Red Star’s search for a sustainable home goes on

Football holds a special place for the dreamers. Them, and the corrupt club owners. When you’re averaging attendances of under a thousand, why shouldn’t you try and get their hands on an 80,000 all-seater, World Cup final-hosting stadium? For all of Paris St-Germain’s mega-riches, there is another Paris club which once held far loftier aspirations.

Quadrupling the budget, European football within five seasons, and league title after league title. These were just some of the promises made by the directors of Red Star 93, a club from the unremarkable Saint-Ouen district in northern Paris.

Come the end of the 1998 World Cup in France, the tournament’s crown, the Stade de France, was looking for a tenant. Paris St-Germain, the logical choice, announced in February 1999 that they intended to stay at their traditional home, the Parc des Princes for the foreseeable future.

This left the path to the Grand Stade open to three other clubs. Racing 92, then playing in the third division of professional football in front of crowds of three hundred, Saint-Denis-Saint-Leu, young upstarts with slightly larger support, but still only in division three, and Red Star; Paris’ most historic club.

Until then, Red Star had been playing in the Stade de Paris, later known as the Stade Bauer, since 1971. The stadium had been initially built in 1909, but with its last major renovations in 1975, it was beginning to show its age.

In May 1999, it was announced that they would be permanent tenants at the new stadium, so long as Red Star could find a budget of £4m per season to assure the authorities they could manage such a prestigious ground.

The club’s president, former player Jean-Claude Bras, sprung into action, assuring everyone that all the legal and financial prerequisites would be achieved. Big-name companies like adidas, Renault and Bouygues Telecom were all touted as possible partners.

11 days before Red Star’s deadline came the bombshell from newspaper Le Parisien that Bras, the president, had been arrested and was under investigation for fraud.

Ligue 2 fixtures were announced on the same day, and lined Red Star up against Wasquehal at home on the opening day of the season. No one knew where the game would be played.

The deadline for the decision as to Red Star’s home came and went with no final answer. Bras assured fans that his investigation for fraud would have no bearing as to the club’s future, but with no manager, half the playing squad departed, and no home ground secured, fans were getting increasingly worried.

A week later a decision came from the Direction nationale de contrôle de gestion (DNCG), a body which scrutinizes the financial status of all the clubs in France to ensure the their financial soundness. Looking at Red Star’s finances, and their proposals for the Stade the France, they decided the Paris club would not be playing at the national stadium.

Bras called a press conference the next day and came out fighting, saying that all was not lost and Red Star could still play at the Stade de France. They would temporarily play at the Stade Marville, either until a new stadium in Saint-Ouen was built, or until they moved into the Stade de France. News was also released that Jean Sérafin would continue as manager, and that Dominique Rocheteau, the former France international would be brought in as Head of Sporting Development.

The club held a one-off match at the Stade de France in March 1999 against St Etienne, who had just been relegated to Ligue 2. Huge numbers of visitors from l’ASSE, and thousands of free and discounted tickets ensured a record crowd of over 45,000. “Operation seduction” may have been a success off the field, but on it, Red Star were struggling.

Relegation to the National division in 1999 meant the club lost its professional status. Financial problems began to mount, as Bras left the club. Not long after he was found guilty of fraud. And just three seasons later, Red Star were playing in CFA2, the sixth level of French football. They were, at least back in their Stade Bauer home.

This relegation allowed the club to consolidate and rebuild and by 2011, they were back in the National division, the third level of professional football.

The club’s promotion to Ligue 2 in 2015, while welcomed, presented a problem. Its historic Stade Bauer home, now on its last legs, was deemed unsuitable for League 2 football. Instead, they were forced to play their home games some 50 miles away in Beauvais.

A move closer to home was secured for 2016/17, where the Stade Jean-Bouin – a recently renovated state-of-the-art stadium – would host home matches. Ironically, they’d now be neighbours with the Parc des Princes, home of moneybags PSG.

Relegation at the end of 2017-18 meant Red Star could move back to Stade Bauer, but they bounced straight back, with the same old stadium problem rearing its head. With attendances on the rise, and new, left-wing more trendy following, a move back to the Stade de France was back on the cards.
The early murmurs were that Red Star would play at least eleven “home” games at the Stade de France while Stade Bauer was brought up to standard. But once the club and the local authorities crunched the numbers, it soon became clear that the move would again be unfeasable.

After years of delays, bureaucracy and false starts, renovations for the Stade Bauer were finally approved in summer 2018. But this news came with a catch. The work, if it is started and completed on time, won’t be finished until at least 2022. The major stumbling block, and the major worry for supporter groups, is the requirement for private money to pay for the works. Until now, it is not clear where these funds will come from, if at all.

Hopes that the Stade Bauer renovations would form part of the Paris 2024 Olympic Games works disappeared as soon as they came. For now, Paris’ new sweethearts find themselves in a situation where the higher they progress on the field, the more obstacles their fans face to support their team. It looks for now that Red Star face years more of long home trips and uncertainty.