By Christian Châtelet
The excitement of the UEFA Cup will be forgotten on Saturday as FC Sochaux-Montbéliard celebrate becoming the first French side to play 2000 top-flight games.
The club have made an excellent start to their UEFA Cup Group D campaign with a 2-0 win away at FC Dinamo Tbilisi, but when Toulouse FC visit the Bonal stadium on Saturday, it will be an opportunity for the side from the east of France to celebrate 76 years of endeavour.
"It is not the bicentennial of the French Revolution," said club chairman Jean-Claude Plessis. "I am just proud to remind to French football that
Sochaux are not the richest or the greatest but they are part of French footballing history."
The club were founded in 1928 by Jean-Pierre Peugeot, the head of the Peugeot car empire. Having seen other major firms found major football teams, like Fiat with Juventus FC and Philips with PSV Eindhoven, Peugeot set up Sochaux as a means to entertain and unite his workforce.
Peugeot was the first in France to admit that his side paid their players. He appointed an English coach, Victor Gibson, and fielded players such as Lucien Laurent, who scored the first goal in history of FIFA World Cup. He took a further step towards professionalism in football when he devised the Peugeot Cup - a contest for professional clubs that preceded the foundation of Le Championnat in 1932.
Sochaux, who merged with AS Montbéliard in 1930, were founder members of the league, and have spent a total of 57 seasons in the top flight. And while they may never have added to the league titles they won in 1935 and 1938, or the French Cup they won in 1937, they continued to be innovators.
In 1949, for example, they established the first footballing academy in France. Peugeot gave talented teenagers a job at their automobile workshops while giving them plenty of time to train. The young players were nicknamed 'Les Lionceaux' - 'The Lion Cubs' - a name which is still used for the current Sochaux side.
The academy concept was redeveloped in 1974, this time without the players being given day jobs at Peugeot, and was one of the first three modern academies in France, alongside those at AS Saint-Etienne and FC Nantes Atlantique.
Current Sochaux sporting director Bernard Genghini was one of the first players to graduate from the new academy, and seven years later, a Sochaux team featuring club legends like Philippe Anziani, Albert Rust, Genghini and Patrick Revelli reached the semi-final of the 1981/82 UEFA Cup.
On that occasion, they were unlucky. They drew 1-1 at home against Dutch side AZ Alkmaar before losing 3-2 in the away leg, but there is hope for the future. After reaching the third round of the UEFA Cup last season, Sochaux won their first trophy since 1938 by claiming the French League Cup.
Most of the stars of that League Cup winning side will be aiming for UEFA Cup glory again this season, and on Saturday, much of the team that reached the semi-final will be at the Bonal stadium to cheer them on. Like Genghini, many of them retain a strong attachment to the club.
We will have a party in the stadium," said Plessis. However, in line with the fact that Peugeot still own 99 per cent of the club's shares, some things will not be permitted. Plessis said: "Fireworks are not allowed on Peugeot premises."
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