For the longest part of its history, SM Caen remains one of the leading amateur club in France, playing upon its foundation at stade de Venoix. The late 1980s and early 1990s saw the rise of Stade Malherbe into French football hierarchy. In 1985, Stade Malherbe adopted professional status. Three seasons later, it was promoted for the first time in first division. In 1992, several months after it was narrowly saved from bankruptcy, the club ends at fifth place of Division 1 and qualifies for the UEFA Cup. In 1993, the club moved to the modern Stade Michel d'Ornano, but was relegated two years later. Despite a second division title won in 1996, SM Caen quickly fell back into the anonymity of the second division.
The late 2000s saw Stade Malherbe regain some sporting success, which allows it to play several seasons in Ligue 1 and reach the final of the Coupe de la Ligue in 2005. The club has been chaired by Jean-François Fortin since 2002, and the team managed since 2005 by Franck Dumas, assisted by Patrice Garande since 2009. In the 2008–09 season, the team was once again relegated to Ligue 2 after losing 1–0 at home to Bordeaux, but were promoted back at the first attempt. In 2012, SM Caen were relegated for the third time in 10 years.
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