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Why St Etienne are green with envy
If you don’t mind the sight of St Etienne glued near the bottom of the Ligue 1 table, you did not grow up in France in the 1970s.
Everybody there then had two teams, their own and Les Verts (The Greens). Even today, many fans of other sides have a soft spot for the team from a small industrial town near Lyon.
Why? Simply because France, where football is not part of the popular culture, fell in love with the beautiful game courtesy of St Etienne’s European Cup saga in 1976.
An unglamorous outfit featuring players who had worked in the city’s factories, they went all the way to the final, losing to Bayern Munich in Glasgow. And many people will tell you they only lost because Hampden Park was the only place in the world at that time, apart from maybe some pitch in Kazakhstan, to still have square, wooden posts instead of round, metal ones.
The St Etienne players hit that archaic woodwork twice and the ball bounced off it. Had the posts been round, like at every civilised stadium outside Scotland, they would have gone in. No doubt.
That year, green fever was everywhere, with Les Verts’ stupid fan song playing on the radio all the time. But St Etienne are not just about that.
They have won a record 10 French titles, were graced by such great players as Michel Platini, Johnny Rep and Dominique Bathenay (don’ t say who?, he was my favourite). And the stadium, called Geoffroy-Guichard but only known as the Cauldron, was like no other place on earth. It could really burn in there.
Then came a financial scandal, spells in the second division and the rise of neighbours and arch-rivals Olympique Lyon, now the measure of all things in France, just to make matters worse.
Football has entered another era and moved away from its working-class roots, not to mention tight, shiny shirts and tiny shorts.
St Etienne today have two chairmen, who occasionally argue and have just posted a statement on the club’s website saying coach Laurent Roussey’s fate depends on the outcome of the side’s next two home matches.
“We’re not stupid and we can read,” midfielder Geoffrey Dernis told reporters. “We all know what’s going on and it’s not easy. The toughest part will be not being afraid when we enter the pitch.”
Once upon a time, Les Verts did not fear anyone in their Cauldron and their only feeling when playing there was pride.
PHOTO: Bafetimbi Gomis (C) of St Etienne celebrates with Geoffrey Dernis (L) and Blaise Matuidi (R) after scoring against Hapoel Tel Aviv during their UEFA Cup soccer match at the Geoffroy Guichard stadium in Saint-Etienne Oct 2, 2008. REUTERS/Robert Pratta