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Football Abroad: Racing Club de Strasbourg Alsace v Vendée Luçon Football

With Reading FC pinching every penny, we ordered @WilliamOwain to go on a scouting trip when he visited France recently. Here's his "scout report":

Every football club has history but some's are more interesting than others. Erster Fußball Club Neudorf is one such club. Formed in 1906 in the German city of Straßburg, today they are French and known as Racing Club de Strasbourg Alsace.

They have changed nationality three times and very much reflect the city they reside in. Throughout their history there has been one thing that has never changed - they have always been Alsatian.

Two of their best known former players, Morgan Schneiderlin and Arsene Wenger, epitomise this. Schneiderlin and Wenger are as about as Alsatian, and Germanic, surnames as you can find.

Today Racing are top of the table in the Championnat National, the French third tier, just five years after suffering liquidation and having to restart in the regional fifth tier of French football.

Before I arrived in Strasbourg there had been a chance that they could win promotion at home against Vendée Luçon, and though subsequent results had meant that was no longer possible, this was still a big match with Luçon being one of the teams chasing Racing.

To boost the attendance, Racing had priced tickets for women at just €2.00. Now I can't comment whether the below image of women preparing for a "big night out" by putting make up on, which was across the city, captured the imagination or not, but there was definitely a party atmosphere when I arrived at Stade de la Meinau.

Loud techno music blasted across the local area, men in tuxedos stood guard at a women only turnstile, and musicians were also playing on a stage when the techno was given a rest. Going by the tweet below, I also missed a mass public dance off.

All a bit forced maybe, but it created a friendly carnival atmosphere. There was a nod to the club's Alsatian identity with the free handout of coiffes. I can't see them taking off at the Madejski Stadium, but then again do we even know if traditional Berkshire folk clothing even exists, let alone looks like?

The Stade de la Meinau was rebuilt for the last time France hosted the European Championship in 1984. It is showing it's age and can't be a great place to be when small crowds are in attendance. For the game I attended that was not a problem, and indeed I found my seat already occupied.

I did manage to find another one, but I did notice from angry arguments going on with stewards that I was not the only fan in my block whose seat had been taken. One to possibly watch out for at Euro 2016!

Once the game started it struck me almost straight away that despite this being the third tier there was virtually no hoofing. Every player looked to pass the ball and in skill level it was on a par with the Championship. It was easy to see why France has produced players like Thierry Henry, Michel Platini and Zinedine Zidane. Both teams tried to keep the ball on the ground and everything was very deliberate.

No one was a better example of this than the Luçon goalkeeper, Anthony Martin, who put in one of the most entertaining individual performances I have ever witnessed. Such was his belief in playing football the right way, he refused to kick the ball long and would play the ball to teammates on the edge of the box even when they were being marked.

It seemed on the rare occasions when his teammates were rude enough not to give him an option, that he would deliberately clear the ball to an area where none of them were. He would then do the most Gallic of shrugs and shout at his teammates for forcing him to give the ball away.

My personal highlight though was his mad rush out of his goal following a poor Racing cross. He sprinted after the ball, with half the players still in his area and the ball harmlessly drifting out for a throw in, before playing a short five yard pass to the Luçon right back. Madness!

A photo posted by @williamowain on

Unfortunately Martin was probably a bit culpable for the opening goal. A clever through ball from the impressive Jérémy Grimm split the Luçon defence and found his namesake Blayac. Martin then did the anti Ali Al-Habsi/Jonathan Bond by charging out to the edge of his box and Blayac duly rounded him and scored.

After the goal Racing continued to dominate the game without creating any clear cut chances. It was only after the game that I realised that despite being top they have a pathetic goal record. They have scored just 30 goals in 30 games. Only five teams have a worse record and even the bottom team have scored more.

In hindsight it was not a surprise then that as the game went on they sat deeper and deeper. Their only attacks seemed to occur when their captain and centre back Ernest Seka would go on mad Garath Davies style charge forwards, though they did miss a 1 on 1 when Jean-Philippe Sabo took too long to shot and was tackled.

With six minutes to go a rare long Luçon ball was not dealt with by Racing and Ludovic Ajorque steeled in to poke home. Sadly there were no Luçon fans to witness it, but the goal did remind Racing that it is okay to score more than one goal.

The rest of the game was end to end with the crowd on their feet. The sort of end to a league game Reading fans have not seen for a while. With the virtually last kick of the game a Racing midfielder found himself with so much space and time in the box he somehow contrived to miss kick the ball wide. It was a rare occasion of poor technique.

Coming away from the match I was surprised we do not see more English clubs scouting in the lower French leagues. The success of Riyad Mahrez, who Leicester found at Ligue 2 side Le Havre, will surely provide encouragement.

The pace of the game was slower than here in England, but it felt more technical. Every player was comfortable on the ball and my only concern on whether players, from this match at least, could hack it in England would be the physical side of the game.

It was notable how often the players went down and it was annoying how many stayed down even when the ref ignored them. It almost seemed like they needed to prove to the ref, everyone else and themselves that they had been hurt.

However, on the evidence of this game I would be happy to see Reading look at the French market. And in the highly unlikely event that a Reading scout is reading this and wants to justify a trip to France, I would recommend Luçon's playmaker Charly Charrier, a French lower league Michael Ballack, Racing's holding midfielder Jérémy Grimm and left back Abdallah Ndour.

Not that you should need an excuse to visit Strasbourg. It's a lovely city with amazing food and beer, and is well worth a visit.

A photo posted by @williamowain on

Have you watched a game abroad? We would love you to share your experience on the Tilehurst End.