Paris | Football City Guide
For a city of over 10 million people (yes, I'm including outside the Boulevard Périphérique) I've always found it baffling how this world-famous city doesn't host more recognisable football clubs.
Most European capitals will have at least two. Think Roma and Lazio, Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid, Manchester United and Manchester City. And don't get me started on London. Paris Saint Germain (PSG) is the only club that springs to most minds when football fans think of Paris. Of course, history and culture might hold the cards to this question, what with cycling and rugby being France’s most popular sports and PSG only being born in the 1970s (yes, you read that right).
With my work sending me to Paris for a week, there would never be a better time to soak up this incredible city and learn about its football clubs and culture. So settle in, grab a bottle of red and a croissant. Allez Allez!
Thanks in no part to advertising, Paris is dubbed the city of love and light and pulls in nearly 40 million tourists a year. Not only is it a live and breathing museum, as well as the capital of France, it's also a key global centre for finance (see the La Defense district), gastronomy, arts and of course, fashion. The hit Netflix show ‘Emily in Paris’ would be a quick and easy entry guide before your visit to the city, full of stereotypes and clichés at every turn.
You could easily spend a week here, taking in all the famous sites and gobbling up all the pretentious cuisine, and you certainly wouldn't get bored. And with the centre itself being modest in size and population – Paris proper has 2.1 Million at the last count in 2018 - most of it is walkable, with Uber, those pesky e-scooters and the Metro being suitable alternatives.
Highlights of the city naturally include the Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame, The Louvre and of course the Eiffel Tower. What many football travellers might not know is that only a few streets away from the iconic Eiffel Tower lies the Stade Emile Anthoine. In all honesty, it’s less of a stadium and more of a community sports centre with a football pitch, running track and gym facilities, but with the imposing famous landmark looming over the place, making it a picture-perfect location with a football twist (you may need to pay off or beg the site manager to let you into the ground however).
Red Star Paris
Who? You were probably expecting PSG to be the first, and potentially the only club, to be served up on this guide but no, we're going grunge and taking on Red Star Paris, France's most alternative and underground side.
Les verts et blancs is one of the oldest clubs in France, behind the likes of Le Havre FC and FC Girondins de Bordeaux, and was founded in 1897 by no other than Jules Rimet (after whom the World Cup trophy is dedicated). There are many theories as to why 'Red Star' was included in its title but the two most common ones as that it's a reference either to the Red Star of Buffalo Bill or to the historic shipping line, the Red Star Line. Either way, it's a cool name and the badge is even better.
Despite being a founding member of League 1, Red Star Paris has spent the majority of its history outside the top division, with its last stint coming way back in 1975. On the other hand, they've won their fair share of French cups including five Coupe De Frances. Silverware and on the field-the-field activities aside, this club from the north of Paris is most famous for the social and political activities off pitch. The side is known for its work in the local community and is even sponsored by an organisation called LinkedOut (a play on the social media giant) who help homeless and disadvantaged people find work. The area around Red Star Paris' home, Stade Bauer, has a very high unemployment rate and is home to a large number of immigrants.
The club also launched Red Star Labs, helping academy plays learn skills outside the world of football and their recent kit featured landmarks celebrating multiculuralism.
Stade Bauer (Home of Red Star Paris)
Depending on the traffic, it can be a relatively short twenty-minute journey north to the Stade Bauer from Gare Du Nord. It's relatively hidden and surrounded by mid-rise residential housing. The giveaway is, as is on most occasions, the floodlights. The stadium was severely damaged in a fire in 1999 and upon my visit, one stand was reduced to rubble. I was actually quite fortunate to get in at all, with the gates open I just walked right in undetected, this would almost certainly not have happened in the UK. Behind the goal on one end lies a slanted residential building with unobscured views of the pitch below (lucky them!). The rest of the ground has an old school feel about it, very English League 2 if you ask me.
The ground fits 10,000, although I'd suggest it's about half of that in the state I was it in, and I can see why an upgrade is due. I enjoyed it for what it was, somewhat a relic of the past and a hunting ground for romantic football fans who want to temporarily turn back the clock to simpler times (think 'The Oval' in Belfast).
Paris Saint-Germain (PSG)
From the humble, left-leaning side of Red Star Paris and its crumbling stands to the hyper-rich state-funded megastar team that is PSG. These two sides really do sit on the complete opposite spectrum of the football period, and there's only a few miles difference between them.
PSG might be now a be household name, but many will be surprised to learn that they were only founded in 1970, following a split of two sides, Paris FC (more on them later) and Stade Saint-Germain. In a relatively short period of time, they've become France's most successful side, amassing over 40 trophies including nine league titles and the European Cup Winners' Cup. With all this success comes support, and a lot of it. They're the most supported side in the country, which has also only grown globally with the Qatari Sports Investments takeover.
