Although currently in the Championnat National (the third tier of French football), Red Star are a team with a proud history that have ambitious plans to return to the level at which they used to compete in French football. The club came close to going out of business in 2003 but now have plans to reach Ligue 2 by 2015.
Before their game against Amiens last Friday, their first home match of the current season, supporter Gérard Valck talked of how the club has a loyal following that has remained with them during both highly successful and somewhat turbulent periods. He mentioned one supporter in his late eighties who is still a regular at their home games and who remembers watching Red Star win the last of their five Coupes de France back in 1942.
For the time being, Red Star play at the Stade Bauer in Saint-Ouen, which is about twenty minutes by métro from central Paris. This ground has been their home since 1909 although the team hope to move to a new stadium that is likely to form part of the redevelopment of the area surrounding the docks in Saint-Ouen.
Last season began poorly for Red Star but they were one of the stand-out teams in the Championnat National after Christmas, and played against Marseille in the Coupe de France in a game that was moved to the nearby Stade de France. Over the summer, two of their star players joined sides in Ligue 2. Top-scorer Geoffrey Malfleury now plays for Le Havre and midfielder Farid Beziouen was signed by Sedan.
Although they may not have generated as much media interest as Paris Saint-Germain’s summer signings, Red Star have also been busy in the transfer market with manager Vincent Doukantie bringing in nine new faces. Most of the new recruits are young players who are seeking to progress at a club that has a reputation for bringing through many exciting talents from its youth system. A more well-known player added to the mix is Franck Queudrue, who joined just before the start of the season after being released by RC Lens.
The first half on Friday night at the Stade Bauer saw both sides match each other early on before Amiens, the team with the biggest budget in the third tier, started to threaten the Red Star goal with their striker Jonathan Kodjia looking lively. Despite this, Red Star almost opened the scoring against the run of play two minutes before half-time. After hesitation in the centre of the Amiens defence, Mickaël Despois de Folleville – a summer signing from Amiens – lobbed the ball over the opposition goalkeeper but also just over the crossbar. Within a minute Amiens responded and almost took the lead when a shot by Kodjia from the edge of the penalty box skimmed the top of Red Star’s crossbar.
Having come close to scoring near the end of the first half, Despois de Folleville made an almost instant impact after the break. After Amiens had tried to cut out a long pass forward, the ball dropped to the Red Star attacker who hit a right-footed volley from 25 yards that glanced the inside of Franck L’Hostis’ left-hand post before hitting the back of the net. The home team progressively grew in confidence although Amiens looked dangerous from a series of corners and free-kicks. As the away side attacked more, Adama Sarr provided a goal threat for Red Star via a series of penetrating runs and twice came close to scoring with shots from just outside the penalty area.
Red Star substitute Hugues Ayivi also looked lively late in the game and used his pace to set up an opportunity for fellow replacement Alexis Lafon, whose shot was pushed round the post by Franck L’Hostis to earn the home team their first corner with only a minute of normal time left. With the referee adding six minutes of stoppage time at the end of the second half, Red Star’s players and fans endured a nervous finish as Amiens forced several corners and free-kicks that allowed them to get the ball into the Red Star box. However, the home team’s central defensive pairing of Samuel Allegro and Franck Queudrue managed to repel the danger and goalkeeper Bobby Allain dealt well with several crosses as Red Star secured a 1-0 victory in front of 1182 spectators.
In an exclusive interview with French Football Weekly after the match that will form part of this week’s podcast, Franck Queudrue talked of his satisfaction at securing a victory and a clean sheet on his debut with Red Star. Red Star’s assistant manager Steve Marlet, who retired as a player at the end of the 2011-12 season, talked about his enthusiasm for helping the club where he began his playing career to re-establish itself and move forward. Marlet expressed his pride at beginning his career at one of France’s oldest clubs and evoked the responsibility that comes with being part of a club with a rich and vibrant history.
PSG may be making plenty of headlines in France and beyond, but Marlet believes that these developments do not affect Red Star as the club based in Saint-Ouen intend to continue its tradition of training and developing young players. Red Star’s president Patrice Haddad argues his club have a proud tradition and a ‘big soul’ in a city where there is a need to develop another high-profile team in addition to Paris Saint-Germain. Although this will almost certainly involve Red Star moving to a new stadium, Haddad insists that there is a real need to ‘keep the philosophy of the club’. He insists that it will maintain its distinctive ‘spirit’ and ‘DNA’ as it builds towards what he, Marlet and its supporters hope will be a bright future as it tries to move back towards the place that it once occupied in French football.
Many thanks to Quentin Paquellier and François-Xavier Valentin of Red Star FC for helping to arrange the interviews with Franck Queudrue, Steve Marlet and Patrice Haddad, and also to Gérard Valck of the supporters’ website www.allezredstar.com and Red Star FC in general for their welcome.