STORY. Fair, nuns, convertible, typhoon: the birth of women’s football in France.

At first it was just an attraction. Distract, make people laugh as with this wrestling fight between Lilliputians the previous year. It was the traditional meeting at the end of August, a fair organized by the newspaper L’Union, in Reims.

We are in 1968, shortly after the “events”, and Pierre Geoffroy, journalist for the regional daily, is racking his brains to find the right idea, one that will attract the greatest number of people. With his collaborator Richard Gaud, coach-player of the newspaper‘s corporate team, he decides to mount an exhibition of women’s football. The two friends publish an ad, it is July 9, without being sure to have enough players on D-Day.

To their astonishment, fifteen women show up for registration. Including Ghislaine Souëf-Royer, 65 years old today, 15 years old at the time: “We were between 15 and 36 years old, all sportswomen or former sportswomen, coming from volleyball, handball, basketball…” She practiced athletics, the 80 meters, was therefore a sprinter, but football had no secrets for her. She played there every day with her brothers, Daniel and Elijah. “We had a soccer field 50 meters from the house. And very often, as there were no nets, I positioned myself behind a goal and I returned the balls ”. It was also one of her brothers’ friends who took her to register for the Union fair because she “Did not dare to go”.

Determined to make a bad joke the adventure of their life

After a short session and a few passes, the fifteen young women were selected and Pierre Goeffroy never ceased to express his astonishment. Both by the quality that emanated from the whole, and by the unexpected coherence of what was happening before his eyes. These girls handled the ball well, ran fast, and… were free.

They went on several training sessions for a month and what must have been a joke in Pierre Goeffroy’s mind gradually took the form of a revelation. A team was born, there, before his eyes. The Stade de Reims, neighbor with keen hearing, quickly got wind of the story and then invited this team and its fresh coach to the curtain raiser of the match Reims – Valenciennes (Division 2), against the Alsatian team of Schwindratzheim .

This team had been formed for two years and often met German teams in the absence of French formations. “We therefore met at the Auguste-Delaune stadium, in front of 6,000 spectators, in Le Coq Sportif jerseys and shorts. Two halves of 35 minutes. We won 3-1 in front of surprised supporters, and we played again the next day against this same team for the fair. The match had been more difficult because of a less passable side pitch and incessant rain. But we had won 2-1 ”, tells the one who for a time occupied the post of guard despite her meter fifty-three.

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At the start of the school year in September, Pierre Geoffroy and Richard Gaud nevertheless think of putting an end to this summer adventure … but the young girls refuse, taking the adventure of their lives there. “After having tasted the joy of living football as a team”. “We told him: ” It’s a joke ? We don’t want to stop. Now that you’ve gotten us into this, we have to get started! “

These free women, who talk about the pleasure of playing, become examples

The Rémois Women’s Football Club was born (the official name “Stade de Reims” will be a little later). Under the benevolent gaze of the journalist, the demonstration matches are linked in the surrounding countryside, seven against seven. The success is real. The players become an example. Ghislaine is a high school student. “We only had two two-hour training sessions per week and on weekends, either we played on Sunday or we trained …” A year later, around twenty teams were formed. “Pierre took advantage of his newspaper to talk about us, we sometimes made the front page of L’Union. As he was also a correspondent for France Football, he occasionally placed a small article in the magazine. It snowballed very quickly ”, confirms Ghislaine Souëf-Royer.

On June 15, 1969, it was at home that they took part in a first international tournament, welcoming English and Czechoslovakia. If they face with happiness, in Prague, a few weeks later, they suffer a heavy defeat. “We take a 10-0. There, we understand that we are not the best in the world despite our two training sessions per week. We played against girls who trained every day. “ Back home, the players decided to work on their technique and their physique in the sand pits, these “Small sand dunes”, to improve their condition.

