Antoine Péron: "Experiencing the Event"

29 feb 2016
Frédéric Rostain
Photos © 2016
US Granville midfielder and OM fan, Antoine Péron is enjoying a dream come true. On Thursday, his team will play the Marseillaise club in the Coupe de France in Caen's Michel d’Ornano Stadium, a game that has already sold out.

A good pedigree can't be hidden. Antoine Péron is the son of Jean-François Péron, a former professional player who was with Strasbourg, Caen, Portsmouth and Wigan. Although he has always played soccer, it wasn't until he was 17 years old that he started training at a training center. After a good run with Mondeville, he joined Tours, where he played in U19 and on the reserve team. He then moved on to Auxerre's reserve team in the year the club was moved to Ligue 2. After trials with Sedan, Guingamp and Portsmouth, in January he signed with Mondeville, near Caen, where his father trained. Without a club at the end of the season, he went looking for a team again. He was unsuccessful. Six months later, he returned to Mondeville at the last minute before being recruited by Granville in the summer of 2014. "I tried it for a season and as they say the more you eat the hungrier you are." Antoine Péron has regained his ambition and determination. "Even in CFA2, we practice 6 or 7 times a week with great facilities. Soccer-wise and human-wise, it's great. I'm on a team where where everyone is going in the same direction. The competition is healthy, those who don't play encourage the others."

Second in group A of CFA 2 last season, US Granville wasn't able to play in the CFA due to issues with regulations. This season, the Norman club has done everything it can to get luck on its side. "Besides two or three players who have side jobs, we all work for the club. I coach kids' teams on Mondays and Wednesdays and sometimes on weekends for games. We are all available to the club."
Granville counts among its members experienced players including Matthias Jouan who played in the 2012 Coupe de France finals with Quevilly. "All of the players have gone through training centers. Some have even been in the professional world, at Istres, for example, since the coach worked there. The core of 15 players has played at the training center and some developed in National or Ligue 2. That makes for a team at a high level for CFA2."
Right now, USG is second in the rankings, far behind the Stade Rennais reserve team. Nevertheless, everything began well for Antoine Péron and his teammates. "We had a great beginning of the season with a lot of success but the Coupe took time and energy. As a result, we lost some points in the championship, especially in the last six days. There are ten games remaining in the championship after the Coupe de France game against OM. The priority is still to get into the CFA."

The Coupe de France is really taking a more and more important role. After the first regional rounds, things got serious in the final round of 32. Granville eliminated Laval, a member of Ligue 2. "We had a huge game just after the holidays. We organized everything for an optimal performance. We started practicing every day on December 27 or 28. We spent New Year's together and by 12:30 am everyone was in bed. We did everything to make sure our chances were good. Laval didn't play its best game of the season. Based on that, we understood that we could accomplish great things ." Granville knocked out Sarreguemines, a CFA2 club, next and the excitement began to build up in the Norman town of 13,000 inhabitants. Then Granville eliminated another Ligue 2 club in the final sixteen. Under difficult conditions, in wind and rain, the Norman club eliminated a team from a higher division in overtime. "Bourg-Péronnas didn't really want to play. In the level of play and determination, in one game, we showed that we could compete against a Ligue 2 team. We had the right elements with us, we scored a goal in overtime and they had an opportunity 120th minute but the ball went wide. We were successful."

For the quarterfinals, the underdog in the competition is facing OM. It was a drawing that the Granville players were hoping for. They had even thought of it after the qualification against Laval. "We were a dozen players going to Michel d’Ornano for the round of 32 in the Coupe de France against Caen. We thought we would be facing OM later in the competition. Two months later, that's what's happening. A lot of the team's players are OM fans. Between OM and PSG, 90% of our locker room would have chosen OM. Playing against the team that you are a fan of, that's a dream come true.."
Even though Granville eliminated two L2 clubs, the players know that they have to make a big step up. "There is an a difference between L2 and L1. Ligue 2 teams often have problems when they move to the higher level. What's more, it's not just any L1 team, it's OM. There is a world of difference. You can't just suffer through the event, you have to live it since it will be unique for most of the players. You shouldn't be afraid to have fun when you're playing soccer. We will enjoy it more by just playing our game rather than parking the bus and waiting for OM. We should enjoy this moment. If OM plays at its level, there's no comparison but in a soccer game anything is possible. We've already seen amateur clubs move mountains. It's by playing that we can challenge OM."

The Norman players can count on the support of an entire region. The 20,000 seats in the Michel d’Ornano Stadium in Caen sold out in less than eight hours. The ticket office was overwhelmed. No one wants to lose this game and a lot of orders couldn't be filled. "I didn't think that the stadium would be full. I thought that the club would sell 15,000 or 18,000 seats and that it would take a week to sell all the tickets. But they sold out in just a day. We realized that something was going on. Granville is a small town; I didn't think that people in Caen would feel connected to us. It's crazy. But even if I weren't in a full stadium, I wouldn't really notice."
The town of Granville is decorated with white and blue, USG's team colors. People have put flags, scarves and pennants on buses, on balconies, in stores . . . The excitement is only getting bigger as the game gets closer. "When we go shopping, people stop us and give us encouragement. We should do the best we can since as long as we can keep going we'll keep going but when we're eliminated it will stop. It's really nice and heartwarming. People follow us and encourage us. That kind of thing is normal at higher levels but in the amateur field, we didn't realize we could inspire people, especially kids."

Whatever the result on Thursday night in Caen, Antoine Péron will have lived his dream. He could even end in a blaze of glory if he could swap jerseys with with his idol, who has been with OM this year. "I've been a fan of Marseilles for a long time but there is one player who has inspired me for many years, Abou Diaby. He was trained at Auxerre, I'm a midfielder like he is, we have a few things in common. On the day of the drawing, I thought of him right away, hoping that he'd recovered from his injury. If I can meet him and swap jerseys with him, that would be amazing."

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