“Le Retour d’un Mythe” was the slogan I came across recently while perusing the Ligue 1 section of an online boutique. I did not have to see the team badge to recognize the reference.
Translated as “The Return of a Myth” this item was one of a few of the Stade de Reims products available.
Stade de Reims forever has a place in the history of French football. A domestic dynasty in the 1950's, Reims has spent the last 33 years missing from action in the top level of the French game. This season has seen their return to the top flight coincide with Ligue 1's 80th anniversary.
Those who have even the slightest knowledge of the history of the game should readily recognize some of Reims' most talented alumni.
Just Fontaine, Raymond Kopa, Roger Marche, and Robert Jonquet are not only club legends, they are some of the greatest players of their generation. In the case of Fontaine and Kopa, they are arguably some of the best the game has ever seen.
With a history involving such great talents, and as the club who provided the most influence on French football's initial golden age, most fans know little if anything about Reims.
Reims is a city of nearly 200,000 people (according to 2008 census) approximately 125 km north east of Paris. The city was the site of the crowning of the French Kings, giving the commune a prominent status in France. It is only fitting that the original kings of the French game shared the city of the coronation of kings.
Their club was the first to ascend to dynasty status in France in the late 1940's. In 1949, Reims won its first league title. In 1953, it took home their second crown and followed up with titles in 1955, 1958, 1960, and 1962.
During their incredible run from 1949 to 1962, they also claimed the Coupe de France twice, and the Trophee des Champions four times.
This era of success was due to the talents of players like Marche, Jonquet, Kopa, and Fontaine. Reims' accomplishments were not confined to the borders of France.
In 1956, they played Real Madrid for the first European Cup title in Paris. They took a 2-0 lead prior to falling 4-3 to the legendary Madrid squad. Kopa would leave that year to join Madrid, but the two teams would meet again for the Cup title in 1959. Madrid won that match 2-0.
Later that year, Kopa returned to Reims, rejoining Fontaine and company for a few last seasons of glory. After the 1962 league title, Fontaine retired at age 28 due to injuries. He had scored an incredible 122 goals in 131 appearances for Reims.
The retirement of Fontaine coupled with departures and age began to take their effect, and in 1964 Reims was relegated to the second division. They returned to the top tier in 1966 and won their fifth Trophee des Champions the same year.
1967 saw them relegated again. In 1970, they were back and remained in the top flight until 1979. The next 20 years saw an incredible fall for a one-time giant of the game.
In 1991, Reims was relegated to the third division after club debt topped 50 million francs. The following spring may have been the rock-bottom point for the club as a judicial liquidation forced the auction of trophies and other club assets.
The drop in divisions continued, and Reims was soon a footnote in the history books of Ligue 1. Despite the cruel realities that saw Reims spiral into the abyss, the faith of some never wavered. Instead of throwing in the towel, this great champion pulled itself off the ground and began to climb back to its rightful place.
Stade de Reims reached Ligue 2 in 2002 and spent the next eight years bouncing between Ligue 2 and the Championnat National (division 3). This past season saw Reims take second place in Ligue 2 and earn promotion back to Ligue 1.
While the journey is by no means finished, Reims has accomplished a great deal in securing a place at the top table. The ultimate goal is for Reims to be a permanent fixture in Ligue 1 and make a return to the top of the mountain.
Current manager Hubert Fournier does not have any players who capture the imagination like Kopa and Fontaine. If they keep Reims moving forward they will have played an important part in the club's history.
Sitting in fifth place after six games, Reims has had a better than expected start to the season. Continuing to build on this start will keep it in Ligue 1, making the future that much brighter.
The “Return of a Myth” slogan is in so many ways appropriate for Reims. The team of the 1950’s that brought Reims to prominence has been kept alive by the stories passed down from previous generations of fans.
With very little film of those teams available to be seen by fans in today’s media-heavy society, it is hard for younger generations to fathom the legacy of Stade de Reims.
The chances of Reims returning to a dominating player on the French and European stages are small. It does not hurt to dream or wish for it, though, especially when we are talking about myths and legends.