“For us, Racing is a religion”… Dive into the heart of the Lensois renewal

From our special correspondent in Lens,

It seems that this is the place to go to smell the Lensoise atmosphere before the matches. “La Loco”, rue Jean-Letienne, sees its first customers arrive around 11 a.m. on match days. Racing scarves around the neck, of course. We sometimes start with a little coffee, and then quickly the first pints start flowing. With a small fricadelle or an American, it passes by itself. “It’s our ritual, explains Rémi, 26, seated with Sophie and Grégory, while waiting for the rest of the group of friends. We come four, five hours before the match. We drink a shot, we eat, then we will drink one last in front of the stadium. »

The bar is located opposite the station, ten minutes walk from Bollaert. Its location has long made it the rallying point for locals and regionals. For the match against Auxerre, this Saturday, some even came from Aveyron. The address is known, even by opposing supporters. A dozen Auxerrois are there, to taste the famous fries from the North as much as to warm their voices. “Lens was a must for us, says Séverin, who came for the first time with his brother Cyril. It is the Liverpool of France, such fervor is not found elsewhere. »

Barely time to finish his sentence, The Corons resound at the other end of the room. Faces light up. “If we sing them at half-time with the Lensois? Of course, exclaims our Auxerrois. It gives chills, and it’s part of what you want to come here for. Pierre Bachelet’s song, a tribute to the mining basin, is sung by the public at each match when the players return to the pitch for the second period. It is part of the local heritage, and the identity of the Racing Club de Lens, like the blood and gold colors and the kop of the Marek stand placed at the level of the median line.

“On match days, it’s a different city”

“This club is the people, the mine, recalls former president Gervais Martel. It belonged to the Houillères, then the city of Lens took it over but the public always came from the mines. » The progressive closure of coal mines in the Pas-de-Calais basin, until 1990, left the region in a state of economic disrepair, with Racing as the last flag to be cherished. It is for this reason, and also because he was a real football fan, that André Delelis, mayor from 1966 to 1998, always fought to save him. In 2012, the stadium was renamed Bollaert-Delelis in tribute to all he has done for the RCL.

Today, the city and the club are more intimately linked than ever. “I can’t count the number of times a day people talk to me about Racing,” smiles the current mayor, Sylvain Robert. It is a unifying subject, regardless of the results. We talk about it all the time because it is a structuring element of our territory. A quick trip to the Chez Muriel bar, a few steps from the stadium, is enough to convince you of this. Muriel Beaurepaire, although barely in her sixties, has been the manager for 44 years. Daughter and granddaughter of a miner, she has been going to see Racing since she was old enough to walk. “For us, Racing is a religion. And Bollaert, our temple, she says. It’s all about the team. When our club is going, everything is fine here. On match days, it’s a different city. We only have that. »

Muriel Beaurepaire in her café, a stone’s throw from the Bollaert stadium, where a photo of the Coupe de la Ligue victory in 1999 is displayed (among other things). – N.CAMUS / 20 Minutes

Inevitably, after the last fifteen rather dark years, marked by nine seasons in Ligue 2, the current revival of the 1998 French champion gives everyone a smile. “We are reliving the good years. I cried often, but there they really make us vibrate, continues Muriel. We have a team that looks like us, they are good guys, and winners. This Saturday again, even after a meeting a thousand miles from the fireworks lit against PSG on January 1 (3-1), the Lensois chained against Auxerre (1-0) a tenth success of in a row at Bollaert since the start of the season. Second in the championship at the halfway point with a historic total of points at this stage (44), Franck Haise’s men are putting Lens back on the map.

The name of the Lensois coach is on everyone’s lips among the supporters. Arrived on the bench of the first team just before the comeback, recorded with the cessation of the championships due to Covid in April 2020, he has since built with his staff a real steamroller, piloted by off-road captain Seko Fofana . “This year’s team, nothing to say, it’s perfect, says Rémi from his table at La Loco. She represents us well, and we enjoy every game. »

“Bollaert, once you set foot there…”

Like his two friends, this school teacher had mainly known Ligue 2 for the moment. They came anyway, like 30,000 other enthusiasts sometimes, “but not for the team, only for the club, the coat of arms”. He hopes today that he will be entitled to his years of happiness, like previous generations. “We’ve been imagining Europe since last season,” he admits. It’s everyone’s dream. If we want to be ambitious, we can aim for the first three places. In any case, at least the Europa League. It is widely playable. “Racing has not known Europe since 2007, the C1 since 2002.

Inside the bar, Joan stamps her feet at the idea. “I believe in the Champions League, we’re going to do it,” says this 10-year-old boy, who knows the names of all the players by heart up to the reserve. He has been coming regularly for five years now with his father, Alex, himself thrown into the pot at a very young age by his father. “It’s very family here, it really happens by transmission from generation to generation, he observes. I didn’t tell myself that my son should be a supporter of Lens, but he saw me, he wanted to come. And Bollaert, once you set foot there…” No need to finish, we can clearly see the idea.

The presentation of the teams in front of the kop of the Marek stand, the only one in France which is located at the level of the median line.
The presentation of the teams in front of the kop of the Marek stand, the only one in France which is located at the level of the median line. – N.CAMUS / 20 Minutes

Joan remembers as if it were yesterday this Lens-Reims, founding match of her emotions for Racing, while the family lives in Lille. “It was incredible, I loved it right away,” he ignites. His father is happy that he discovers the joys of the top of the Ligue 1 table, “even if we like the club for what it is, and not because it works well”. They are not subscribers, but can afford to come ten times a year, thanks to affordable prices (between 9 and 13 euros for the first prices). Subscriptions also remain reasonable, around 200-300 euros for the stands behind the goals. Vestige of the Martel era.

” When I arrived [en 1988], there were not many people at the stadium, and only 2,000 subscribers. We did a lot of work to bring people back, with prizes for families, sections of supporters, works councils. People were receptive, and from the moment we went up to the first division in 1991-1992, it was gone, ”recounts the one who never misses a home game, even since he definitively handed over in 2017. For this season, the RCL is approaching 30,000 players, for a 38,000-seat stadium. It could go higher as sesames are coveted, but it is necessary to keep places open.

“Destroyed” city vs “new breath”

On this rainy and windy Saturday, we still found a person who doesn’t care about football. Ziad is employed at the Basly shoe repair shop, on the boulevard of the same name, one of the shopping streets in the centre. He admits that he does not understand the enthusiasm around Racing. “There are more important things in life, especially at the moment with the crisis we are going through,” said the fifty-year-old. Resident of Lens in the 1980s, he left, to return in 2020. He no longer recognizes the city, which he considers “stricken”. The weekends are very calm, he regrets, even if it gets a little lively when there is a match.

“The results bring visibility and a new lease of life to the city, defends for his part the mayor Sylvain Robert, at the head of a territory which posted an unemployment rate of 28% among 15-64 year olds in 2019. feel this enthusiasm. Midfielder Adrien Thomasson, who arrived at the club this week from Strasbourg, was eager to taste it. Entering the game at the end of the game, he was able to take the measure of his new environment. “Seeing Bollaert full, in addition with the Lens jersey, is very impressive, he said after the match. I went out a little early at halftime to listen The Corons. I’m already looking forward to the next game at home. »

It will be Nice, at the very beginning of February. With the aim of continuing to tease all those who pass by. The mood of the city depends on it. “If it was only that of the city, breathes Gervais Martel. Me, wherever I am, people talk to me about the team, the results, the European Cup. It’s a whole region that lives with the club. “And who missed this thrill from the top of the table.

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