Mythical stadiums #6. Between memory and resistance, Bauer, the lair of the Red Star
Smell the green and white smoke emanating from the Rino-Della-Negra grandstand. A smell of resistance emerges there, in a unique fervor, where the most ardent supporters sing to the glory of their history. The Bauer stadium has a unique social, political and cultural dimension in the French football landscape. Humanist and anti-fascist supporters gather there to perpetuate the heritage of popular football. “There is something different from classic football when you go to Bauer. I remember a supporter who said to me: “When Red Star scores a goal, we sing loudly, and when Red Star concedes a goal, we sing even louder”, remembers with emotion David Bellion, club player between 2014 and 2016 and now creative director of Red Star.
Working-class culture, popular fervor and a spirit of resistance punctuate the heart of this 113-year-old setting. “I fell in love with the fervor of the club, whether in the stands or on the pitch. There was not this pressure of the result, but that of the weight of history ”, explains the former player passed by Manchester United, who considers the Bauer stadium as a “place apart”. Overlooked by the famous Planet Z, an iconic building with a triangular structure, the Bauer stadium is defined by an atypical architectural aspect, located in the city center, far from the usual standards of other playgrounds in France.
Threatened with destruction in 2012 then 2016, the Bauer stadium owes its survival to the mobilization of its supporters. “Beyond being a stadium, it’s a place to live and meet. It was inconceivable that the Red Star could leave the Bauer stadium”, judge Vincent Chutet-Mezence, president of the Red Star Bauer collective since 2011. “The Red Star is in Bauer, and nowhere else”, he adds. An unfailing dedication that will eventually bend the club’s management.
Four French Cups from 1921 to 1928
The story of the Red Star in Bauer begins one day in October 1909. Against the English of Old Westminsters, the players of the Red Star won 3-1 for their first steps in the allotments of Saint-Ouen. A great victory which marks the beginning of a long love story between the club and the city. The Red Star experienced its first sporting excitement in the 1920s, during which four French Cups topped the Audonian club’s record in 1921, 1922, 1923 and 1928. The stadium, located in the middle of metallurgy factories, became a must-visit place for city dwellers.
Faced with the enthusiasm of the public and the sporting glory, two side stands were built and a roof was added in 1930, the year in which the city of Saint-Ouen acquired the stadium. However, the popular spirit persists in the famous mounds of earth located behind the cages, more commonly called « bends »; the hottest spectators gather there to encourage the club of the red suburbs at affordable prices. Like this afternoon of February 10, 1935, when 23,000 spectators filled the stands of the stadium for a match against FC Sochaux. Record still unequaled today. From the windows of the factories, the Saturday workers take the time for their break to see their team shine at the Stade de Paris, the former name of the enclosure. A tradition that is still relevant today: the inhabitants of the building adjoining the stadium can watch the matches of their favorite team from their homes. “This club brings together all the values of man. There is a professional culture with an amateur heart, and I hope this spirit will continue for a long time to come,” argues David Bellion.
From Red Star to Red Poster
Red Star’s heritage is also in the naming of the stadium. At a time when the process of naming – which consists of attributing the name of a brand to a sports venue – is gaining momentum, Bauer remains faithful to its values. “In the stadium renovation project, we obtained a non-naming clause. Bauer will remain Bauer for the next 99 years,” rejoices Vincent Chutet-Mezence. The loyal supporter of Red Star refuses to see the enclosure become « a marketing product to the detriment of history ».
Before his name became that of the lair of the Red Star, Jean-Claude Bauer was above all a key figure in the city. A doctor in Saint-Ouen, resistant during the Second World War, he was tortured before being shot by the Nazi occupiers in Mont-Valérien on May 23, 1942. Rue de la Chapelle, which litters the Red Star arena, was renamed “rue du Docteur-Bauer” on the deliberation of the Local Liberation Committee in 1944. Over the years, the Paris stadium became the Bauer stadium in the collective imagination. The name will be definitively adopted on February 8, 2021. « It is important to us to perpetuate and honor the memory of Bauer but above all to transmit it », insists Vincent Chutet-Mezence, before mentioning another figure of the Red Star: Rino Della Negra.
After six months spent in the Audonian club, this son of an Italian immigrant disappeared from the radar in the winter of 1943 to enter into armed resistance within the Manouchian group. Shot on February 21, 1944 at Mont-Valérien, the right winger never had time to put on the jersey of the first team. “The trace of his time at Red Star was only discovered in 2001 by a historian. The collective has carried out a real work of memory around him, ”recalls Vincent Chutet-Mezence. In 2014, the group of friends of the Red Star decided to rename the East stand, the den of the ultras, to the Rino-Della-Negra stand. With Jean-Claude Bauer, the footballer perpetuates a little more the spirit of resistance of the green and white club.
Bauer, « Our Heart, Our Strength », the club’s motto takes on its full meaning once in the stands. At Bauer, there are no stars, but values that unite. © Teresa Suarez/REA
Renovated in 1947, then modernized in 1965 and 1975, the Bauer stadium had only undergone minor renovations since then. Owned by the city of Saint-Ouen until May 2021, the Bauer stadium was sold last year to the Réalités group to allow the club to evolve in a more modern enclosure, without distorting the identity of the club. The place has even been designated as an Olympic site for the Paris 2024 Olympics, a hundred years after having hosted three matches of the football tournament during the 1924 Olympics. It remains to be seen which selection will make its mark in this legendary venue, pending one day see the Red Star evolve into the elite.
Red Star-Tottenham: the triumphant defeat of amateurs against the pros
A defeat that tastes like victory. On this Thursday, May 1, 1913, the Red Star receives Tottenham Hotspur in Saint-Ouen for a gala meeting. The Audonian team only played at amateur level at the time, but the locals of Saint-Ouen were already putting up fierce resistance to the London professionals. If the game was clearly dominated by Spurs, the green and white players fought a constant battle. Among them, goalkeeper Pierre Chayriguès. From the height of his 1.66 m, the Audonian doorman is impassable in his cage.
Impressed by the qualities of the French goalkeeper, the London club will even make him an offer to become a professional on the other side of the Channel after the match. A proposal refused by Chayriguès, who studied at Red Star until 1925, before becoming one of the first stars of French football. His exploits that day will allow his team to achieve another: to lead 1-0 at the break in front of the prestigious London team.
But the fact of the match is elsewhere. Faced with the rhythm inflicted by the London team, the French referee, overwhelmed by the speed of the Spurs, will deny them 4 goals for offside positions. Contentious decisions but, at the time, the assistant referees did not exist and even less the VAR. Tottenham will end up winning 2-1 for a match that will remain in the annals of Red Star. A defeat considered a feat at the time.