In 1977 Dave Rowles, in his capacity of an LEA Schools Inspector working for the London Borough of Merton, set up a series of school links between Merton schools and the schools in the Maine-et-Loire region of France. One of the French schools involved was in the delightful historic town of Montreuil Bellay, near Saumur, and it was evident from the outset that the English teacher in the local school, Charly Maussant, was even more interested in a link for the town football club than for his pupils.
Accordingly, at very short notice, a visit was set up and an all male French group came to Carshalton at Easter 1978 to launch what has become a lasting and memorable link and to sneak a narrow victory. Considerable improvisation was necessary during that initial visit but newspaper clad fish and chips, gallons of whisky and coke and a warm welcome in individual Carshalton players’ homes seemed to impress our visitors and they insisted that we pay a return visit to the Loire valley in May.
Thus it was that a select group of Carshalton players, officials, wives and girlfriends made what seemed to be the longest coach journey ever in the most cramped seating they had ever experienced in a vehicle procured at very little expense by the then Club Captain, Frank Cocker. They were accompanied by two Club Presidents and while Horry Walter, being slim and relatively slight of stature, was able to cope, the bulkier Len Williams literally had to be prised from his seat and carried from the coach each time it stopped. The discomfort was soon forgotten as the whole party was overwhelmed by the most generous and warmest of welcomes -–and the team even managed to win the game 1-0, despite the huge pitch, a broiling sun and the inevitable hangovers.
The success of the two visits was self-evident and the tradition was fixed for years to come. It was agreed that it would be more sensible to visit each other’s club on alternate years and except for the two occasions where Montreuil Bellay were obliged by their league to play backlog fixtures at Easter, the exchange has continued without interruption.
The pattern is now very clearly in place and consists of a mixture of bountiful hospitality in people’s homes, usually spiced by hilarious attempts at speaking the other’s language – though with tongues invariably well lubricated -, a mayoral reception (in France), a "serious" 1st XI game for which a cup is awarded, a Veterans XI game – usually won by a younger and fitter French side at home, but they don’t travel well – a "2nd XI (etc)" game, and on the Sunday, a more lighthearted 1st XI game for those still able to walk. Visits to local areas of interest are included – without exception in France this includes a wine tasting – and the tour ends with an official dinner which serves to cement links for future occasions.
There have been so many noteworthy moments over the years in both countries, that it would be impossible to do them justice in a brief summary. The end of season Mag usually contains a Tour Report, which documents the more scandalous events. In the Centenary year the Club looks forward to the 21st year of an entente which is so much more than "cordiale" and to many more years of friendship, football and fraternisation.
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