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The charm of non-league footie

It's at the bottom end of the football league structure where the best fun is to be had, says Stan Bissinger

FAR away from the overpriced and overcrowded league one French football scene lies a whole new world of back-to-basics local amateur football – and taking part as a spectator is a great way of sharing a little part of French local life.

It is in the Division d'Honneur, six levels down from the French Premiership, where some of the most exciting games are played. This league is split into 22 groups, along France’s regional boundaries with 14 teams in each division.

Just as in the UK non-league sides, football at level six can still be skilful and intelligent. Because the players are part-timers they tend to make a few more mistakes, but many supporters argue this makes for less predictability and more excitement.

However the differences compared with the English non-league scene can be striking. Supporters’ clubs are ad hoc affairs and there is generally no such thing as a match-day programme or a season ticket. Entrance fees are usually in the region of about €5.

Clubs’ own websites are very rare, but the main Fédération Française de Football site at www.fff.fr provides links to the regions and their leagues.

Another thing to watch out for are kick-off times. The English ritual of Saturday at 15.00 does not apply here. Be ready for Saturday or Sunday kick-offs at times that suit the clubs involved. It is best to keep an eye on the Friday edition of your regional paper as there can occasionally be last-minute changes to schedules.

Just as in England, you will find a group of faithful souls who give their time freely in the cause of their club.

They man the gate, keep the ground tidy and a couple of them run the clubhouse where you can buy a coffee, beer or wine. The atmosphere is friendly. After a few matches your presence as a foreigner is noted – all the more so if you make the effort to travel to away matches.

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