Life is funny sometimes. The first time I saw Olympique Lyonnais play, I rooted against them!
It was a second division match in 1989; they beat Martigues, but it wasn’t important to me. I’d go see FC Martigues and sometimes AS Monaco, but the only football team I’d come even close to supporting was Ajax, years earlier. It was just the game that interested me; only one sports team was dear to my heart in those days, the San Francisco Giants. That would change.
In 1991 we moved to Lyon, but the only time I’d go to a match was when I was down south. Monaco was quite a team to watch, with Scifo, Klinsmann, and some kids named Djorkaeff, Petit and Thuram; OL was at the bottom of the pack and I barely knew they existed.
Then , in 1993, FC Martigues was promoted. I got tickets to Lyon-Martigues thinking my father-in-law might come up. He didn’t, but I went to the match anyway. It was September 1st, 1993, and my world changed a little that day.
Bruno N'gotty, Manuel Amoros, Florent Laville, Florian Maurice, Abedi Pelé; they played a great match, and they played with style. Not surprising: the manager was Jean Tigana. Two weeks later I bought a scarf, and watched them beat Paris St. Germain. I went to about 8 matches that year, including a huge victory over OM; I was hooked for life.
They finished 8th that year. Gerland was a cavernous place, an enormous old style track and field stadium that even with 15,000 fans looked and sounded empty. The next year OL finished 2nd, losing only once at home. Crowds approached 30,000; The stadium was still half empty, but getting livelier.
In 1995-96, Tigana left, and so did a lot of players. There were still things to cheer about: they lost the 1996 League Cup Final on penalties, and eliminated Lazio in the UEFA cup before losing a 1-0 heartbreaker at Notts Forest on a penalty. In 1997 they beat Inter at San Siro, a stadium that would smile on them more than once, but OL ‘s place seemed to be somewhere between the middle of the table and the Intertoto, and when they let Florian Maurice and Ludovic Giuly go, it seemed that was all they aspired to.
But in 1998-99, everything changes. Thanks to the world cup, interest in football booms and Gerland is completely renovated; smaller, but finally an exciting place to spend saturday night! 3rd place, and a UEFA cup quarterfinal. Next year, 3rd again, with a victory over Celtic in the UEFA cup. But what really makes 2000 stand out was Sonny Anderson and his 23 goals. OL had found the “boss” that would make them aim higher.
In 2001 the silverware starts coming: the League Cup, second place in the championship, and CL victories over Bayern and Spartak; only a 1-1 nil in Moscow keeps them out of the knockout rounds. Sonny Anderson scores 22 goals.
2002, Lyon is champion for the first time in their history; 2003, Champion again; 2004, three in a row and a CL quarterfinal.
OL doesn’t have the budget of Chelsea or Real Madrid, or even Newcastle, but they are financially sound, and have the talent behind the scene that puts talent on the field: a great youth programme and an eye for topnotch players in Africa and Brazil that the big clubs seem too lazy to discover. They also play an exciting, offensive, elegant brand of football that is a joy to watch, always at or near the top both in scoring and fair play, even in the lean years. That’s why I’ll shout to my dying day,