The night before had quickly, and without invitation, morphed into the morning after; and throwing twenties at the barman for two European-sized bottles of Heineken in an all-night bar along the River Seine that was a mash up of Fibbers and Bruxelles was becoming less appealing as the weak winter Parisian sun chased the night through Boulevards and side streets.
Leaving, I waded through the flea markets near Bastille weaving my way through the early rising selfie taking couples and back to my temporary abode.
Paris needs no introduction. Unlike the lazy Anglo-American stereotype of them, the people are immensely friendly and proud. The city is littered with statues of heroes of resistance to various occupations alongside the architects of French imperialism who (thankfully) have led the French state into various military disasters down the centuries.
But they own their defeats as a badge of honour and don’t let their national narrative become one of failure. Irish football could learn from this.
I like Paris and the French. Wandering its streets as a Dubliner, it’s nice to let yourself daydream of Behan, Joyce, Beckett and Wolfe Tone stumbling over the same oft torn up cobbles. The people also have opinions on what a Republic should/could be. They may have given us our flag but we didn’t inherit any of their critical thought faculties.
I also like their football. I regularly watch the glorious Youtube footage of a Bordeaux side featuring Zidane, Lizarazu and Dugarry taking on Bohemians in an early 90’s Dalymount Park. I willingly bought into the myth of Les Blues – that of the multi-ethnic Black, Blanc, Beur – before that documentary ripped the notion to shreds. Griezmann’s celebration against us didn’t annoy me and what other country would be able to produce a portrait of an artist such as ZZ scored by Mogwai?
Most of all though I like how what is obviously a national obsession isn’t harped on about in the same way as the English and to an almost same extent the Spanish and Italians. It’s just football to the French. There are other things which are a lot more important.
All that said, they’re just a sample of some of the – in the light of day- un-profound thoughts of a young inebriated man with a dead Iphone trying to make his way home. The match, the reason I had come to Paris, was five hours away, and I planned to do some sleeping.
The area around Stade Bauer is a delight of small local bars, markets and galleries but ‘Bauer Stadium’ does not dominate the skyline.
Having not being successful with charging my phone past the 5% mark, I wanted to keep some battery to snap pictures for this article. Alighting from the number eighty-something bus I am without the luxury of Google Maps – and while this means I’m now less likely to be targeted by the Americans in a drone strike; my lack of education has left me with zero French, I’m lost.
I spot a Dad and lad combination and decide they’ll lead me to one of the oldest football grounds in France, to a club of major historic proportions formed by no less than the legendary Jules Rimet the inventor of the World Cup – where else would they be going? Well, home it turned out and by the time they got there I’m pretty sure both were aware they had a tail.
I was just north of the ring roads which denote the city limits of ‘real’ Paris and just south west of Saint Denis. The last time I had travelled out here for football related reasons, the Irish national obsession with oppression and failure was greatly added too. But absolutely no need to talk of that.
Finally arriving at the ground, I am met with a large congregation of mostly young white Parisians. The usual European casual look was on show, Stone Island badges mixing in with Lacoste baseball caps and Adidas runners- some of my friends who have yet to stumble upon Buddha quotes online would use words such as ‘clobbered’ and ‘up’ to describe the crowd, but mainly French ‘cool’ dominated with the fans in my line for a ticket resembling that of any Montmartre bar with the gender mix coming in better than I’d ever seen at any European ground and certainly better than any I’d ever witnessed in Ireland.
Before getting into the ground the message was clear – the Parisian in-crowd were down with Red Star.
The stadium is in a U shape with a large block of flats dominating one end giving residents penthouse views into the ground.
One stand is named after an antifascist hero – Rino Della Negra, who was executed by the Nazis during the occupation.
Meanwhile stickers from various left leaning firms dominate the interior design of the very League of Ireland type toilets.
For the previous few seasons a promotion up the league pyramid had seen Red Star being forced to leave here as the ground didn’t fit stadium regulations. The fans now sing something in French, of course, about never wanting this to happen again. A double-edged sword as that wish can be only granted if Red Star avoid promotion.
The ground is ramshackle and if it was up for rent on a Dublin property website it would be described as ‘quaint’. But straight away it grabs you. Finally, I was in Paris and in love! For a brief moment I even considered a selfie.
The Red Star fans squeeze themselves into the corner sections of the main Grandstand with a 1980’s type fence creating a cage effect but also providing an outlet for banners to be draped over and wannabe Capos to swing from.
Serious looking lads in sunglasses, and equally stern women climb the fence with various kids also reaching the summit.
The banners in the main are dominated by leftist slogans such as ‘Refugees Welcome’ and ‘Death to Shamrock Rovers’.*
A cloud of marijuana hangs over the section and the club’s own brand high strength IPA sold out the back makes sure the atmosphere never goes stale.
The game is dominated by two physically strong midfields with ample opportunities at both ends. At one point one of the teams – Red Star – even scored and a few red cards were handed out. You can also read this as – I can’t really remember and I’ve been unable to find any highlights online.
Nonetheless, in a ground that has borne witness to Alex Song, Moussa Sissoko and Abou Diaby in recent years it would be a lie to say the level was below whatever the accepted average is.
Sponsored by Vice, Red Star are providing the complete antidote to the hyper-capitalist PSG of Neymar and Cavani.
Situated in a neighbourhood that dances to an immigrant beat, they’re reaching out in various ways to try and help resolve some of the major problems facing French society – they’re doing their bit.
The crowd of 2,800 who turned up – six of these were away fans – were almost all not lifelong Red Star fanatics, but as has been happening in cities across Europe including Dublin, fans who have been priced out of the big league soap operas are turning their backs in ever greater numbers on the charade.
But just as more young people in the 6o’s didn’t march against Vietnam than did, the big leagues will continue their ever-increasing ludicrous march towards whatever it is their Saudi masters are in search of for quite a while longer no matter how loud this lower league socially engaged football club phase roars.
But in an increasingly dark era as Europe begins to collectively forget the death camps, it’s good and reassuring to spend a Saturday afternoon surrounded by French leftists watching football and drinking.
I leave the Bauer a lot happier than I’d entered. If you find yourself in Paris, charge your phone and get to Saint Ouen. And if you find yourself in Dublin knock off your TV and get to Phibsborough.
*May not be true