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The birth of Paris Saint Germain: From plucky underdogs to a culture club

Paris Saint Germain’s history is surprisingly rich and full of twists and turns.

Paris is one of the great hubs of Europe. It is the capital of culture and art. Its streets throng with vibrant architecture and its landmarks are renowned around the world.

Football in France has always been one of the most popular sports dating back to the 1900s. It really picked up in the 1950s with the national team and Reims enjoying a golden renaissance.

Bizarrely until the 1970s, the football craze eluded Paris. Teams like Saint Etienne and Marseille flourished but the French capital remained devoid of a consistent team for decades.

However in 1970, that would all change.

An ill-fated merger

Paris Saint Germain was born from a merger.

Paris FC, a local team who had only been founded a year prior, and Stade Saint Germain, another local side, merged together to create Paris Saint Germain on 12th August 1970. They hoped to create Paris’ first football powerhouse.

The union would enjoy a fairy tale beginning. The newly formed club won immediate promotion to Ligue 1.

However, the club’s time in Ligue 1 would be short spent.

Around the time, the city council began to lobby for the removal of the Saint-Germain reference in the name.

In 1972, just two years after PSG’s inception, the lobbying succeeded and it split the club into two.

The club’s professional players stayed in the top flight as Paris FC. The amateurs retained the club’s ‘Saint Germain’ name but they were demoted to the third division.

Rapid comeback

Some teams would have faltered under such scrutiny and pressure. With the city council against Paris Saint Germain, the club’s venture seemed to have disintegrated into dust.

Paris FC, were now the giants of the capital. They were expected to finally herald a new dawn in Parisian football history. But PSG never gave up. The directors and the board were determined to make fulfil their ambitions.

No one had expected Paris Saint Germain to come crawling back. But they did. They won automatic promotion to Ligue 2 in their first season. Consequently they retained their professional status and won promotion to the top flight the following year during the 1973-74 campaign.

Incidentally at the same time Paris FC were relegated from the top flight.

That led to a coup at the top. Paris Saint Germain regained the Parc de Princes stadium, which was used by Paris FC at the time and made it their home.

Culture Club

Paris Saint Germain’s rapid rise back to the top had captured the hearts of Parisians. For the first time, football mania flooded the city.

Iconic figures like fashion designer Daniel Hechter flocked to to the club. Many other celebrities would be seen visiting the Parc de Princes on a regular basis. French icon, and arguably the best French player at the time, Just Fontaine became the head coach of the club. Meanwhile, Hechter became the president. The fashion designer was also the architect of PSG’s famous home-strip which the club has sported in different iterations ever since. Inspired by the great Ajax kit of the 70s, Hechter used the design and simply swapped out the white of the Dutch club for the blue of Paris. The rogue et bleu colours are now synonymous with the Parisians.

PSG, also embraced the culture of the city. The club’s crest was designed with the Eiffel Tower at its epicentre.

Back then Paris Saint Germain was a club of culture.

Few know it, but, World player of the Year, Johan Cruyff, donned the famous strip for a very brief stint in the summer of 1975.

Hechter’s influence played a major part.

Cruyff was an admirer of Hechter’s designer products which prompted the club’s chairman to suggest an audacious proposal.

We met at an Adidas cocktail party, he knew me, because he dressed in Daniel Hechter at the time. Then we became friends. When I asked him to come and strengthen Paris Saint-Germain for the tournament, he said yes immediately.

Daniel Hechter

Cruyff only played two games for the Parisian outfit during the Paris Cup – a pre-season friendly tournament. He played in a 3-1 victory in the semi-finals against Sporting Lisbon and then against FC Valence in the final in a 1-0 defeat.

In the end Cruyff moved to Catalonia but his performance left an indelible mark.

An exciting club

During the club’s inaugural season in the top flight, Paris Saint Germain saw the emergence of several influential figures.

Algerian Mustapha Dahleb was a new arrival, but his shaggy hair quickly became an iconic presence in the centre of midfield. The Algerian immigrant endeared himself to the club’s supporters with his tenacity and his knack for scoring goals.

Dahleb was a pioneer. He was one of the very first players of Algerian descent to dominate the French league. Players like Zinedine Zidane follower after him. All together Dahleb played 310 times for PSG scoring 98 goals.

Another instrumental figure was the Congolese forward Francois M’Pele. The dainty and rapid striker who possessed a zealous Gazelle like energy on the pitch quickly became a fan favourite for his goal-scoring prowess.

In M’Pele’s six years with the Parisian club he played 217 games and scored 97 goals.

The fact that the team’s two leading stars were both immigrants was the perfect representation of multi-cultural Paris.

The city was ahead of its time.

Even in the 1970s cultures mixed into an amalgam in Paris and for the first time the city had a club which represented that.

Enduring Legacy

It wouldn’t be until the 1990s and early 00s when Paris Saint Germain would finally break into Europe’s elite with players like Jay-Jay Okocha and Ronaldinho representing the Parisians. The 70s and 80s mostly heralded mediocrity.

At the heart of the club’s ethos the blend of cultures and diversity has always been the core motif.

Of course with the Qatar Sports Investment Group takeover, Paris Saint Germain have now become European giants too, which has seen the arrival of some of the sport’s greatest players.

But it’s important to acknowledge the club’s early history and the influence of players like Dahleb, M’Pele and the club’s chairman Hechter who were integral in establishing the culture of PSG.

In some ways, Paris Saint Germain has always been the club of the elite. But Paris is also for the elite. Which is why the club is the perfect representation of the city.

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