If it’s not officially listed as one of his trophies in his personal record, the first trophy which Yannick Noah ever touched was the 1961 French football cup. And that is thanks to his father Zacharie, who played as a defender for Sedan, and who sadly passed away last weekend. Here’s the story of the passage of a relay in the form of an hommage.
When you look back at Yannick Noah’s journey, his winning mentality and his amazing career, his father Zacharie’s leading role is too often forgotten. The same goes for Sedan, Yannick’s birthplace, which was a land of football exploits between 1955 and 1961. Yannick actually owns his first name to the football world, as his father had befriended Yannick Lebert (One of the Club Sportif Sedan Ardennes, which was then called « l’Athlétique Sedan-Torcy »’s emblematic players) and Roger Lemerre (ex-Sedan player as well who won the Euro 2000 as France’s manager) and had promised to give his first son one of his friends’ names. And Yannick also owes football his first unofficial sporting title, at an age when he could barely stand up.
« I became a football player by accident »
Let’s rewind the tape. In May 1960, the tennisman’s now well known birthdate, Zacharie Noah played in the french football first division with Sedan, as a full-back, while also working for Draperies Sedanaises’ factory, owned by the Laurant brothers, who also owned the football club. « I became a football player by accident. I didn’t have a vocation, but I threw myself in the adventure without hesitating », he explained in the book La saga Noah : Zacharie, Yannick, Joakim. Why Sedan ? « At the time, Sedan had a reputation for giving young players a chance. Louis Dugauguez regularly gave them an opportunity to show their talent. I told myself that by joining this club, I’d had a better chance of quickly playing in the first division. And I also believe that I chose Sedan because I wanted to find myself in an environment which was lead by values of hard work, commitment and passion. I wanted to work. To suffer also, surely, in an industrial town, where nothing is ever established. I refused the easiest path and instead took the hardest option. »
Abnegation, an appetite for a good fight, a persistant refusal of fatality…some of the personality traits we will see again later on tennis courts with Yannick. However, during this 1960-1961 season, the young Yannick didn’t even know how to pronounce a single word when his father managed an incredible journey in the French cup, under Dugauguez’s management. With his teammates, which, for most of them, were also work colleagues, the Cameroon-born player reached the final of the competition, played against Nîmes, after having knocked out Toulouse, Strasbourg, Nice or Bordeaux in the semis, a match during which Noah made a decisive save (2-2 after extra-time). « I was one of the only players who earned his living with football and who wasn’t working for the Laurant’s, remembers Thadee Polak. We had a very complete team, with good attacking players, who were capable of making the difference at any moment. We were also solid behind. » Polak knows what he was talking about : at the back, he was forming an incredible pair with Zacharie. And for the « Sangliers », it was unimaginable to miss out on a competition which they had already won in 1956. « The French cup in Sedan is a tradition. It was even sacred ! », laughs Guy Hatchi, who was a midfielder at the time.
Diner close to the Eiffel tower
On May 13th, 1961, the Green and Red rolled up their sleeves and dominated Nîmes quite easily in front of the 40 000 spectators present at the Yves-du-Manoir Olympic stadium in Colombes. The following party was as grand as the players’ joy. « We were welcomed at the Colombes city hall, and then we went on to celebrate by going to the restaurant all together, close to the Eiffel Tower, recalls Polak. After making an unbelievable amount of noise, we went to bed at three or four in the morning, and went back to Sedan the next morning. » That’s where Yannick, four days before his first birthday, showed up. « When we arrived at the train station, the crowd was monumental, unbelievable. We felt like superstars. And to have a laugh, we placed Yannick, who my wife was often looking after, in the cup. He was very small so he fitted perfectly. » Not yet used to the cheering crowd, Yannick started crying while his father and his teammates went on a parade around town with the trophy. After all, the rest of his career doesn’t sound too surprising, when we know that he fell into a trophy as a child.