Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Today everybody takes Paris Saint-Germain for granted – big European club. It is a new club, though – the name appeared for the first time in 1971. The history is at least confused, if not a football historian’s nightmare. In the old days football clubs were normally established by bunch of schoolboys. The newness of the venture also placed those schoolboys among the founders of national football championships – most old clubs are not only First Division clubs today, but often the most popular and successful ‘grand’ clubs of a given country. By 1970 the pioneer spirit was distant memory and whatever new clubs came into existence, they did not follow the noble tradition. Times changed. So, how to make brand new ‘big’ club? Paris was an obvious, however suspect place for that – large city lacking big football club. It was not that Paris lacked clubs – there were and are quite a few, but they were not successful and not exactly very popular. It could be said that Paris was not really a football city – the example comes from one of the oldest French clubs: Stade Francais. Continental European clubs are rarely only football clubs – more likely they are sports clubs, where football is only one section of the club. Stade Francais is just such a club and still most popular club in France, if we are talking total of supporters. But they are fans of other sports, not football… The football team of Stade Francais was strong name in the 1950s and 1960s, but by 1970 was in decline of which it never recovered. Presently, there is no attempt to ‘boost’ the football section, which kicks ball in the lower French divisions. On the other hand Stade Francais is a mighty power in the rugby universe:

Here is Stade Francais batlling Perpignan in September 2008 and leading the French rugby First Division (below):
In rugby – yes, they are popular, and wisely prefer to develop this sport. Other Parisian clubs just exist… Racing, perhaps the most successful of old clubs, has notoriously checkered history of ups and downs, renames, mergers, and folding ups. The rest are not worth even mentioning. Yet, Paris was supposed to have potential, regardless the evidence of lukewarm fans, if any. A group of ‘financial investors’ founded Paris FC (which appears differently in French statistics – FC Paris, no doubt to make it easier to navigate the confused history) with the objective of playing first division football by 1970. Different time… no more school kids, it was businessmen by late 1960s, and not losing money, if profit is not achievable, was of primary importance. But the different time was also obstacle – no school kids, but no first division either: a new club had to start from the lowest division in already structured football system. Starting from the bottom was not exactly what ‘investors’ have in mind – the bottom spells loss of money. The solution was a merger with another club, all the more urgent, because Paris FC had no players – it existed only as a name. The first attempt was to merge with CS Sedan – but the Paris Mayor’s office refused to accept it. Now, why politicians would interfere in football matters? Simple – the new club was to be financed, at least partially, by the City of Paris. The politicians did not find the idea of financing non-Parisian club attractive. Paris FC merged with Stade Saint-Germain in 1970, a small club, founded in 1904, but achieving nothing during the years. However, they were promoted to the Second Division at the time Paris FC was looking for by-passing the structure. Thus, 1970 is the year of founding Paris Saint-Germain Football Club, as the new name came to be. Alas, there is no Paris SG in the final table of French Second Division in the 1970-71 season – there is Paris FC, finishing in the promotion zone and going up. But Paris SG is the club finishing 16th in the 20-team French First Division in 1971-72. Why the club was Paris FC the year before and Paris SG is unknown to me, but the Paris Mayor’s office was still unhappy and ordered a split. ‘Saint-Germain’ was found not sufficiently Parisian name. In May 1972 there was no more Paris SG… or was it? The professional part of the ‘old’ club joined CA Montreuil and remained in First Division as… Paris FC. The amateur part went to Third Division, named … Paris Saint-Germain. The history is mum as for where the ‘investors’ went, but looks like they stayed with Paris SG, for Paris FC went down and Paris SG – up. Paris SG won promotion to the Second Division in 1972-73 season, however, by default – the champions of Third Division, US Le Petit-Quevilly, were disqualified. The upstarts faired better in the Second Division – they finished second, and after successful play-off against Valenciennes FC, returned to professional status and First Division football. The same season Paris FC ended in the relegation zone of the First Division and with some occasional jerks in upward direction, the club generally remained downward bound after 1973. Paris FC still exists, somewhere in the lower regions, but it does not play at its original stadium – Parc des Princes. Paris SG plays there today. Once getting into First Division, Paris SG never went down, and even won two national titles. But when and where their history started? How much early history is theirs and how much belongs to Paris FC? Why 1970 is given officially as the year of foundation? Was it fair to jump to the top by non-football means? If nothing else, at least example of shrewd business – an early warning of the bitter future, when football clubs are business and nothing else.
1970: ten suits and only one jersey – new type of football club is launched. At the time, red jerseys and white shorts were the kit. Did not last. The suits were no jokers: Jean Djorkaeff is the player introduced here. You are more familiar with his son Youri Djorkaeff, of course, but the ethnic Kalmik ‘Tchouki’ was a French star on his own right in the 1960s. Weird team, though… this group of eleven does not look competitive on the field. Just look at this walking stick… or umbrella… Tchouki was Paris SG player from 1970 to 1972, then he became Paris FC player for the next two seasons… now, was he transferred from one club to another? Of course not – statisticians simply follow the transformations of the club… but Tchouki was signed by the above ‘teammates’… where were they in 1972? Paying Tchouki’s wages in Paris FC, or leaving his contract to somebody else and pulling Paris SG out of Third Division?