Their colours and shirt are also famous, with the Hechter stripe (based on Ajax's red original) usually dominating the home kit with the classic colours of blue, white and red. Their crest also symbolises the city, with the Eiffel Tower dominating the inner circle. Change isn't to everyone's tastes however, and the most recent version has been accused of striping back the club's heritage. This is something we touched on in our Football Crest Evolution series.
Le Parc Des Princes (Home of PSG)
From Porte de Saint-Cloud metro station (Line 9) , it's a ten-minute walk to the famous ground. Unlike the San Siro or Wembley, Stade Le Parc des Princes doesn't dominate the skyline and is barely visible as you walk towards it. However, it's very unique in its design with its striking concrete exterior and is legally protected in France. It has aged with grace and would pleasantly surprise old-school groundhoppers as it feels a little out of touch with the hyper-modern brand of PSG.
Opened as recently as 1972, PSG's first game in this third incarnation of the Parc Des Princes took place against none other than Red Star Paris. Thanks to multiple refurbishments following the latest takeover in 2010, it now has a capacity of 48,000 over two tiers. Those with an eye for detail will probably notice that it was originally designed with rugby, as well as football, in mind. The large gaps behind the goal took into consideration France's other top national sport but in the modern age this has become a hinderance for fans sitting behind the goal as your miles from the action.
It's design, specifically the wavy corners, were built to maximise the constraints of space around it, with it being blocked in by roads and buildings on all 4 sides. Squint hard enough and it feels like a retro Emirates stadium. PSG are pondering a takeover of the ground, which is still oddly council-owned, and expanding the capacity to 60,000. This would be more in-tune with other elite European clubs as it does very much feel like PSG have outgrown their rented accommodation.
Sadly, stadium tours were not available on the day of our visit, but we did a 360 walk-around, poked our noses past the gates, and ventured into the club shop..
It's also worth noting that this area is sporting epicentre of the city, with the Stade Jean Bouin for rugby adjacent, and the Stade Roland Garros, where the French Tennis open is played, is a short walk away.
Photo credit: Foot National
If the grit of Red Star, or the glitz of PSG wasn't enough for you, then meet Paris FC. Founded in 1968 to the south of Paris, the side merged with Stade Saint-Germain in 1790 to form the now-mighty PSG. Within two years a split occurred, with Paris FC reforming and keeping the professional status, players and position in the first division (poor PSG was sent down the division and had to rebuild with amateurs!).
They even called the Parc Des Princes their home for a couple of years before falling by the wayside whilst PSG took over the site and become the giant they are today.
Their colours are dark blue and currently sit in League 2, just outside the limelight of the top division. They have a version of the Eiffel Tower in their crest, which isn't much of a surprise to anyone and have natured talent such as Mamadou Sakho and Nordi Mukiele.
Paris FC have become something of a forgotten club in in the capital, failing to take advantage of the split form PSG in 1972 and once they fell down the divisions, they simply never recovered. Attendance is also low, despite the huge catchment area and like their neighbours, play in a council-owned ground which doesn't meet the demands of the modern game.
Stade Sébastien Charléty (Home of Paris FC)
Image kindly provided by @jeune.andres (Instagram)
Athletic track stadiums in the world of football get a bad rep, and this ground only adds to the disdain. Your miles from the action, and considering Paris FCs recent form, it's probably from the best.
If we continue with our squinting efforts, it resembles a smaller version of the revamped Stadio Olimpico Grande Torino, with the exception being the additional third tier on the main stand.
It has a capacity of 20,000, far more than needed for Paris FC's 3,000 odd average gate and was built in 1938 but has had a facelift in more recent times.
It's worth noting that actually this is the only stadium within the Boulevard so technically this is Paris' only football club!
That's a wrap
From one extreme to another followed up by a rather forgettable club Paris as a city does have its fair share of football culture to showcase to the world, even if it's a relatively recent and evolving one. But if footie is not your thing then I’m sure Paris will offer you something else – c’est la vie!
Of course, we couldn't wrap up this guide without mentioning the famous Stade de France. It was the site of France's first World Cup win in 1998 and recently hosted the now infamous Champions League final between Liverpool and Real Madrid. As the seventh largest stadium Europe, it's quite the beast and not too far from Red Star Paris' Stade Bauer. Sadly we could only pass by the 80,000 all-seater stadium in the taxi as we hopped across the city. It deserves its own segment in here, so we've got no choice but to return at some point in the near future to finish off the city properly.
A highlight of my tour was the Parc Des Princess, which doesn't quite match the elegance of the modern-day PSG and instead would fit in snugly in Serie A, where stadiums have been avoiding the diggers and paintbrushes for years.
Written by Richard Tester.