Club founded by head of car manufacturers
1 December ~ For FC Sochaux-Montbéliard the conclusion of the year may mark the end of an era. December 31 is the deadline given for the car manufacturer PSA Peugeot Citroën to find a buyer for their stake in the club, who were founded in 1928 by the head of the company, Jean-Pierre Peugeot. The intention of PSA to sever ties with the club was reported in the French press in May this year. The decision owed more to the state of the parent company’s finances, and boardroom politics, than Sochaux’s poor season, which led to relegation to Ligue 2 at the of last season.
Impacted by the economic crisis, which saw car sales decline across Europe, PSA have endured severe losses – over €7 billion (£5.5bn) across 2012 and 2013 according to the Wall Street Journal. The firm’s continued survival was secured only last year through a joint bailout by the French government and the Chinese state-owned automaker Dongfeng Motors.
In April this year the man charged with returning the firm to profitability is motorsport enthusiast Carlos Tavares, who has a reputation for cost-cutting gained from previous roles with Renault and Nissan. It seems there is little place in this new world for a football club, even one with such a long association. The club play in the company colours of yellow and blue, while their crest is the Peugeot lion (a lion itself is the prominent feature of the crest for the Franche-Comté region). So for those in the region – including the many who have worked at the company – the separation of the club and the carmaker is simply unthinkable.
Current events also seem far removed from the days when the firm’s patronage enabled Sochaux to become France’s first professional club, with early successes including League titles in 1935 and 1938 along with a Cup victory in 1937. Later came a UEFA Cup semi-final appearance in 1981, losing to AZ 67 who would be beaten in the final by Ipswich Town, and another Coupe de France title in 2007.
Sochaux’s case is symptomatic of a wider trend as large-scale manufacturers globalise both their operations, their ownership and their outlook. Even before the economic crisis struck, the firm’s importance locally has been in relative decline: from employing 42,000 people in the late 1970s the Sochaux plant, whose prosperity built the foundations of the clubs success, now employs 12,000. At present there is no clear indication of any buyer, but it seems that, like the region as a whole and many other like it, Sochaux will need to adapt to a future where a former patron no longer plays a lead role. Neil Cotton