French football's 'elder brother' returns home

On Sunday six-time French champions and two-time European Cup runners-up Stade de Reims Champagne kick off their first Ligue 1 campaign in 33 years against Olympique de Marseille.

Reims manager Hubert Fournier addresses the media
Reims manager Hubert Fournier addresses the media ©Getty Images

Putting the anticipation surrounding big-spending Paris Saint-Germain FC to one side, Ligue 1's opening weekend also heralds the return to the top flight of former European Cup finalists Stade de Reims Champagne – for the first time since 1979.

Reims secured promotion on 12 May, a 2-0 win at Amiens SC ensuring that after 33 years of dreaming the eastern club would play in Ligue 1 again. On Sunday that dream will become reality. Reims, six-time French champions between 1949 and 1962 and European Cup runners-up in 1956 and 1959, will again be among France's elite, stirring memories of the scintillating Raymond Kopa and company.

"It feels like the elder brother is back," said Olympique Lyonnais president Jean-Michel Aulas when the season's schedule was unveiled. "With Lyon, St-Étienne, Marseille and Paris, the circle of mythical French sides is almost complete," he added. Of the teams that have appeared in the last four of a major European tournament, now only AS Monaco FC and FC Nantes are missing.

Reims have been buoyed by the fervent support of their fans, whose rapturous celebrations on the final day of the last campaign in particular evoked those heady times of yesteryear. However, the managing team, under chairman and local businessman Jean-Pierre Caillot, are under no illusions about the size of the task at hand. The aim for the upcoming season will be nothing more than reserving their seat at the top table for 2013/14.

"The season will be tough and we'll do everything to make it pulsating," said coach Hubert Fournier, himself in uncharted waters having never previously coached at this level. His mission has been made harder by the departure of last term's Ligue 2 top scorer Cédric Fauré following the expiration of his contract, though Reims have clinched the permanent signature of Kamel Ghilas, who hit 14 goals on loan from English outfit Hull City AFC in the promotion campaign.

"Don't misunderstand – we are the minnows here," said Ghilas of the challenge ahead. "Ligue 1 is the school of efficiency, discipline, togetherness. For us, the forwards, the number of chances will be maybe three a game. But I think there will be space and Reims will have to make things difficult for our opponents."

It will certainly be a baptism of fire as nine-time champions Olympique de Marseille are first up at the Stade Auguste Delaune on Sunday.