Espérance Hostunoise: The French Club With a Fighting Spirit

Espérance Hostunoise: The French Club With a Fighting Spirit

The town of Hostun probably isn’t that high on the list of destinations for many football tourists. There’s no giant arena, there are no superstar footballers to attract large crowds and the club that plays its football there are little known to anyone outside the area.

Beneath the seemingly unremarkable exterior of this fairly anonymous place lies a story of tremendous hope and resistance in the unlikely shape of the town’s non-league club. Espérance Hostunoise is the name of the team, and they play in the Drôme Ardèche at Stade George Lapassat, a small-town club situated in modest surroundings in the south-east of France – a sleepy place with a population of less than 1,000.

It’s not an obvious choice, but you would have a challenging time unearthing a more unlikely example of fighting spirit; behind what might at first seem like an ordinary club working hard to simply exist, is an altogether more intriguing persona, one that acts as a reminder to what football should truly represent.

Josselin Charve and Club President Alexandre Pozin Roux carry injured defender Quentin Morin (Kuku) on a stretcher

Founded in 1940 as football fever was building following the national team’s quarter-final place as hosts of the World Cup finals two years prior, the club had aspirations like any other at the time – to bring the community together, to be a team that the town could be proud of and to enjoy playing the beautiful game at the weekend or in their spare time. In those days, Espérance Hostunoise had no official pitch and they would regularly play their matches in local fields whenever the farmers would allow them. The club’s first ever refreshment stand is said to have been an old pickup truck filled with drink crates. Back then, football was a simple pursuit for the players and everyone involved, where the local team often came together to play matches no matter the weather. A lack of light, too, wasn’t an obstacle – there is a story that they once played a fixture at night with the aid of car headlamps. But just two years after it was first set-up, the team that kitted themselves out in green and white, were thrown into darkness by the arrival of the Second World War on French soil.

“In 1942, the war took over the whole of France and the club was put to sleep. The youngsters left to join the paramilitary organisation, Chantiers de la jeunesse Francaise, while others joined the resistance,” Thomas Landry, club member at Espérance Hostunoise (EH), told Pickles Magazine.

With that, the short story of EH was drawn to a close and it became somewhat forgotten – wartime and suppression took effect across the country as football took a backseat against a backdrop of something era-defining that was impossible to ignore. With General de Gaulle’s call to arms, urging the French to battle for their freedom, ringing in their ears, many of the Espérance Hostunoise players who were once fighters on the pitch turned their attentions to mobilising themselves against the invaders forces and the collaborative government.

Even after the war drew to a close, the club didn’t see the light of day for another 16 years – until 1961 where the idea of reinstating EH was slowly turned about in the minds of those who had survived the country takeover. As football began to resurface, as the people themselves had done following a harrowing period of German occupation, clubs in the surrounding areas of Saint Hilaire, Saint Lattier and elsewhere had begun to draw the young footballers away over time – but the attraction of representing their home-town never went away for the locals.

“At the weekends, they started to come back to Hostun to play in competitions like Les Tournois de Sixte. They played against each other and started to discuss the idea of rebuilding the club. They invited former players – those from 1940 – to help them re-form the association. Mr George Lapassat, mayor at the time (after whom their current stadium is named), found us a pitch to purchase for the club. He also became president of the club.”

“This effort wasn’t easy because other associations in the town didn’t want to have a football club. One person even famously said: ‘Hostun should have either football or music’, but it took more than that to stop the motives of the young Espérance Hostunoise players, and the club was alive again.”

The club has come a long way since its reformation, but it hasn’t lost its original punch – the same innovative spirit that saw EH adapt to the new and frightening challenge that came with the shock of war is still with them today. Nowadays, the team are taking their inventive and determined nature to a modern level, and they are doing so through some clever planning and financial growth.

Joel Rimet with his sons, Ugo and Tim

The club is doing all it can to improve their standing and reputation, selling their trendy adidas jerseys online through their club store, redesigning their website to give themselves an online presence and gaining traction on social media. What’s more, they are doing it all with a long-term vision in mind.

“The aim of the club is to structure itself in order to have a sporting ambition and that this can be built upon. We started by developing our sources of income by multiplying the budget three times in three years. This has allowed us to invest in employees, on the football school, to pass coaching diplomas to our educators, to buy more equipment. It’s the whole club that grows at the same time and that is important if we want the club to last in time.

“Today, we are ready to climb the divisions together as a unit. In the medium term we would like to play at the highest departmental level,” Landry said.

Altogether, some 40 people are involved in running Espérance Hostunoise and each of them, Landry says, carry the characteristics of courage, respect and self-sacrifice across their men’s, women’s and underage teams. They are a family in ways that the super-clubs of televised football and big-money contracts are not, and that’s thanks to the generous volunteers who have given their all to use their time and who have spent wisely a budget of modest funds to transform Espérance Hostunoise into a team that once played in empty fields to one that now has two pitches, four dressing rooms, a club house, a club bar and persistent pride in themselves.

In tribute to the pre-resistance days of the club, Espérance Hostunoise still play in their green-and-white jerseys. It’s also a testament to the fact many people say that Espérance Hostunoise is the Celtic of the district, and it is an identity that stems far deeper than the colours they bear each matchday.

“We got this label quite easily on the back of the fact we used to play in green and white [before the war]. We are renowned for our combativeness in the field. From there was born this movement of Celtic, so we put some symbols on our jersey - for example the clover and the orange band. You can even see a sign on the edge of the pitch in the colours of Ireland, with the slogan ‘Fighting Spirit’ on it.”

In the absence of incredible skill or otherworldly on-field talent, fans like to believe that determination, hard work and self-belief are traits that can be relied upon to grind out results and ensure the players give their all to the shirt they represent. That’s sort of how it is with EH, especially when their fearsome rivalry with the PS Romans shifts into focus on the calendar schedule.

Throughout their relatively short history to date – of 78 years – Espérance Hostunoise have exhibited a tenacity to survive, and a willingness to grow. Forced to disband over WW2, they fused some of their members to the immediacy of tackling Nazism. Brought back to life by an unwavering band of returning members in the years that followed, they reinvigorated their love for the beautiful game and have been growing more and more all the time.

If today is a momentous time of political and social upheaval across Europe and elsewhere, much as it was during Espérance Hostunoise’s formative years, theirs is certainly a story and an example to follow. A reminder that even the simple joy of football that we all take for granted every now and again should be treasured more as a unifying pursuit – not a divisive one.

This article was first published in Pickles issue 14, 2018. To purchase the new issue or check out the latest Pickles gear, head to our webshop.

Find out more about Espérance Hostunoise and follow the club’s progress

Words by Trevor Murray
Photography by Motoki Nakatani