A team of golden lions for the Gold Cup. Martinique have come back to the championship of the North, Central American and Caribbean region with a team built around captain Sébastien Cretinoir, the undisputed leader of the main club on the island, the Golden Lion. One of his teammates is striker Kevin Parsemain, Martinique‘s best goal-scorer ever, who sealed with a minute to go in the extra-time the 2-0 victory over Trinidad and Tobago that gave Les Matinino (the national team) a place in the group stage.
Parsemain plays alongside Yoann Arquin, who has sought his fortune in England: during his two seasons at Notts County, his teammates compared him to Nicolas Anelka. Arquin is just one of the many young players born in France whose families left the island. Young players from the French overseas department hoping to make a name for themselves in the world of football, can only leave to pursue their dream – a dream shared by Martinique, the island that Christopher Columbus discovered and named so in 1502 during his fourth voyage to America, as a whole. Football, or at least a rudimentary variant of the beautiful game, became an in-vogue pastime among the Caribs since the 16th century, according to what an anonymous traveller wrote in the most ancient manuscript in French about the island. He noted that men used the so-called jeu de paume to enjoy – teams of three to ten players fought for a ball made of cotton and a special rubber available only on the island.
Then, in 1635, the Compagnie des Îles de l’Amérique arrived in Martinique, which remained for three centuries a French colony since then.
However, football became popular thanks to the short English occupation during the Napoleonic Wars, as the names of the main teams – Golden Lion, Golden Star and Good Luck – testify. Instead, Club Franciscain reminds of France, since it was founded as a literary, cultural and sporting society by Édouard Fanon. He was the uncle of philosopher and revolutionary Frantz, theorist of the fight to colonialism who believed that
sports can’t be a divertissement for the urban middle class.
The Division d’Honneur, the football first division on the island, was created in 1919 while the national football team made his debut in the 1930s, during the belle epoque of Martinican football. It was not exactly Les Matinino, but a simple selection of the best talents was assembled to challenge Pelé, who bears almost the same name of La Pelèe, the volcano that had destroyed the capital Saint-Pierre in 1902. After the World Cup triumph, O Rei was invited to play with Santos on the island in January 1971. Torn apart by internal rifts, the Football federation of Martinique believed that such an event could pour oil on troubled waters. To return on the big investments, tickets for the match were sold at the cost of 100 francs, too high for most of the inhabitants.
The militants of the Groupe d’action prolétarien, a leftist and secessionist movement, whipped the people up and began to write “We’ll see Pelé without paying” on the walls at Fort-de-France. Tension arose and the Federation asked for the first live television broadcast of a football match in the island’s history: after the approval, technicians from Paris arrived to guarantee it.
The revolt die down and everybody can see Pelé’s tricks: according to a legend, the referee gave Santos a penalty just for the sake of seeing the best player ever score at least once.
In 1983 the island lives another historical moment. After exactly thirty years since its foundation, the Ligue de football de la Martinique became affiliated to the CONCACAF as an observer member. It was just a first step towards the complete affiliation, sealed after further thirty years in 2013. During this interval, Martinique qualified three times to Gold Cup group stage, sensationally reaching the quarter-finals in 2002 and losing to Canada on penalties. Martinique‘s affiliation to CONCACAF reveals at the same time a signal of detachment from France.
General secretary of the Ligue in Martinique Maurice Victoire has become the second Francophone to enter the confederation’s board after Jacques Rugard, former president of the Guadeloupean League of Football, and his election could change the destiny of football on the island.
The ultimate goal, almost openly, is gaining the affiliation to FIFA for the overseas territories.
A former president of Martinique, who also owned Racing Club de Rivière-Pilote, guided a first protest towards the end of the Seventies and obtained to change the colours of Martinique national football team, until then the same as the French flag.
Choose no more than two of them
The league committee maintained blue and white, discarding the red, and nothing has changed anymore. Matters of style, however, has become substantial bricks to build the national identity in Martinique, where football remains the only hope for the new generations to realise their dreams.
For a huge number of young men, sports symbolise a mean to raise themselves in the social hierarchy. For this reason, young athletes continue to muddle up social and sports hierarchy,
Boutrin wrote in his book Approche historique et organisationnelle du sport en Martinique in 1997.
But without adequate infrastructures and professional leagues
the image of sports, and consequently social success, is often linked to the emigration to France. The myth of a providential France contributes, then, to reinforce the attachment to the motherland.
Nevertheless, the motherland has benefitted from players coming from overseas territories for almost a century. Since the arrival of the first black player in the national team in 1931 – that was Raoul Diagne, born in French Guyana, of Senegalese descent -, it has welcomed more than 10 players from Martinique in their national centres between 2002 and 2007, but it has always opposed to the affiliation of former colonies to FIFA. In the last decades, in spite of the creation of such a centre in the island, France has practically prevented that Martinique could nurture a prospect equal to the last great player born there – Gérard Janvion. A well-known defender at Saint-Etienne who lost the European Cup final in Glasgow in 1976 and played for France the 1982 World Cup, Janvion came back to Martinique to work as a taxi driver. “Martinique is a large family” he said to France Press in November 2005, on the eve of the first friendly France have played in the French West Indies since 1904.
The Bleus played against Costa Rica to raise funds for the families of the 152 victims of a plane crash in Venezuela on August 16 that year, the biggest tragedy in the history of Martinique. Thierry Henry had the chance to come back to the island where his parents were born, although Arsenal coach Arsène Wenger had in vain opposed to his decision to leave the team in a crucial period of the season. Two years ago, in the Coupe de France, paternalism resurfaced even more blatantly. As clubs from overseas departments are allowed to partake in the competition, Club Franciscain dreamt of becoming the first ever side to reach the round of 32. They had to meet Nantes and, according to the rules, when more than two categories separate the teams, the weaker club has the right to play at home. Nantes exerted the deviation from the rules, though – when French clubs face opponents from overseas territories, they can appeal and obtain to host the match. Despite their annual budget limited to 21,000 euros, the Martinicans must pay for some of their players’ accommodation. The expenses are enormous and the defeat largely expected.
Anyway, pride is mounting in the French West Indies, for football in Martinique gave increased signs of improvement last year.
Les Matinino gained access to the Gold Cup and the Caribbean Cup, although they did not manage to clinch their first victory since 1993. These successes were made possible thanks to a bunch of players building their careers abroad such as Beveren midfielder Steeven Langil, Bruno Grougi, who plays for Ligue 2 club Stade Brestois 29, former Bordeaux star Julien Faubert or Nantes striker Johan Audel.
The island of the palms dreams of a place in the sun. The Martinique dream smells of independence and passes through the affirmation in the world of football. The main question, however, remains unresolved. Captain Crétinoir, his team-mates at Golden Lion Daniel Hérelle, or the rivals at Club Franciscain like Abaul, Jougon, Marajo are considered good players but they do not receive proposals from French clubs, neither from Ligue 2 or the National, the third tier of the football pyramid. Recently, Lille has refused Martinica Under 17 national team goalkeeper Xavier Lemuel, because he is not tall enough.
How many of them will play for Les Matinino in the Gold Cup group stage? The affirmation of Martinique also depends on their future.
Written by Alessandro Mastroluca e Simone Pierotti
Kevin Persemain photo ©UsaTodaySports
Pelé photo – Frame documentary “Nous irons voir Pelé sans payer”
Maurice Victoire photo ©CAP/FB/MV
Gérard Janvion photo ©FranceFootball
Steeven Langil photo ©BelgaImage