The day Calais almost had their way

Remember when Calais was famous as a ‘booze cruise destination’? Back when every low budget BBC/ITV series felt obliged to take their protagonists on a caper across the channel to buy cheap wine and Bensons?

In modern times, of course, the seaside town has bleaker connotations. It became famous in 2016 for the ‘Calais Jungle’, a migrant camp that – depending on a person’s levels of human sympathy and interest in the UKIP party – evoked either emotions along the lines of shame and empathy, or disgust and fear.

But, apart from these two independently questionable claims to fame, what else has the town hit the headlines for? If you’re searching for a way to change the subject next time Gary-int-pub starts banging on about these-bloody-immigrants-comin-over-ere-and-takin-our-jobs (and completely ignoring the fact the camp has now been closed, obviously), perhaps you could mention the town’s football team and their unlikely run to the French cup final in 2000.

Led by the brilliant named Spaniard, Ladislas Lozano – who surely walked right out of a Harry Potter novel before making his way into football – Calais started the tournament ostensibly without a prayer. An amateur side in every sense of the word, they were a ragtag bunch comprised of gardeners, shop assistants and ferry workers. Winning a single game would have been an achievement.

That they did, though, and far more on top. Perhaps there should have been an investigation as to whether Lozano genuinely was a magician; Calais somehow managed to beat professional sides Cannes and Strasbourg to earn a dream semi-final tie against giants Bordeaux.

That fixture was regarded more as a fantastic day out than a game that could realistically be won, but the minnows again exceeded expectations. After a dull 90 minutes, the game burst to life like a sweet French grape in extra time, with Calais no doubt tasting fruits from the region of Champagne after beating the Ligue Un side 3-1 in a thrilling 30 minutes.

The final against a Nantes side worth £20m did prove one step too far, but to the locals it didn’t matter. The names of their tiny club and its courageous players had been written into the history books, and the defeat in the final made no difference. That being said, they came so close to even more glory; Calais actually led at half-time and only lost thanks to a last minute penalty. If you need any more proof that their cup run was glorious, just look at the scrappiness of their goal in the final and the bagginess of their tops.

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So, there you have it; if the place ever comes up in conversation again, you can lighten the mood by telling the tale of a heroic side that became the town’s Calais-m to fame. Just don’t use that awful pun.