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Sunday, December 12, 2010


The tiny French-governed overseas territory of Saint-Pierre et Miquelon is somewhere that could be described as being a little of the beaten track. Situated some 20 miles south-west of the little town of Fortune, Newfoundland, where one can board a ferry, the archipelago of Saint-Pierre et Miquelon, journey’s end for the boat from Fortune, has been continuously inhabited since the seventeenth century by a mixture of French and Basques, and under French control since 1763.
The island group has a population of just under 6000 people, most of whom live in the territory’s capital, Saint-Pierre, and the remainder, some 700 people or so, live on the other main island in the archipelago, Miquelon, in the village of the same name. However, according to the CIA World Factbook, Saint-Pierre et Miquelon (SPM) is suffering net migration at an annual rate of just over 0.90 per cent.

The lack of employment opportunities and Saint-Pierre et Miquelon’s comparative isolation are among the causes of the territory's declining population, which also has an effect on other aspects of life in the archipelago, such as sport.
Football is one such sport facing demographic difficulties in the archipelago; there are only 3 clubs, with a combined total of just under 550 playing members, both male and female, covering all ages and abilities.
The 11th of August 1903 saw the creation of SPM’s first football club, Association Sportive Saint-Pierraise (ASSP for short), and the club is still in existence, making it one of the oldest clubs still in existence in North America.
Historical information on the club’s formative years is hard to come by, but one of the first results recorded (according to local website Le Grand Colombier) was a 7:1 defeat against a team representing the crew of the Royal Navy vessel HMS Valerian in July 1921, at the Parc à Nicolas in Saint-Pierre which was described as a “magnificent demonstration of football by the British team”.
ASSP have also been recorded as having played friendly games against another visiting Royal Navy ship, HMS Passtoy Bay, in July 1947, both of which were won by the home team. Two years later, in 1949, AS Miquelonnaise (ASM) were founded, and in 1953, AS Îlienne Amateurs (ASÎA) were born, having apparently risen from the ashes of AS de l’Île aux Marins [note: to be verified].
According to a Wikipedia article on the Saint-Pierre national side, the territory’s first representative game (a 3:2 home victory, according to Le Grand Colombier) took place on 3 February 1958 against a team from the French Navy Le Bourdonnais and Agenais, a select team drawn from the ranks of the French Navy warships.

Curiously, a match against French club side Excelsior Roubaix, a 3:1 defeat, which allegedly also took place on the aforementioned date, is also listed on the same Wikipedia page as being Saint-Pierre et Miquelon’s first representative match. Whoever the opposition, it was the first winter-season game played in the archipelago, the regular season lasting from May to October.

In May 1972, the French Army's Joinville Batallion, representing the French Military FA, played all three local SPM sides, beating them all in style: ASIA by 5:0, ASSP by 4:0 and ASM by 9:0. In the Joinville Batallion team played a certain M. Thouvenel, later of Girondins Bordeaux and the French national side. 
A league championship (La Ligue de football de Saint-Pierre et Miquelon - LFSPM) began in 1976, and ASIA have been the most successful team to date, having won the domestic double again this season (2010), and for the 10th time in total. Not only that, but they also won the Newfoundland Challenge Cup back in 1978, in which SPM clubs are also eligible to play, beating ASSP in the final after extra-time – the first time two clubs from the territory had contested the neighbouring entity's final -  becoming the archipelago’s first winners of the trophy.

The year before, in 1977, the first-ever women’s match in Saint-Pierre et Miquelon took place, with ASSP beating Newfoundland side Grand Banks 3:0. Each of the 3 clubs in the archipelago now have a women’s selection.

The Ligue de Football de Saint-Pierre et Miquelon is now affiliated to the Newfoundland and Labrador FA (itself founded in 1950), and the LFSPM's current representative on the NLFA Director's Committee is Ronald Manet.

Saint-Pierre et Miquelon clubs have played games against foreign opposition on home ground before, and there seems to have been a mix-up as to who their oppponents were on 3 February 1958, but there was no disputing the fact that a selection from the three local teams lost 4:0 at the Stade John Girardin on 21 July 1978 to Scottish club Queen's Park.

It has been reported that Saint-Pierre et Miquelon played against Belize in Belize City in 1999, winning 3:0. The Belize FA apparently deny that the match ever took place; they were contacted with a view to finding out the real story, but, at the time of writing, they have issued no response.

The domestic league set-up was changed slightly in 1983; each team played 16 games during the season, but the season was split into 4 segments, with a trophy per segment up for grabs, in addition to the overall league championship. The four trophies on offer during 2010 were La Coupe Jeunesse et Sports, La Coupe Rotary Club, La Coupe CAS/EDF and La Coupe Agricole Eco. ASIA, as mentioned earlier, simply cleaned up, winning absolutely everything on offer, adding the Coupe de l'Archipel to their collection, beating ASM 2:1 in the final.

The league season was moved forward slightly this year to allow the Saint-Pierre et Miquelon representative side's first official trip abroad, and their first competitive fixtures, when they took part in the Coupe d'Outre-Mer, which invloves most of France's overseas departments and territories, for the first time. They had applied to participate in the first edition of the tournament in 2008, but their application was refused as the players were not "considered to be of a good standard".
SPM's debut in competitive football was, alas, not a happy one. With the tournament being held to the north and east of Paris, SPM were drawn in a group involving Réunion, French Guiana and Mayotte, and were not expected to progress. They indeed finished bottom, losing all 3 games, by scorelines of 11:0, 7:0 and 10:0 against their respective opponents. (Martinique won the tournament, beating Réunion in the final on penalties.)
Hardly a surprise, given the fact that several of the Réunion squad for the 2010 Coupe d'Outre-Mer have played in African club and international competition, and French Guiana's national side play in the CONCACAF Gold Cup and Digicel Caribbean Cup.
The next edition of the Coupe d'Outre-Mer is scheduled to take place in France sometime in 2012; fingers crossed, the LFSPM will send a team, and also play a few friendly games during the intervening 2 years. Saint-Pierre et Miquelon have spent over 100 years in comparative isolation; now that they have finally come in from the cold, hopefully they will learn from the experience and begin to improve. Time will tell.

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