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GROUND // Stade Raymond Bonnardel - USJOA (lost ground) (France)

Even in France there are quite a lot of beautiful lost grounds to be found. This time we went almost completely to the south and we found the Stade Raymond Bonnardel in Valence. An absolute gem which has seen almost all divisions in the French leagues.

We start our history during WWI when a lot of Armenians fled from the Armenian genocide in 1915 across Europe. A small group settled in Valence in France and decided to create Union Sportive de la Jeunesse d'Origine Arménienne in 1920. Almost immediately they played in Stade de la Palla (which would eventually be renamed into Stade Raymond Bonnardel. The pitch would regularly be renewed with money given by the local Armenian church.

The first couple of decades the team would go up and down in the regional leagues, but by 1975 they would reach the Division d'Honneur, the highest regional league in France and at the same time the highest amateur league. This was also the year when they first caught up with the neighbouring rivals of FC Valence. But after five years they relegated back to the second regional league. Apart from one year in the early 80s (when they briefly returned to the first regional league), they played quite consistently in the second highest regional league.

But then the 90s came, with a big shock in Valence. It was often suggested, but always dismissed. In 1992 however FC Valence and USJOA finally agreed to merge and form one big team in the city. The new team name became Association Sportive d'Origine Arménienne de Valence and the team colours from FC Valence were chosen. After more than 70 years the "new" team moved to the newly built Stade Georges-Pompidou (which was considered less football minded, but could simply hold more visitors), but the Stade Raymond Bonnardel was still used by the B team, the youth teams and very occasionally friendly games of the A team. At the same time ASOAV became a professional team.

Shortly after they had good results with high end results in their leagues and even a quarter final spot in 1995-96 (only to be eliminated by later winners AJ Auxerre). But the new millennium brought serious ups and downs. First the downs; between 1998 and 2000 everything went downhill and fans started to lose their believe in the team. Ups; between 2000 and 2003 all of a sudden the team would win almost everything again and they would even eliminate a lot of big teams in France in the French cup. After having played in the national divisions for a number of years it all ended in 2005 when the team had to restructure. Unfortunately it seems this had to happen after some decisions had been made externally. These decisions raised a lot of questions and it seems a full investigation would show ASOAV was the victim of serious lobbying.

But a true traditional team never dies, as we all know in Belgium. The team was re-founded as Association Sportive de Valence. Despite all efforts the next nine years ASV struggled financially and in 2014 it was all over again. The team filed for bankruptcy but was, yet again, immediately re-founded as Olympique de Valence. Ever since they are trying to achieve their results from the 70s and the 90s again.

Up until recently the Stade Raymond Bonnardel was still in use, but looking at the pictures (while we were there) it seems everything is left abandoned. Which is a serious shame!


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