The time has come to enthrall you all with the tale of my first taste of proper French football. Finishing work on Friday afternoon I feel a real sense of excitement that only an evening footy game can bring. I have managed to persuade a couple of mates in making the short trip up to Saint-Ouen. Ollie and Ed are long time Paris residents and supporting Bristol City and Northampton Town respectively, the familiarity of frequently sub-standard football is something we all share and should put us in good stead for third division french football.
When I arrive at the excellent Bugsy’s Bar (Rue Montalivet 8th Arr) I’m delighted to discover Ed and Ollie are equally excited about the match! From there it’s a twenty minute metro ride on line thirteen up to Saint-Ouen. Saint-Ouen is a pretty nondescript suburb four miles north from the city center, home to Paris’ flea market which apparently has the highest concentration of antique and second hand furniture dealers in the world. The suburb is also notable for being the birthplace of Liverpool legend Djimi ‘blame it on’ Traore.
After a short walk from the metro the first glimpse of Stade Bauer’s floodlights really set our pulses racing. When we come upon the ground itself we are confronted with a large concrete slab which slightly resembles a seventies multi-storey car park. Finding our bearings we secure our match ticket for an incredible paltry sum of five euros, sixteen pounds less than Bootham Crescent I announce with incredulity.
Stade Bauer is nearly as old as the club itself opening in 1909. The official capacity is ten thousand although no where near that amount is used, three stands surround the pitch with only the large main stand in use tonight. From our vantage point the stand running parallel to ours looks in total disrepair and obviously hasn’t been used for years. Behind the goal to our left is a large standing terrace which although in better condition also appears to see little or no use. The stand we find ourselves in houses all of tonight’s attendance, and between us we estimate the total crowd to be around a thousand (which turns out to be spot on with the official attendance being 1092) and whilst milling around the snack stand outside it is noticeable a few Vannes supporters have made the trip down from Brittany. It is at this point I try and get the beers in, beers found for another paltry sum of two euros each I return to the lads triumphantly only to be told gleefully I have bought alcohol free beer and that the stadium is an alcohol free zone, fail.
As we take our places at the back of the stand, one of the first things I notice is the diversity of the crowd. There are lots of young kids running around, some with parents some on their own, kids entry is free and its good sight to see plenty of young ones coming down to support their local team. There are numerous old boys in flat caps and club scarves with hundreds of years between them on the beaten and weathered terraces. There are small pockets of teenagers chain smoking at the back trying their best to look as cool and disinterested in the football as possible. Lastly down at the front of the stand is a group combined of the previous, numbering around a hundred, these lot make an incredible amount of noise and not just in bursts every few minutes, for 90 minutes they don’t stop. Assisted by the obligatory annoying drum and bizarrely one guy seemingly just blowing random noises from a recorder, I have never been at a football match with such unprecedented support for the home team.
The barmy home fans bring me nicely on to the actual football, which if the football witnessed here was on display at a professional game in England, abuse and vitriol would be served up by the fans rather than the unequivocal support shown here. Now before I get slated by any real Red Star fans that might be reading this, I do understand not every match can be a goal fest thriller and every supporter has to endure dour nil nills (honestly, eight years watching conference football I have had my share) but this was extremely dour.
The first half produced one shot on goal for each team and zero aesthetically pleasing football. Praise though should go to the Red Star back four who looked solid and kept Vannes’ lively lone striker Mohamed at bay, captain Samuel Allegro marshaling his defence effectively. Added to this and the one real stand out player was the Red Star right back Pierre Gibaud who looked equally confident defending and going forward, assured in possession and clearly read the game well. Gibaud impressed us, so much so that Ollie revealed his intentions of emailing Bristol City with the lads credentials. Half time was a welcome break, expectations high for the second forty five.
There were obviously some hairdryers deployed in the Red Star dressing room at half time because Red Star started the second half far more brightly and with a lot more urgency. With Red Star pressing higher up the pitch, Vannes struggled to get a hold of the game. The main problem for Red Star was the deployment of a lone striker of their own, the number nine Cedric Sabin lumbered around the oppositions half and when he did manage to get himself in a position to receive the ball his touch and pace constantly let him down. If anyone was lucky enough to see Leo Fortune-West in the latter stages of his career then I think you’ll get the picture. As the half went on Red Stars dominance began to fade and only a succession of corners came close to bothering the Vannes keeper. The last twenty minutes were a total non event other than a wildly erratic overhead kick from a Red Star player that sailed majestically over the bar.
The full time whistle prompted no boos or jeers put plenty of enthusiastic applause and chanting from the home fans which the three of us extremely admired. We decided to chalk this one off, if the Red Star Army are constantly this positive, it can’t always be this bad! In the bar opposite the ground plastered with fading Red Star team photos we decide that despite the awful football, the atmosphere more than made up for it, we’re coming back
Allez Red Star!
You can keep up to date with Paul's lower league escapades on his blog http://paulplowman.wordpress.com/