A perpetual contender for Africa’s most prestigious club titles and yet seemingly overshadowed by some of the continent’s more historic teams such as Al-Ahly of Egypt and Ghana’s Hearts of Oak, Jeunesse Sportive de Kabylie – JS Kabylie for short – are something of an unknown quantity outside of African domestic football. However, having set the pace during the early rounds of this year’s CAF Champions League, the Algerian club based in the northern city of Tizi Ouzou is – considering its illustrious past – surely deserving of a more global reputation for excellence and serial success.
Not formally founded until 1946, JS Kabylie was born into a country torn apart by the Allied invasion of French North Africa during the Second World War as the two sides battled for control of the Mediterranean. Indeed, it was not just the aftermath of war that Kabylie had to compete against in its early years but also the prejudices and restrictions of colonial rule, Islamic teams being forced to play in the lower divisions as a result of an unfounded French paranoia over sports clubs established by groups of local people. Conflict again stunted the club’s early development as it went into hibernation in 1954 with the outbreak of the Algerian War of Liberation, a struggle that lasted until 1962 when the country eventually emerged decolonised and independent, a side-effect being the lifting of the harsh regulations regarding Islamic sports clubs.
After seven years in the Algerian second tier Kabylie were eventually promoted to the top flight in 1969 and promptly finished in sixth place, an admirable outcome to the club’s first season in the big time. Having established themselves at the top table, the Tizi Ouzou outfit went from strength to strength, winning the first of 14 Championnat National titles in 1973 and going on to make their debut in continental competition in 1978, respectably reaching the quarter-finals. Just three years later Kabylie really began to cement its reputation as one of Africa’s most dominant clubs, claiming its first African Cup of Champions Clubs (now known as the CAF Champions League) in 1981, scoring an impressive 16 goals in the five games it took to claim the title.
Another five domestic titles were to follow during the 1980s before Kabylie won their next Cup of Champions Clubs, lifting the trophy in 1990 after beating Zambia’s Nkana F.C. 5-3 on penalties in the final. However, the remainder of the nineties was not – in relative terms – a particularly bounteous time for the club, just two domestic titles, one cup and an African Cup Winners’ Cup coming during the quietest decade Kabylie had experienced since the 1960s.
After a brief transitional period, the new century saw The Canaries restore their dominance on the Algerian domestic scene, the club winning titles in 2004, 2005 and 2006 as well as the 2000, 2001 and 2002 CAF Cups. Although this mastery of the home front is all well and good, the club is acutely aware that it has not added to its two major continental triumphs since 1990 and it is the brief of Swiss coach Alain Geiger to win this year’s Champions League and re-establish Kabylie as a pre-eminent force in African, not just Algerian, football. It’s early days yet, but if the team’s early form against Ismaily and Heartland is anything to go by, then 2010 could just be another golden chapter in the long, sometimes tempestuous, but ultimately glorious history of Jeunesse Sportive de Kabylie.