Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Jeunesse Esch (Luxembourg)

Formed as the rather more cumbersome sounding Jeunesse la Frontière d'Esch back in 1907, Jeunesse Esch are the most successful single club in Luxembourgian history with a whopping 27 title wins. Rivals Racing Football Club Union Lëtzebuerg (they don't do snappy club names round their way, it seems) claim they've won more, but as they're the result of the gradual merging of at least nine different clubs, we don't think that really counts. Based in the glorious South Western city of Esch-sur-Alzette - the country's second biggest city with a population of 27,146 - they have also won the Luxembourg Cup twelve times, and the double on an impressive eight occasions.

Their original, slightly lumpy name was in reference to their proximity to their border with France. They kept this name until 1918, when they dropped the Frontière bit. This they retained until the Second World War when the occupying Nazis forced them to rename as Schwarz-Weiß 07 Esch, as well as making them play in the Gauliga Mittelrhein - the highest league in the Prussian Rhine Province - alongside some Belgian clubs, where despite everything they managed to finish as runners-up in the 1943-44 season. They reverted to their pre-war name upon the liberation of Luxembourg, which they have kept ever since.

The club is considered one of their country's big three, alongside F91 Dudelange and FC Etzella Ettelbruck. However, the mid 2000s saw them take an uncharacteristic dip in fortunes, finishing as low as ninth in 2006 - only just missing out on a relegation play-off.

They also have a proud history in European competition. They've taken part in the three main competitions on an impressive 30 occasions, debuting in the old European Cup in 1958. The following year they pulled off a massive shock by beating Polish club ŁKS Łódź 6-2 on aggregate. The next round saw them up against a little team you may have heard of called Real Madrid. Despite being hammered 7-0 at the Bernabéu, they races to a shock two goal lead in the return leg, before a full strength Real side including Puskás and  Di Stéfano banged another five past them.

Then 1963 they pulled off one heck of a comeback, where despite going 4-1 down to Finns FC Haka in the first leg, they managed to nip them in the last minute in the home leg. This saw them up against fellow stripes Partizan Belgrade for a place in the quarter final, confounding all expectations by beating them 2-1 in the first leg, before being sadly hammered 6-2 by the Serbs at the return. Even more notably they held Liverpool to a 1-1 draw in their home leg back in 1973.

For many years they were managed by the English football journeyman George Berry. A player at Charlton, Crystal Palace, Gillingham and Brentford in the 20s and 30s, he won titles in France as a manager with Lille and Nice, before moving to clubs in first Tunisia then Luxembourg.

Current stars include the exciting 22 year old prospect Claudio Lombardelli, Bosnians Ernad Sabotić, Almin Babačić and Meris Ramdedović, and the much capped Luxembourgish international René Peters. Currently they sit at the top of the Luxembourg league with only a couple of games to play. Good luck to the brothers in stripes!

All photos © lays with the owners

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