Metz making strides in Europe
The French league without Metz Handball would not have the same charm.
Created in 1967 with the name "ASPTT Metz", France’s record title holder reached the first division for the first time in 1986.
Since then the club located in eastern France has never been relegated. Current national team coach, Olivier Krumbholz, was given the task of keeping Metz at the top tier in 1986.
Not only did Krumbholz do that, but with the help of players like Dominique Bec and Brigitte Smith, a recruit from one of the biggest rival Gagny, Metz won the French league during the 1988/89 season.
The following season marked the beginning of the Metz reign: top-player Zita Galic joined the club and Krumbholz's team claimed their first cup-championship.
The first appearance in Europe was in 1989/90, eliminated in the last 32 of the Champions League by the Yugoslavian club of Titograd. A strong opposition between Gagny and Metz took place in the 1990's.
The season 1994/95 is another key-year for the club. Despite the retirement of Corinne Krumbholz and the departure of Florence Sauval, Metz won their fifth French league thanks to important recruits like, Stéphanie Tabard, Leïla Duchmann, young line player Isabelle Wendling and, once again, Zita Galic.
"Twenty years ago, we trained two times a week with Metz and we were lucky,” Corinne Krumbholz told the French handball federation website.
“I had another job because salaries were very low. We won a lot of games in France with Metz but often, with the French national team, we always lost against eastern European teams. They were just much better than us," admits Krumbholz.
Thanks to the arrival of new head coach Bertrand François in 1996, Metz Handball took a step forward. While the club won five French championship between the season 1992 and 1997, emblematic French players joined the club: Leila Lejeune, Stéphanie Ludwig, Lene Andersen and Mélinda Szabo.
1999 illustrates the first top result on the European scene for Metz as they reached the semi-finals of the Cup Winners' Cup after eliminating Russian side Krasnodar in front of a packed home hall. Metz were the second French club after Dijon to reach the semi-finals of a European Cup competition.
In 2001, Metz Handball moved into "Les Arenes" with 4,700 seats. After one of the best seasons for the club and for Hungarian goalkeeper Andréa Fazekas, Metz won their tenth French title.
Three years later, Linda Pradel, Amandine Leynaud and Katty Piéjos were promoted from the youth team and integrated into the first team of the club, that season Metz won their first League Cup title against Le Havre.
The 2005/06 season was the second huge turning point for the club. Because of financial troubles, the French handball authorities decided to relegate Metz to the second division.
The new president Thierry Weizman found some new investors just before the beginning of the championship and Krumbholz helped the club to find some money.
"I trained Metz for ten years and I'm from Metz. I'm now the French head coach and if Metz has to play in the second division, this means we will lose our best French club.
“We have eight international French players in this club, we have to help them," said Krumbholz. The start to the season was difficult for the club and for new players like Anne-Sophie Frau and Johanna Gomez. However, the team improved and went on to win the French league for the 13th time.
Metz claimed championship number 15 in 2008 but results in Europe was yet to imrover. After the arrival of Camille Ayglon and Svetlana Ognjenovic, the club played in the Champions League Group Matches for the first time.
Isabelle Wendling, an Iconic Metz player and French international, retired in 2010.
"It's like if I had to leave my second family, even if physically, I think I could play for one or two years, it's time to do something else.
“My last game against Mios in Metz will be a very big moment with huge emotions," Wendling told L'Est Républicain.
Allison Pineau joined the club, Cléôpatre Darleux signed a professional contract and in 2011/12 Sébastien Gardillou's became the first French women’s team to reach the Main Round of the EHF Champions League.
This season, Metz once again achieved a historical result by going all the way to the final of the EHF Cup.
"Les Arenes was sold out in less than one hour. It’s crazy, we hope we will have the right to add 700 extra-seats for the game" president Thierry Weizman said about the home leg against Holstebro.
The club will also play the French cup final the semi-final of the French championship.
"It's unbelievable, at the beginning of the season I was hoping to win one title this year. But now, if we finish the season with two or three trophy, I won't say no,” Sandor Rac said to Le Républicain Lorrain after his win in the French cup semi-final.
Metz were victorious in the first leg of the EHF Cup final away to Team Tvis Holstebro and take a four-goal lead back to France after the 35:31 win.
The second leg takes place on Sunday, 12 May at 18:00 and will be live on ehfTV.
TEXT: Kevin Domas / cor