Sixty years ago this week AS Monaco delivered a resounding performance as an outsider during the major diplomatic crisis between Monaco and France. While the political leaders of both countries were negotiating at the Elysée, the football club became national champion and cup winner of France within a few days. It was certainly a politically-charged triumph for the club, but this aspect has been pushed to the background in history because of the attractive way of playing of the team led by manager Lucien Leduc.
During the campaign for the presidential elections in 2012, the later winner François Hollande let it slip that he has only supported one football club in his life: “I have been a fan of AS Monaco for a long time, not fanatically but that club has a place in my heart. That may sound strange, but when I became interested in football, Monaco played the most beautiful football in France. I always enjoyed watching matches of this team. I really enjoyed that.” Hollande was referring to the period between 1959 and 1963, because in those four seasons Monaco became twice champions and winners of the Coupe de France. In May of 1963, the team even won both trophies to crown an unforgettable season.
That year, politics was dominated b closed borders between France and Monaco and the diplomatic stand-off between the two countries. The crisis would last for months and eventually culminate in an agreement on May 18, 1963. At that time, Monaco was also in the news because of the performance of its own football team. Prince Rainier had chosen to play in French professional football with his own club for about ten years. AS Monaco penetrated to the top division (Première Division) within a few years and performed thanks to the signing of experienced players, although it played in a very small stadium by the sea.
But the team caused a stir all over France. In 1960 it won the first grand trophy, the Coupe de France, and a year later even became champion of France.
This team consisted of some very gifted players, such as Captain Michel Hidalgo, who had previously played at the leading Stade Reims and would later become the national coach of France, the Dutch international Bart Carlier, the Togolese top scorer Karimou Djibrill and the Algerian star Mustapha Zitouni. Henri Biancheri was also recruited. He would later play a crucial role in setting up the youth academy and in the 90s determining the technical policy of the club, but above all he was also a very agile player in midfield. And then there was a graceful playmaker Théodore Skulpaski (simply Théo), who managed to charm many fans with his game, including the future President Hollande. He formed an unforgettable duo with Yvon Douis. In attack, the Marseillais Lucien Cossou would become the top scorer in that season with 28 goals in 33 games.
Monaco didn’t even get off to a good start that season, taking only seven points from the first eight games, but in the autumn of 1962 things suddenly started to run and the team quickly made up for the deficit. It went from sixteenth place to the top position, thanks to a strong series of victories. In addition, the team of coach Lucien Leduc also performed very well in the Coupe. In the first weeks of May it became clear that Monaco could win both main prizes: the so-called double.
On May 12, Monaco faced Lyon in the cup final. It was a disappointing game at the Parc des Princes because no goals were scored. This meant that the final had to be replayed eleven days later. But between these two finals, the team already managed to crown itself national champion on May 19 (a day after the treaty between France and Monaco) by winning 5-1 at home against Angers. Bart Carlier opened the scoring and then Lucien Cossou and Yvon Douis each scored twice. It was of course a big party in the old Louis II, but the players had to control themselves because four days later the replay of the cup final was scheduled.
In that second final at the Parc des Princes with Lyon, things went better and Monaco won 2-0. Lucien Cossou and Georges Casolari made the difference in the second half. It was the crowning achievement of a wonderful vintage. The team was honoured in Paris but still had to stay in the French capital because it had to play the last league match at Stade Français three days later. But after that match, a grand reception awaited in Monaco and even at the Palais Princier where the players were honoured by Prince Rainier and Princess Grace.
The children Caroline and Albert were allowed to pose with both trophies. It was rare for a club to win a double and in that respect this feat was memorable for French football. Even fifty years after this result President François Hollande was still able to remember the goals of the final against Lyon.
PHOTOS: Top, the winning team in 1963, lower, Prince Albert and Princess Caroline appear to not know what all the fuss is about as they hold the cup