Exhibitions and travels followed one another throughout Europe, in Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain. In Ireland, it was with the nuns that they were accommodated. “I let you imagine, our outfits drying next to the cones” she laughs. They crossed the seas to play on other continents. “In 1970, at the invitation of AS Rome, we went with the Italians for a month to the United States and Canada for demonstrations. It was during our visit that women’s football was born in the USA ”.

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From Reims to Mexico City, Java, Haiti, they sometimes play in front of 100,000 spectators

Each trip abroad is organized according to the school holidays or paid vacation of each, because apart from the green rectangle, all these young women are students, workers or employees. “Little by little, the best players joined us and a good framework was built. “

A little more experienced and reinforced, famous, the girls of the Stade de Reims are nicknamed the France team when they travel. What ended up moving the FFF, quite reluctant at the start. “Pierre Goeffroy and the president of the Northeast Football League, Mr. Petitot pleaded our cause and ended up obtaining the status ofFrench team in 1970. » On March 29 of the same year, the FFF officially recognized female practice. France then counted 2170 dismissed in the first year.

In April 1971, a game won 4-0 in Hazebrouck against the Netherlands marked the start of the international adventure, with Fifa considering this match to be the first selection women’s football official. “We weren’t even aware… But it opened the doors to the first unofficial World Cup the following summer in Mexico. “

Over time, they discovered the time differences, Guadalajara, the altitude and pollution of Mexico City, the Azteca stadium and its 100,000 spectators, Indonesia, Java, Sumatra and its volcanic landscapes, its tea and coffee plantations. The West Indies, too, Martinique, Guadeloupe and Haiti. “We were received with great fanfare by François Duvalier, former President of the Republic of Haiti. We drove down the main avenues in a convertible car facing a people full of misery. And it hurt to see that ”, the one who became a stopper and captain of the section.

First official French championship in 1974

The women’s section of the Stade de Reims won the first official French championship during the 1974-1975 season, four years after the recognition of women’s football by the Federation. Then in 1976, 1977, 1980 and 1982. They were vice-champions of France in 1978, 1979 and 1981. In October 1978, the Champagne club represented French women’s football at an unofficial world competition organized in Taiwan but that the ‘one can imagine as being the first world cup. “When we arrived in Tapei, it was by a typhoon that we were greeted. There was 30 to 40 cm of water in the streets. So much so that the tournament had started a week late. To be able to respect the schedules, we played two matches a day, in front of 15,000 spectators ”. Conclusion: tied winners of the tournament with the Finns of the Helsinki club.

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Despite these excellent results, they have never escaped jeers in the stands, on the part of the men, it should be said. We listen to Ghislaine Souëf Royer and her chosen songs: “So go fix the socks!” », or “Ah, she was lucky to catch the ball, next time she will catch it differently”, referring to the fact that she would one day get pregnant. “It was flying low and in addition it was stupid since they paid to come and see us”. It was passing over her, she said. “I was fifteen, I was a high school student. We just wanted to play for fun, not to claim that we were women and that we had rights. Football was forbidden, rowing too, and for a woman, cycling was not easy either … “

Female, a play that traces their history

It was in 1980, at the age of 27, that she decided to retire from sports. Three years after her daughter Céline, she gave birth to her second child. “Cumulate both my role as mom, my job (she was an accountant) and football had become complicated. And there is a time for everything ”. Sporty, she remained so by playing tennis, then running “Just for fun”.

Today, it is well installed on the sofa in her living room that she follows the matches with her husband Jean-Jacques: “I watch the boys’ matches as well as those of the girls of PSG or Lyon. Moreover, our players must be careful because some foreign teams have strengthened in the offseason. And it will be more difficult for them ”. Attentive, always, admiring Pelé or Cristiano Ronaldo, pioneer and now inveterate defender of the emancipation of women. She was involved in the steering committee of Reims, so that the city of Champagne is selected as the host city of the Women’s World Cup.

This story, that of the “Pioneers of Stade Reims”, the author and director Pauline Bureau adapted it to the theater with her company La part des anges. The room is called Female. She will resume her tour throughout France as soon as the health situation allows. They are worth it, these funny ladies.

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