8 May ~ It is the weekend of the run-off vote for the French presidential elections and northern Paris is poised expectantly. With the first round of polling giving the far-right Front National 20 percent, remaining candidates Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande have had to contemplate making concessions to extreme anti-immigrant and anti-European sentiment. While the principled Hollande has gambled on picking up votes from the defeated parties to the left of his Parti Socialiste, Sarkozy has chosen to court the nationalists.
Arriving in Saint-Ouen, home to Red Star 93 of the third-level Championnat National, the consequences of a Sarkozy victory are clear. Along the route from the Porte de Clignancourt Métro to Red Star's Stade Bauer, young men of North African origin are dismantling the stalls of the local market and congregating outside cheap cafes.
Shortly after passing the Boulevard Périphérique, the ring-road that separates the city of Paris and its suburbs, Zinedine Zidane – whose heroics in the nearby Stade de France emblematise French multiculturalism – looks down from a poorly-executed mural. Given Sarkozy's partial legitimisation of the Islamophobic far-right, a win for the incumbent would certainly increase tensions in areas like this.
Bearing in mind the context of questions about France's ethnic and religious divisions, the scene at the Stade Bauer is encouraging. In the security line behind the shabby main stand, white pensioners queue amicably with black and North African teenagers.
The threat of relegation is a uniting concern: with four games remaining, Red Star sit a couple of points above the National's drop zone. A win tonight is essential. Visitors US Créteil hail from the southern end of Métro Line 8, and the match programme proclaims the encounter a derby of the Parisian banlieues.
The seats in the stand, which looks towards the Sacré-Cœur Basilica, turn out to be crumbling concrete steps. While the division is theoretically the equivalent to League One, in practice the grounds and crowds resemble those at the earthier end of the Blue Square Premier.
That said, the football is gripping. The first 15 minutes produce flurries of chances at each end as midfielders from both teams exploit space behind the full-backs. With flickering hopes of promotion, Créteil also need the win, so the game is open.
At half-time, the 1-1 scoreline fails to reflect the hectic action. In the gathering dark at the back of the stand, the pensioners grumble about Red Star's cavalier defending as younger fans smoke hash. At the front, more vocal supporters keep the chants going. Although Saint-Ouen is plastered with campaign posters, the pressing issues of the election are put aside.
Five minutes into the second half, the club's image as a force for social unity is strengthened as the crowd respond resoundingly to Red Star edging in front with a clever goal. The lead is maintained thanks to Jean-Christophe Bouet's acrobatic goalkeeping and a late cameo appearance from former Fulham striker Steve Marlet, who offers an outlet as Créteil seek an equaliser.
Red Star's rich history – they were founded by Jules Rimet and have won the Coupe de France five times – is just one factor that suggests they have the potential to become a cult club in the manner St Pauli did. PSG have a virtual monopoly in the city and the appeal of the club as an alternative is obvious.
It costs only €5 to experience the Stade Bauer's dilapidated charm, and various community schemes are laudable in the current political climate. The first step to resurgence, however, is avoiding relegation back to the regional leagues, an aim which the victory over Créteil goes no small way towards. Joe Kennedy