home, Nancy are able to put their visitors to the sword in clinical fashion. Joaquim Martinez finishes the season, as it began, with a brace. This time, however, it is Ange Di Caro who matches him, and with a 4-0 victory, Nancy sweep back into Ligue 1 at the first attempt.
The Argentine moves on in the summer, and though his prowess in Ligue 2 continues, he never matches the 31 goals he scored in this magic campaign. Platini, meanwhile, goes from strength to strength, guiding his side to their best ever finish of 4th in 1977 before eventually scoring the winning goal for Nancy in the Coupe de France in 1978. He later, of course, moved on to Saint Etienne and later Juventus.
Ange Di Caro stayed for a crack at the top flight, along with Jannaud. Popular forward Jannaud was one of a small party selected by the club to ensure that Paco Rubio was safely driven to his grandmother’s funeral after a win over Lille on Halloween 1975. With Jean-Paul Cohuet having been a substitute, he was thought the freshest to drive the group. He did so until a little while before their destination in Montluçon, where Jannaud took over, only to crash the car in the fog. While his team-mates were relatively unscathed, Jannaud suffered a head injury so severe that he fell into a coma and, while he made a long and slow recovery, he never played football again.
Nancy themselves became one of the bigger names in French football after this promotion, though never quite matched their performances with silverware.