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Interview

« AS Monaco is in my heart»: Joël Leroy, a loyal supporter with over 500 trips

AS Monaco coach Adi Hütter presented a special shirt to Joël Leroy for his 500th trip.

Monaco Tribune gives loyal ASM fans a voice in the series “AS Monaco is in my heart”. We met up with one of the club’s staunchest supporters: Joël Leroy. Having attended over 500 away games, the north of France native is one of AS Monaco’s biggest fans, perhaps THE biggest.

Joël Leroy, 69, originally from Mers-les-Bains in northern France, has been a die-hard AS Monaco supporter since a young age. His love affair with the club began back in 1963 when he first discovered AS Monaco on the television his parents had just bought. Since then, Joël has never stopped following and documenting the exploits of his favourite team. He told us his story.

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How did you fall in love with AS Monaco?

I started playing football at the age of 8, mainly with my friends at school. At the time, I didn’t have a favourite club yet, but most of my friends already supported FC Rouen or Amiens. The first time I saw a match on television it was Lens against Monaco, in black and white, in the 1960s. It was also the first time I’d seen a match where the whole pitch was clearly visible.

I was so happy after the match that I decided to find a club to support and I chose Monaco. I didn’t really know where it was or what it meant, but the next day I told everyone that Monaco would be my favourite club from then on.

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At the time, my parents were railway workers and my father would often collect sports newspapers left behind in the train after his shift. That’s when I started making cuttings of everything about Monaco and pasting it all into a notebook that I still have today.

Sixty years later, I have fifteen notebooks altogether. Every time I watch a match, I add new photos and information about the players and stadiums. At home, I have my own little museum with more than 5,000 photos of all the AS Monaco coaches, presidents and players over the years.

What was your first trip to see AS Monaco? 

From the age of 14, my parents’ colleagues started offering to take me to see Monaco, and I saw them playing for the very first time at Valenciennes in February 1969. Since I didn’t have to pay for the train, I was able to keep going to see them, even on my own, despite being so young. I was happy, I saw them play and that was all that mattered.

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The more time went by, the further I would go to see the matches. I would wait for all the players to come out of the dressing room. At the time, I was the only one in the stands in the North, there were no Monaco supporters so far away. It was in the 1990s that I started to see AS Monaco fans here and there, then fan clubs started to spring up all over France. I like to think I started a trend (laughs).

Do you remember your first match at Louis-II Stadium? 

Like it was yesterday. My first match at Louis-II stadium was in 1976. I was on holiday on the French Riviera and every morning I would get someone to take me to the old Louis-II stadium to see the players training. They used to go there in old buses and sometimes if there was room, I was allowed to ride with them. I remember Delio Onnis giving me his jersey after training. I still have it in my archives, of course.

When I go to Monaco I always say “I’m at home here’. Part of my heart is there, red and white is carved on it. We’ve been a family for 50 years and when I see children I wish I could take them to wait outside the dressing room like I did at their age.

Apparently you have clocked up over 500 trips since you were a teenager? 

That’s correct. In May, I went down to Monaco for the last day of the championship and that’s when I realised it was my 505th match. It was my wife, who sadly passed away at the end of the year, who found the big box with all my tickets from the last sixty years.

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During the last match against FC Nantes, I was lucky enough to be chosen to carry one of the big Monegasque flags. I was able to be down on the track throughout the game and share in the celebrations with the players. Takumi Minamino even gave me his signed shoes after the match. They’re under glass at my place, with the photo.

Through some people I know at the club, I was invited to the Cup match against FC Rouen and when I got to the hotel, the club gave me a shirt with Joël and 500 on the back. It was given to me in person by Youssouf Fofana and coach Adi Hütter. I was very moved. I thought of all the thousands of miles I’d travelled since I was a kid, I was just so happy.

What did you think of last season, 2023-2024?

I think it was a good season. We ended up on the podium, we’re back in the Champions League. Unfortunately we lost too many points at home against little teams and I think that if it had not been the case we could have been challenging Paris Saint-Germain. We were leaders at the beginning of the championship, then there was this little blip, but we finished on a high.

I am already rubbing my hands at the idea of the trips to come with the Champions League, it’ll remind me of the great European adventures, like the final in Portugal in 1992.

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A word about Wissam Ben Yedder’s departure? 

It breaks my heart that he’s leaving. I’ll miss him a lot. I spoke to him once, he told me that when he started football, the first poster on his bedroom wall was AS Monaco. His heart has been red and white since he was little, like me.

It’s too bad he’s leaving because he could really have helped us out in the Champions League. He was following in the footsteps of the great scorers I’ve known at AS Monaco like Shabani Nonda and David Trezeguet.

Any little stories you would like to share before we go? 

I have a lot of stories. During a match where it was raining cats and dogs, the management saw I was soaked and a week later the club anorak turned up in my mailbox.

I also have great memories with Didier Deschamps during the final of the European Cup in Germany. I was waiting for the players outside their hotel and Mr. Deschamps told me “if you keep coming to see us we’ll end up giving you a lift to the stadium in our bus!” I was touched.

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I also remember Arsène Wenger giving me coffees while I would wait for the players. I’ve always been treated very kindly by all the managers.

What would make your life complete as a supporter?

The only thing left to complete my career as a supporter would be to have my photo taken with Prince Albert II. We’ll have come full circle, like a closing chapter. One of the management team told me I would be invited to the club’s centenary this year, that’s fabulous. Seeing all the old faces again will be great.

I will always remember when I was invited in 2011, when President Dmitry Rybolovlev arrived. I could’t believe it when I received the invitation. Me, a humble supporter from up North, I was invited?! It was incedible, I was over the moon.