Ten cities - ten stadiums: in the third article in our series we presentSaint-Etienne, a town with a legendary reputation in football. Jean-MichelLarqui was captain of the "Greens" during the golden years and is noweditor-in-chief of the football magazine Onze Mondial and a co-commentator onthe television channel TF1.
For many French fans, mentioning the wordfootball still brings back memories of Saint-Etienne. While the current team no longer ranks among the best in France, the "Greens" (after the colour of their shirts) of the years between 1970 and 1980 made such an impact at the time that their exploits are still remembered. Saint-Etienne is synonymous for footballfor many fans. As in Marseilles or Lens, the game occupies a special place inthe people's hearts. Historically the town has ranked as a major industrialcentre since the 18th century, largely thanks to its coal. With the advent ofthe industrial revolution in the 19th century, Saint-Etienne became one of themost important cities in France.
The famous School of Mines was founded in 1816. Textiles, metallurgy andcoal were the main products. It was no accident that the first railway line tobe opened in France, in 1828, linked Saint-Etienne and Andrezieux Boutheon.During the second half of the 19th century Saint-Etienne had the wisdom todiversify and develop new industries, such as foodstuffs, bicycles and carcomponents. It was from these beginnings that Manufrance developed - the famousbicycle and arms manufacturers, the company being founded in 1894. In the 20thcentury Saint-Etienne was affected by the decline in the coal industry butsucceeded in switching over to other more modern sectors where its know-howwould be of value: these include high tech areas such as accoustics, advancedcomponents (NASA is a major client), improved food products, bio-medicalequipment and machinery.
Paralleling its socio- economic development, Saint-Etienne, the capital ofthe Forez region in the heart of France, also managed to develop in other ways,becoming a university town in 1960 and an important cultural centre: there is a Museum of Modern Art (one of the best in France), as well as theatre, opera, a multimedia centre and opportunities for many other kinds of cultural activity.The University of Saint-Etienne, with over 20,000 students out of a populationof 201,500 (450,000 including the surrounding area) provides the city with away of looking to the future - over 25% of the population are under 20 yearsold. And sport plays a unifying role in the city's culture; there is a soundinfrastructure and widespread interest in sports, with the "Greens" carryingthe banner at the front of the movement.
After Lyon, which is only 60 km away, Saint-Etienne is the second mostimportant town in the Rhone-Alpes region and just 3 hours from Paris on theprestigious TGV (high speed train). It is also easily accessible by air ormotorway. Thus there were a number of sound reasons for Sainte-Etienne to beconsidered by the French World Cup Organising Committee as one of the tenvenues for 1998, and with the additional factor of the town's traditionalinterest in football, it was chosen without hesitation, despite being so closeto its large neighbour, Lyon.
The Geoffroy-Guichard Stadium
A series of European Cup successes in the mid-70s and early 80s earned theGeoffroy-Guichard stadium the nick-name of the "green cauldron", a venue thatcame to be respected on the international scene. It even had its own "Kop"(named after the part of the ground in Liverpool where the home fans wereloudest), where the French could spur on their side to be one of the best inEurope.
Today the stadium has to be brought up to current international standard. TheKop, which once had several thousand standing places, will be altered so thatfor the World Cup in 1998 the ground will accommodate 36,000, all seated. Toaccomplish this, a lot of reconstruction has to be carried out: the work willtake 20 months to complete and consume a budget of 75 million French francs.
Things are already under way, but are being organised so that the Saint-Etienneteam can continue to play its home games there, with at least 25,000 placesavailable. With new turf, new lighting, new stands, new press facilities, theoriginal Geoffroy-Guichard stadium, built in 1931, will be transformed into a21st century sports centre, ready for the 1998 World Cup.