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The seventies was an era of change, in and out of football. Many countries saw some massive downturns, and in England we saw successive governments fail. In France, it was a time of St. Etienne and the UEFA Cup. However, a small Corsica club in SC Bastia, for a minute moment in time, was the talk of European Football. They made their mark for a bit, and when they did, it left an everlasting imprint.
Like the rest of Europe, after the Second World War Corsica found itself with a problem. Corsica is one of the most beautiful places in the world, but with World War II came high unemployment, poverty, and an exodus to the big cities. This kind of problem lasted until the 1960s. In 1957 the state put together a program to restructure the community economically and territorially. It was supposed to help somehow. It was supposed to be in the form of immigrants from Algeria. And 15,000 came and brought wine making with them, though the locals felt hard done by. Two years later, the national football authorities refused to introduce Corsican teams into the national championships.
Their first time in the spotlight wasn’t until the 1972 Coupe de France final against Marseille, which was a first for the Corsican region. This was also a good point to show the blatant racism Corsican footballers were met with on their travels. By making it to the cup final the national authorities would have to take notice. Ultimately, Bastia lost 2-1, but the people of the region were able to come out and show their spirit whilst they could. There were many problems between fans of opposing clubs at this time. OGC Nice vs Bastia in the round of 16 second leg on April 10th, 1976 became a brawl on the field when there was a very lax referee. This type of stuff wasn’t only in France, it was throughout the entire game worldwide.
It only got worse from there for the Nice players. Their training had to be under police surveillance, there were bomb threats, and a terrorist attack. The owner of OGC Nice was at a clothing store with his wife, and was attacked. This saw the birth of the Corsican National Liberation Front, which the French would see many waves of attacks over the next forty years. Why this is brought up is because many matches and clubs at the time had to work around stuff like this. In 1976/77 however, Bastia took Corsican football to massive heights. At the end of the season, they had hit third place in the top league earning themselves a spot in the UEFA Cup.
Bastia was led by Pierre Cahuzac as their manager, and they had some great players in their ranks. Dutch great Johnny Rep, Claude Papi, and Charles Orlanducci. In the first round of the UEFA Cup, they played the Portuguese juggernaut in Sporting Lisbon on September 14th, 1977. In front of 6,000 people at Bastia’s home stadium where Bastia won 3-2, all the goals were scored for The Blues by Francois Felix. For the return leg on September 28th in Lisbon with a much bigger crowd of 60,000, Rep and Felix put Bastia into the next round with a 2-1 (5-3 aggregate) win.
The second round again put a bigger club in front of Bastia in Newcastle United. On October 19th again at home in front of a small crowd of only 9,000, Papi scored two goals to cancel out a Paul Cannell goal for Newcastle. At the start of November the second leg was played at St. James Park, and this time in front of a robust 34,000, Bastia won 3-1 with Rep hitting a brace, Jean-Marie De Zerbi finishing off the scoring and the match for Bastia. This also set a record for Bastia, as they were the first French club to win in England.
One of the great clubs on the continent that is forgotten about is Torino. Much of their great times were in the 1940s, but they are a very good club. In the next round Bastia faced an emerging Torino side at the end of November and the start of December. The first leg, on November 23 at the Stade Armand Cesari where Bastia played, the great Italian Torino striker Paolo Pulici put the visitors ahead after 24 minutes. Papi and Rep answered back to give the hosts the lead by the 67th minute. Then at the start of December in Turin on the seventh, Jean Francois Larios scored a goal, and Abdelkrim Merry netted a brace to send the Corsicans through to the quarters against East German side Carl Zeiss Jena.
March 1, at Bastia’s home stadium, the Corsicans ran roughshod over Jena, putting seven goals past their hapless goalkeeper. Bastia started early as Larios opened the scoring after three minutes, followed by Papi just before the break, and Yves Mariot in the 57th. Felix then hit a brace, Jean-Louis Cazes chipped in with another, and finally Georges Franceschetti for the 7-2 win. The return leg back in East Germany was a foregone conclusion even though Jena won 4-2, Bastia went through 9-6 on aggregate.
Into the semis Bastia started the first leg on March 29 in Zurich against Grasshoppers of Switzerland. The first leg saw the Swiss win 3-2, which really put the plucky French side in a bind. But if Bastia would show anything, it was their ability to win, and on April 12 at home Bastia only needed a goal from Papi to book themselves into the final against PSV. And this was where the luck ran out, they finally ran up against a club too big for them to take down.
During the seventies, the Netherlands were at the very top of the sport, while they didn’t win the World Cup, they produced so much great talent. PSV was an integral part of that. In the first leg of the UEFA Cup final at Bastia’s home, the Corsicans kept a good account for themselves with a 0-0 draw on April 26. The return leg on May 9th, PSV put Bastia away 3-0 to claim the UEFA Cup.
To say Bastia’s success was a flash in the pan would largely prove to be true, but for one fleeting moment on June 13, 1981 Bastia once again gave the Corsicans their time in the spotlight. On that day in the Coupe de France final, goals from Roger Milla and Louis Marcialis against St. Etienne gave The Blues a long-awaited trophy. And still, that story doesn’t come close to their continental exploits of 1978.