FRENCH LIGUE 1
STADE GEOFFREY GUICHARD
SUNDAY 31 JANUARY 2016
The current Ligue 1 campaign in France sees a dominant PSG side sweep all challengers aside as it marches to another title. It is highly likely that the club from Paris will end the season unbeaten and secure the title even before March. Down in the more southerly Loire region, Les Verts of AS Saint-Étienne continue to dream of restoring former glories. The club is the most successful football club in French football history having won ten Ligue 1 titles (including two championship hat-tricks), six Coupe de France titles and a Coupe de la Ligue title.
Saint-Étienne’s greatest night came on the evening of May 12th, 1976 when a side featuring Janvion, Christian Lopez and Rocheteau lost 1-0 to Bayern Munich in a European Cup Final held at Hampden Park. This was the final of the ‘les poteaux carrés’ or the square goal posts. Legions of Saint-Étienne fans to this day believe that only the distinctive square goalposts at Hampden Park prevented a French win.
The 2015-2016 season sees Saint-Étienne enjoying arguably its best season in UEFA football since that campaign in the seventies ended in a fateful night at Hampden. The club has qualified for the last 32 of the Europa League where fans await a knockout round tie against Basel.
This summer in June the French town of Saint-Étienne will welcome the UEFA European Championships 2016. The Stade Geoffrey Guichard serves as a host venue for the tournament with a number of group games and a last 16 tie due to be played at the famous ground.
The Geoffrey Guichard opened during September 1931 and on opening, it was dedicated by the then club President Pierre Guichard to his father Geoffrey Guichard. It is his name which still continues to adorn the exterior facade of the stadium.
With UEFA international competition being hosted in the city the Geoffrey Guichard has undergone another round of upgrade. And this is a stadium that has undergone numerous upgrades over the years with floodlights being installed in 1965 and major renovation work occurring before the 1984 European Championships. Like many other venues in France, an upgrade occurred before the 1998 FIFA World Cup. This meant the city hosted the likes of Scotland, Chile, Spain and Austria during the tournament.
Long in the shadow of the much larger city of Lyon that sits to its north Saint-Étienne has somewhat outgrown its reputation as an industrial city of belching chimney smoke and factories. The local municipality has worked hard to develop the city as a progressive innovative centre of design with the forging of distinctive city transport networks and well regarded regional museums.
Nearly 33,000 fans gathered on a mild evening to see this match up between Les Verts and the dominant PSG. The Parisians sit nearly 22 points clear at the top of the table having won almost every game bar three and Blanc’s side have yet to lose a match. They are of course helped by the millions of euros being thrown at the club by the owners – Qatar Sports Investments.
With names such as David Luiz, Cavani, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago an overhaul of club operations has occurred. The classical historical crest received a makeover in 2013 under PSG President Nasser Al-Khelaifi’s approval with a renovated modern design being launched.
PSG shareholder in chief the Qatar Sports Investments organisation have taken full advantage of the city’s global appeal. With luxury signings, they have forced the club into a dominant position in French football and a prominent place in UEFA Champions League football. PSG left their mark on domestic French football during the 2014–15 season by claiming an unprecedented domestic quadruple of Ligue 1, the Coupe de France, the Coupe de la Ligue and the Trophée des Champions trophy.
One of the more unusual courses of action taken by the Qatari owners has been the cleansing of the once notorious supporter group networks. Most of the well known and infamous hardcore supporter groups have been thrown out from the Parc Des Princes. Minor groupings have attempted to reorganise and invigorate the match-day experience but PSG is now a club effectively cleansed of ‘ultra’ type groups. As a result, the PSG against Olympique Marseille Derby de France classic is not the eagerly awaited spectacle of a fixture it once was in France.
This was the night the noisy Saint-Étienne fans decided to use a live television audience to protest against the PSG owners in unity with the ultras of PSG. On both Kops within the Geoffrey Guichard banners appeared throughout the ninety minutes with a two minutes silence being observed at the start of the game as an expression of unified challenge. A huge banner was unfurled as the teams emerged stating ‘Deux minutes pour montrer oux qataris ce qu’ils ant fait a Paris’. Then half way through the first half another appeared ‘liberte pour les ultras’.
Outside of these fan statements, Saint-Étienne were making a huge impression on the field of play. Numerous chances were created in the first half by the home side as the industrious Les Verts peppered the PSG goal with efforts. Slowly, however, PSG began to take a grip of proceedings with former Saint-Étienne hero Blaise Matuidi impressive and Zlatan Ibrahimovic orchestrating nearly everything good on the field.
On 62 minutes the Swede gave the visitors the lead and during injury time, at the end of 90 minutes, he added a second from a similar distance.
The contrast between the current glamour of PSG and the more industrial Saint-Étienne side could not be starker. With its padded seats and transfer millions the Parc Des Princes these days is home to some of the football’s more famous millionaires. But things at the Geoffrey Guichard are that little bit different with no superstars. While it was Zlatan who decided this encounter it is arguable that it was the home fans behind both goals who created something more lasting during the ninety minutes.
La Legende continue, Allez les Verts………
Saint-Étienne: Ruffier, Bayal, Pogba, Tabanou, Theophile-Catherine, Malcuit, Lemoine, Cohade, Bahebeck, Soderlund, Monnet-Paquet (Coach: Galtier)
Paris – SG: Trapp, Maxwell, Kimpembe, Thiago Motta, Marquinhos, Aurier, Stambouli, Matuidi, Lucas, Di Maria, Ibrahimovic (Coach: Laurent Blanc)
See the photo set from France here