Clubkultur is a new Box To Box series exploring the true essence of the beautiful game, a look at the intangible feelings that keep us coming back to support our club, no matter how they’re playing, no matter where. In Clubkultur, we will explore the important cultural aspects of football clubs from all over the world, as our contributors see them.
As Paris Saint-Germain dominate the headlines with their free-spending and endless wealth, a club founded by Jules Rimet on the northern fringes of the city are heading in a completely different direction and are arguably a better modern-day success story of Parisian football.
In August last year, Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior, or simply Neymar if you’d prefer walked out onto the pitch at Le Parc des Princes as the forward was unveiled following his record-breaking £200 million move from Catalan giants, Barcelona. Paris Saint-Germain went onto win this Ligue 1 opener against newly-promoted Amiens SC 2-0. Yet, just five months earlier, Amiens had been just a stone’s throw away, this time playing in the Stade Jean-Bouin, the permanent home of rugby’s Stade Français and temporary home of Red Star FC who had spent the last two years exiled from their traditional home due to minimum stadia requirements enforced by Ligue 2. The match ended 1-0 in Amiens’ favour, helping the side on their way to promotion whilst the loss further condemned Red Star to relegation into the Championnat National and back to their traditional home on the northern fringes of Paris.
In recent times, the symbolic level of significance of the team you support has become more than just your geography or family ties. Barcelona are not only pioneers of total football and tiki-taka but a symbol of Catalan independence. St Pauli are society’s outsiders and free thinkers from Hamburg with a focus on social activism and left-wing politics. And Paris Saint-Germain’s shirt has become ubiquitous in rap videos and the club is associated with wealth, style and aspirations of greatness. In an almost uncanny reflection of the club’s ‘brand’, the area around Le Parc des Princes is filled with wide tree-lined avenues and plush apartments. Whilst the nouveau-rich, Qatar-backed club get on with their plans for world domination, their northern Parisian neighbours lie at the other end of this spectrum just 12 kilometres along the Boulevard Périphérique.
In stark contrast to the riches surrounding PSG’s home, in the Saint-Ouen region, lies a small largely residential suburb, littered with unremarkable blocks of flats and graffiti stained shutters. As many visitors to the area head to the legendary flea market nearby, they may not even notice the presence of a football stadium if not for the floodlights rising high above the tin roofs of the three stands, with an almost descending staircase of residential flats banking the south-end of the stadium. Stade de France, or Stade Baeur as it is more commonly known, does not dominate its surroundings but has a rich history hidden beneath the surface.
In February 1897, following a meeting in a Parisian café (naturally), a 24-year-old Jules Rimet and Ernest Weber founded Red Star Club Français, to become the second oldest French football club, after Le Havre AC. A main belief and vision behind the foundation of the club was for social mix and an association of football and literature at its core. In the following years and decades, Jules Rimet went on to serve as president of not only the French Football Federation, but also FIFA and the original FIFA World Cup trophy was named in his honour. Meanwhile, Red Star saw mixed yet rich successes including a prolonged period in Ligue 1 and five Coupe de France titles. However, it is not their performances on the pitch which draws interest but the club culture off of the pitch.
Similarly to St Pauli, Red Star see themselves as outsiders, overtly antifascist and also hold similar left-wing political views as the German club. In a social landscape as diverse as Paris, Red Star embodies an attitude amongst locals that is found more in the suburbs, blocks of flats and on the streets rather than in Le Parc des Princes.
Whilst PSG proudly wear their nouveau-rich statement rouge-et-bleu shirt, far more humbly, Red Star wear a green shirt, designed by Vice, an alternative media company with close ties to socialism. The rebellious and creative nature of Red Star along with their raw appreciation for the game make them truly the romantic underground football club of Paris with a rich history and deep connection with the community it is intertwined with. The cultural influence of football in Paris looks as though it will continue to grow – thanks to both the arrival of Neymar, and the evolution of this far humbler side in Parisian football.