THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

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

Comments (10)
Comment by jameswba 2012-05-08 16:01:46

Great article, really enjoyed it. Sounds like it would have been a photogenic occasion as well - any pictures anywhere?

Comment by gib2504 2012-05-08 18:03:06

Really good read Joe. Over at French Football Weekly we adopted Red Star as our lower league team. I went to the Stade Bauer in January, everything you said about the area is spot on.

@JamesWBA - Some pictures of a recent trip to Saint-Ouen can be found here http://frenchfootballweekly.com/2012/02/20/red-star-beat-the-cold-and-martigues/

We try and give updates of how Red Star are doing every so often and hopefully we will be soon meeting with some of the directors.

Comment by ingoldale 2012-05-08 18:35:42

Red Star's ground is an absolute dive. I'm not even sure it would pass a health and safety test for the Northern Premier League it's in such a sorry state.

I can't see Red Star 93 becoming Paris' second side either, despite their history. Paris FC, who play at the equally lamentable Stade Charlety (lamentable due to it's size for the average crowd and the athletics track) are more likely to as they are genuinely looking to become Paris' second club. There have been mummerings of Bernard Tapie, the former Olympique de Marseille President, even. Not only this, there are a much better established club at this level in recent years but they have been very publicly stating they want to move up to the fully professional ranks of Ligue 2.

Comment by ingoldale 2012-05-08 18:36:35

Also, the election was on Sunday and Hollande won!

Comment by Patrick_Kirwan 2012-05-08 19:43:10

I like the sound of these

Comment by jameswba 2012-05-08 19:45:50

@gib2504, cheers, looks pretty much as I'd imagined from Joe's article. A bit of a dump, but just the sort of place I enjoy visiting.

Comment by gib2504 2012-05-08 22:51:09

@James - it is a bit run down, but that adds to the character. The high rise flats that tower behind the goals, the run down rumble that takes up on side of the pitch.

Hoping to go over at some point in the new season and develop a relationship with the club. There is potential there.

@ingoldale I know what you mean about Paris FC. It is in a much nicer part of the city. The stadium is nice enough, Lille have done not bad for a team with a running track. In January I went for a walk up to the Stade Chartely and the door was open so we had a walk round and it's nice.

If anyone wanted to put some money into the club they could easily make it to Ligue 2. You'd think some veteran players wouldn't mind playing in Paris if FC or Red Star showed some ambition.

The problem with Paris is the people just don't want to go. Look at PSG's attendances last season, think the average was around 27,000. Now they are the popular event for the "in" crowd - that's why they now got 44,000.

Paris is a strange footballing town.

Comment by ingoldale 2012-05-09 10:46:29

Well, Creteil tried didn't they? (As another Ile de France club) Wiltord was training there and Steed Marlet as you mentioned currently turns out. Back in the 90s Tony Cascarino was a brief big-name signing for Red Star after leaving Nancy. Péfécé also has Pollet (now of RC Lens) a couple of seasons ago but the aforementioned lack of ambition meant they were unable to keep him.

RE Lille not doing back with a track. True, but they've been looking to leave for a long while will finally do so next season.

Paris is a weird footballing city but so is the rest of France? Name Marseilles second team? Lyon Duchere are lucky to get 400 a week too. To be honest, I've yet to meet a Frenchman who ahs declared his only team a Ligue 2 or National or below side - they always have a Ligue 1 team. (I am yet to encounter a Lens fan though) I think this is because they all play at different times so you are not forced to choose between say Paris FC and PSG. If you want to watch both, you can.

Comment by FCKarl 2012-05-10 11:19:35

ingoldale, you should travel east if you get the chance. You'd find plenty who name their side Racing Strasbourg, Metz, Dijon. Strasbourg is much more liked than the recent serial solid performer and L1 mainstay, Nancy. Troyes gets decent support. In the west, Nantes have a good following usually. In the south, Nimes is well supported but not so much until they return to L2. Right now, Nimes is lifted in part just due to the successes and impetus of neighbor Montpellier's very fine form. None of these (except now Nancy) I mention is a stable L1 side, as you know. The French have a lot to do to improve the overall attraction of their top three leagues, stadium upgrades, fan safety, fan appeal to a demographic other than just the 16 - 36 year old male. Until then, attendances are really low, thus overall support and winning new fans to support a club is marginal.

Comment by ingoldale 2012-05-10 11:58:13

@FCKarl RC Strasbourg get fantastic gates even since their demotion to CFA2. Nimes still get brilliant gates for National as do Troyes in Ligue 2 but I can remember Troyes playing in Europe as recently as 1999/2000ish. i.e they are a fairly popular club already, in my opinion. Dijon brought one of the best aay followings this season to Stade Geoffroy-Guichard where I currently have a season ticket. Marseille, on the other had, could have 'come in a taxi'.

You are right about their grounds. Overall they are shocking, concrete boxes with fences everywhere.

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