Paris FC and Red Star mean Paris is more than PSG
Unlike many other major capital cities in Europe, Paris has only one top division football team. Paris Saint-Germain has taken major strides towards building its profile on an international level in recent years through its recruitment of major international stars such as Thiago Silva, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani, but the capital city’s other clubs have continued to struggle.
In episode 66 of the French Football Weekly podcast back in August 2012, we touched upon Red Star as they took on Amiens in the National (the third tier of French football) the same weekend as Zlatan Ibrahimovic was making his league debut for PSG against Lorient. For most of its existence, Red Star has been based outside central Paris in the suburb Saint-Ouen in Seine-Saint-Denis. Red Star’s home stadium has been the Stade Bauer, a venue which I described in an article on this website back in February 2012.
Since gaining promotion to Ligue 2 in 2015, ground regulations have meant that Red Star have had to leave their historic home stadium and take exile in Beauvais for the 2015-16 season and the Stade Jean Bouin for the current season. Beauvais only counts as Paris from the perspective of Ryanair, and the Stade Jean Bouin is a rugby stadium used by Stade Français, which is within walking distance of the Parc des Princes, the home of PSG.
Back in 2012, Red Star had ambitious plans to create a new stadium and reach Ligue 1. However, their planned new stadium looks no closer and they appear more likely to find themselves back in the third tier of French football rather than the top tier: despite looking like promotion contenders during much of the 2015-16 season, they are now at the wrong end of the table and in serious danger of returning to the National.
If Red Star do return to the National, they are likely to again find themselves playing local derbies against Paris FC and US Créteil-Lusitanos. The former currently play at the Stade Charléty, which is primarily an athletics venue, and the latter are based in the eastern suburbs outside the Paris ringroad.
In January of this year, it was the turn of Paris FC to make noises about seeking to establish themselves as Paris’s second major team. Newspapers such as L’Equipe, Le Figaro and Libération reported on the club’s plan to merge with Racing (currently languishing in the Division d’Honneur and playing at the Stade Colombes) and FC Juvisy (one of the leading female teams in France). If all goes to plan, a new Parisian team will be participating in Ligue 2 next season – although FC Juvisy’s women’s team will reportedly retain a greater degree of independence.
Following this news, I decided to make my first ever trip to watch Paris FC on a visit to Paris last month. I attended their home match against lowly Epinal at the Stade Charléty on 24 March. As a stadium surrounded by a running track with a capacity of 20,000, it is perhaps not a venue best suited to hosting third tier football. Indeed, the presence of only one turnstile where it was possible to pay at the gate meant that anyone arriving at the ground shortly before kick-off was likely to miss the beginning of the match due to the presence of a relatively short but very slow-moving queue.
Despite a crowd of under 800 spectators, two groups of Paris FC ultras helped to generate a lively atmosphere in the main stand. The match itself was not the most inspiring of encounters and was won 1-0 by the hosts. In the 72nd minute, substitute Idriss Ech-Chergui scored the game’s only goal from the edge of the six yard area after the ball was cut back to him from the right by Aristote Madiani.
After the match, I caught up with Paris FC fan Gabriel Aumont, who commentates on his side’s matches for the website Jour de Sport. Gabriel sees the club as representing the east of Paris and told of how it has been a major part of his life for the last ten years.
He appeared somewhat ambivalent about the fact that Paris only possesses one top-flight team, stating “I’m not there because I want to be part of the second team in Paris but rather to get behind my Paris FC whether that’s in the Division d’Honneur or the Champions League”. He continued by expressing his belief that Paris FC is capable of becoming the capital’s second major team but added “I don’t like the notion of second major club because we’re still a club whether we’re fiftieth or first in our city or region when it comes to the sporting hierarchy”.
Whether the potential merger with Racing and Juvisy is the right path to go down in order for Paris FC to progress to a higher level appeared a difficult question for Gabriel. He described the fusion as a “difficult” idea, adding that “as a supporter, you always fear the impact on our identity, which is something crucial for sports teams”.
In the future, it will be interesting to see how football fans in Paris react to the merger – assuming it goes ahead – and also to see to what extent it has an impact on the footballing landscape of the French capital.
Our thanks to Jonathan Ervine, who writes about cinema, sport, and fatherhood.