FEATURE | From Political Rivalry to Geographical Foes: The Paris Derby Spectrum

Whilst the international break continues with a large focus switching to Les Bleus, club football remains to be played from the third tier downwards. On Tuesday, one of the founding members of the French top tier, Red Star FC, will travel down from the swanky Northern suburbs of Saint-Ouen to the edge of southern Paris at Stade Charléty – the home of bitter rivals Paris FC.

The Audoniens will not be facing their Ligue 2 nemeses. Instead, they play against a relative newcomer to the upper echelons of Parisian football, Paris 13 Atletico, who were promoted to the third tier for the first time in their history last season. Les Gobelins will not be able to play at their original home ground in the 13th Arrondissement of Paris, Stade Boutroux (soon to be named France’s first Stade Pelé), due to regulation issues.

It will nonetheless be a Parisian derby, with the two opposing teams representing contrasting histories and identities. More importantly, the two clubs have had contrasting fortunes in the Championnat National (third division) this season with Red Star hoping to gun for promotion to Ligue 2 in one of tightest third tier seasons to date, whilst Paris 13 stare down the impossibility of escaping the second to last spot in a league with six relegation places.

Local derbies and rivalries are a rare occurrence in modern French football, with a Parisian derby in fact being the last one-city fixture that took place in the top tier between Paris Saint-Germain and now-fourth tier Racing Club de France in 1989. 

Paris is in fact one of the only cities in France, along with Ajaccio, that has upheld the kind of city derbies that are commonplace in English and European football. This is in part due to the regionalised nature of the French football league structure, its roots partly coming from the fascist Vichy regime’s creation of national leagues during the Second World War, as well as the regionalised financing of teams. 

Whilst Paris Saint-Germain briefly played Paris FC on multiple occasions in the 1970s before and after their merger and schism into two clubs, their rivalry is almost considered as vacant by most observers, the pair neither having a historical-rooted hatred for one another nor an identity-clash that puts one at odds with the other. There is also simply the fact that the two sides rarely play one another in official competition (friendlies do not count).

Instead, Paris FC and Red Star FC have led the way in the fiercest Parisian derby of recent times. It is a quintessential opposition. Paris FC is a club that split from Paris Saint-Germain in 1972 and are partly owned by the Kingdom of Bahrain since 2020, playing in the 20,000-seater Stade Charléty on the southern edge of Paris. Red Star were a club formed in 1897 by to-be FIFA president Jules Rimet, now owned by American investment firm 777 Partners since 2022, playing in an 109-year old Stade Bauer in the Northern suburbs of Paris. 

It is a rivalry which is also politically charged, with Paris FC’s ultra groups having overt links to a right-wing political past, and Red Star very much a club with a left-wing, socialist/communist suburban identity. This political opposition drives the most violent aspects of the rivalry, with a rooted past within the conflict between the Auteuil and Boulogne ultra-groups at Paris-Saint Germain. The pair previously met in Red Star’s last season in Ligue 2 in 2018/19 which saw a 94th-minute equaliser for L’Étoile Rouge at Stade Charléty (1-1) before PFC got their revenge in the return fixture (0-2).

Créteil, a south-eastern suburban club, are also a team which has played Paris FC and Red Star on many an occasion in the lower tiers. It is a derby fought more on geographical lines than sporting competition or political hatred, but their status in the fourth tier currently means they will not encounter the other larger Parisian entities.

One of the most historical derbies in Parisian and French football could also be set for a return from next season. If Racing Club de France are promoted to the third tier, they could reignite the original Paris derby with Red Star. Racing, who were the original tenants at the Parc des Princes, now ply their trade at the equally historic Stade Yves du Manoir in the Parisian suburb of Colombes, and were formative members of the French top tier along with Red Star. The pair have both won five Coupe de France titles, with Racing doing the league/cup double in 1936. Whilst the redstarmen have not faced the racingmen in recent years, they have the sporting, historical and geographical basis to reignite a legitimate and fierce rivalry dating back to the the 1930s. 

With Paris FC nowhere near Ligue 1, we may have to content ourselves with Parisian derbies in the lower tiers for now (probably for the better). However, if you look deeper into Ligue 2 and the Championnat National, there are still historical teams and rivalries – with rising clubs with new identities such as Paris 13 always being added into the mix. Paris 13 Atletico’s next match against Red Star FC on Tuesday shows that Parisian football beneath the perceived monolith of PSG is still as vibrant as ever. And it could be set to get even better in the near future.

GFFN | George Boxall


More European Football News