Celebrating the French Resistance goalkeeper's life
Red Star fans remember Rino Della Negra
22 February ~ This weekend fans of Red Star FC 93 – the third-tier club based in Saint-Ouen, on the northern outskirts of Paris – will celebrate the life of a former player, Rino Della Negra. The French-Italian goalkeeper was at the club for less than a season and never took part in an official game but has become a potent symbol for a fanbase which retains a steadfast sense of place within a sometimes troubled local community. Della Negra was executed in 1944, as a member of the so-called Manouchian Group, part of the French Resistance.
Born in Vimy, Pas-de-Calais, northern France, on August 18, 1923, Della Negra's family moved to Argenteuil, then home to large French-Italian community (many escaping from Benito Mussolini's regime), close to Saint-Ouen, when he was three.
A promising keeper, he began playing for Argenteuil FC – at the time pretty much exclusively made up of Italians – before coming to the attention of nearby Red Star Olympique, as they were then known, in the summer of 1942. Founded by Jules Rimet in 1897, the club was not, apparently, named for any political motive. Instead they took their Anglo moniker from a shipping line. Rimet's housekeeper, an Englishwoman known as Miss Jenny, christened them after using the company to sail over to France.
Red Star won their fifth Coupe de France the season before Della Negra's arrival but had been struggling to recapture the success they'd enjoyed during the 1920s. Though the cup competition continued, the League had been suspended during wartime. Regional leagues existed but have never been officially recognised by the French administrators. Della Negra trained with the club during the week, while working at a local factory. Whether he truly had the ability to make for a career in football isn't clear; Julien Darui, a regular in the French national team, had been the Red Star keeper before his arrival and Georges Hatz took over in goal the following year. By October Della Negra had become actively involved with the Resistance.
In February 1943 he then went into hiding, having been ordered to relocate to Germany as part of a compulsory work programme. It was around this time that he first began his involvement with the Manouchian Group, believed to have carried out some 150 operations between March and November of that year, some in tandem with British secret services. Details are understandably sketchy but Della Negra was said to have been involved in the bombing of the Italian Fascist Party offices in Paris and the assassination of the German general Von Apt.
On November 12, 1943, he was part of an attack on a German convoy. Having been wounded in a shootout, he was captured in a nearby street. Over the next few weeks all 23 members of the Manouchian Group were rounded-up and tried by a German military court. All but one was executed by firing squad at Fort Mont-Valérien on February 21, 1944, just weeks before Paris was liberated.
Della Negra was 21 when he died, the youngest of the Group. His blood-stained clothes were returned to his mother, together with notes he'd left for his family. One was addressed to his younger brother, asking him to say "hello and goodbye to Red Star… finally, do everything for the best". A series of events taking place on Saturday at the club's Stade Bauer, under the banner "A Red Star Never Dies" and organised with the help of the National Association of Resistance Veterans, will include a commemorative football match. Matthew Barker