Thursday, 16 May 2013

Noel King

1985 : Valenciennes

Noel King was a midfielder who played for most of his career in Ireland. He was born in Dublin in September 1956 and began playing with Home Farm. Between 1973 and 1983 he was a League of Ireland journeyman, representing no less than five clubs. In 1983 he signed for Shamrock Rovers who he served as player-coach for two seasons. In all he made 76 appearances for the Hoops, winning the League twice. He had been an integral part of a resurgent Rovers squad, and in 1985 at the age of 29 he managed a move to France. He signed for Valenciennes on July 1st.

King wasn't the only Rovers player moving to France that summer. 23 year old Jacko McDonagh was on his way to Nîmes Olympique.

Valenciennes, nicknamed Les Athéniens, were founded in 1913 in the Northern French city of the same name, close to the Belgian border. Until 1996 they were known as Union Sportive de Valenciennes Anzin, before changing their name to its current form. The club has played roughly half its time in France's 2nd tier Ligue 2, and the other half in Ligue 1.



In 1985 Valenciennes were then in Ligue 2. Two years previously they had been relegated from the top flight, and the whole of the 1980s was a drab decade in which supporter disaffection became rampant. The summer that King arrived, a young Jean-Pierre Papin had just left the club, ready to make history in Europe.

The coach who signed King was Frenchman Léon Desmenezthen in his second spell managing the club. In the squad was French international Thierry Laurey and Morrocan striker Mustafa Merry. It was a weak squad in truth, and King was hardly signing for a team of world beaters.

Today Valenciennes play at the Stade du Hainaut, but until 2008 they were based at the 16000 capacity Stade Nungesser.


Stade Nungesser
In the 1984-85 season, Les Athéniens had finished in a poor 6th place, 6 points off promotion. In 1985 they would be facing some big names, other teams in a state of demise. Montpellier, Lyons and Saint-Ettiene were also knocking about in Ligue 2, meaning that King had the chance to play in some of French football's most famous grounds. Also in Ligue 2 were McDonagh's Nîmes.

King only lasted four months in France however and by November had aleady returned to Ireland, with Derry City. He had made 7 appearances for Valenciennes, scoring 1 goal. The season was a disaster for the club, and they finished in a dismal 12th place, equal on points with relegated Lorient, but were saved only by goal difference.

The club would eventually earn promotion back to Ligue 1 in the early 90s, before scandal and financial problems would see them fall as far as the Fourth Division. Today, following a remarkable resurgence and the management of Antoine Kombouare they are back in Ligue 1.

Noel King returned to Ireland to become player-manager at Derry. He would play for Rovers again, as well as Limerick FC and Northern Ireland's Omagh Town before retiring in 1997. Since then he has become more famous as a coach, first with a host of League of Ireland sides, and then as Republic of Ireland Women's coach between 2000 and 2010.

As of 2013, King is the manager of the Ireland Under-21s side. His stint in France must rank as one of the least successful of Irish players on the continent. However, unlike Mick McCarthy or say Robbie Keane, King was never expected to make headlines in his new country. His signing, and his quick exit were done with no fanfare whatsoever. A fine playing and managing record for King, but his time in France is mostly forgotten.






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