Beneath the Badge (2): SC Bastia

SC Bastia are a French club based in Bastia, situated on the island of Corsica, which is located southeast of the French mainland. Despite the club playing in Ligue 1 in 2017, they now find themselves plying their trade in the Championnat National 3 (French 5th division). This was enforced by the French Football federation, following the club’s financial difficulties. The club’s current plight is an antithesis to the success of the Corsican club’s golden period in the late 70s, when they reached the UEFA Cup final, eventually losing out to Dutch side, PSV.

Current Bastia badge

Unsurprisingly, most of Bastia’s fans are Corsicans- they often display their independence. For some in overly adverse ways. Many Bastia fans booed La Marseillaise (French national anthem) before the 2002 Coupe de France final. There seems to be a divide between the Corsicans and mainland France.

This divide, and a history of struggle can be seen through the club’s badge. The current version depicts a moor’s head with a white bandage (or necklace) wrapped tightly around the forehead, tied together by a knot below the temple. Behind the moor’s head is an outline of a castle, which is surrounded by blue. The castle represents the Castello di Bastia, but what is of more significance is the iconic moor’s head. This same head can be found on the badge of Bastia’s neighbouring clubs, also found in Corsica- Gazélec Ajaccio and AC Ajaccio (as well as that of Cagilari FC, found in Sardinia, displaying the close links Corsica has to Italy). Whilst there may be a competitive rivalry amongst the three French teams to be able to claim that the each is the dominant football team of Corsica, it seems as if they are more united with each other more than with mainland France. The answer for this lies in the history of Corsica. In 1729 the Corsican Revolution began, in an attempt to break free from the rule of Genoa, Italy. Directed by Luiggi Giafferi and Giacinto Paoli, and then by Paoli’s son, Pasquale Paoli. In 1755 the Corsican republic finally claimed it independence, and it remained such until 1769, when the island was once more conquered, this time by France. In 1760, General Pasquale Paoli ordered the necklace to be removed from the head and the blindfold raised above the eyes- the position of the necklace now. His reason, reported by his biographers, was that: ‘The Corsicans want to see clearly. Freedom must walk by the torch of philosophy. Won’t they say that we fear the light?’. Paoli was issuing a call for Corsican defiance and freedom, something that still rings true to this day. There is even a militant group- the National Liberation Front of Corsica (FLNC), which pushes violent action for Corsican nationalism.

Flag of Corsica pre-1755
Post-1755-69, 1980- Corsican flag

The moor then is clearly important for Bastia in the way it represents freedom and independence for the island- it has featured on the SC Bastia badge since the 1980s, and one would think it is not going anywhere soon.

Recently, the club has found itself in trouble with the French Football Federation. In 2017 ultras invaded the pitch during a home game against Lyon, where several of the visiting team’s players were attacked. As a result the team were handed an automatic loss, the club’s supporters were banned from travelling for Bastia’s next three away games and Bastia’s director Anthony Agostini was suspended for six months. Significantly, this happened in the home game following Bastia playing behind closed doors, as Nice’s Mario Balotelli was subject to racist abuse. Whether this is an ill-mannered and barbaric call for Bastia and Corsica’s independence, or just the mindless act of a minority of ultras, there seems to be a deep divide between Bastia and France, one that can be traced back to the rebellious image of the moor’s head fixed on Bastia’s badge.  


Beneath the Badge (1): Watford FC

Watford FC are a Premier League football club founded in Watford, Hertfordshire. The club secured promotion to the Premier League in 2014-15 and have been competing in England’s top division since, they even reached the FA Cup final last season, eventually losing out to Manchester City. The club was founded in 1881 and fused with Watford Rovers to eventually establish Watford Football club as we know it, in 1898. Before then though there were internal disputes over whether to change them name to Watford Herts (for Hertfordshire). In the years following its formation, Watford FC often played in a blue kit. This changed in the late 1950s when they chose to sport gold kit and black shorts- the colours that are found on Watford’s badge today. Following the switch to gold and black the nickname of ‘The Hornets’ quickly stuck, following a popular vote by the supporters’ club. This remains in place today, epitomised by Watford’s mascot- ‘Harry the Hornet’.

Watford’s last blue kit (1959)

It may seem puzzling then, that whilst Watford are nicknamed ‘The Hornets’, that their current badge displays no hornets. The most recent Watford badge depicts a red stag’s head at the centre of a pentagon, which is split into black on the left side and yellow on the right side. This badge has not always been present, however. From 1968 through to 1974 Watford adopted three different badges and whilst they all contained the yellow and black colours seen today, the stag was discarded for a hornet. However, since 1978 the club has chosen to stick with what looks like a moose, but what is actually a stag. The reason for this is based upon Watford’s location in Hertfordshire, a county in England that is known for its vast stag population. This harks back to Watford’s earlier days where the stag was placed on the 1950 and 1958 badge. Even Hertfordshire County Cricket Club shares an image of a stag, or a fallow deer- it is an image that has become synonymous with Hertfordshire.

History of Watford’s badge
Current badge

Last year the club raised the question to the fans to design their own badge, calling it: ‘Designs on the Future’, the new badge will be introduced for the 2020/21 season. It may not be too long before we see the hornet once again taking its place on Watford’s crest. It seems once more than Watford’s image will continue to change and evolve.

Boavista FC: How the ‘textile workers’ fashioned the most recent Portuguese underdog story and their more recent decline

The 1999/2000 season in the Primeira Liga finished in a similar fashion to all the previous campaigns. Sporting Lisbon won the league, four points ahead of Porto, and eight points clear of Benfica. It seemed evident that for the next season the top of the league would paint a similar picture- only differing if the top three were to juggle positions. This had been the case for so long in Portugal- the last a team outside of the ‘Big Three’ won the league was back in 1946 when CF Belenenses were champions. This was soon to change, however.

The famous chequered Boavista badge

Boavista FC were founded in 1903 by British entrepreneurs and Portuguese textile workers (hence the chequered pattern). They have yo-yoed through Portugal football division, but they remained firmly in the Primeira Liga in the decades leading up to the turn of the millennia. Boavista’s success in the league did not come to fruition overnight. Their fortunes gradually improved thanks to chairman Valentim Loureiro, who was at the club between 1972 and 1995. Eventually his son, João succeeded him- it was here when the club’s golden hour had begun. João Loureiro appointed former FC Porto and Portugal midfielder, Jaime Pacheco as their manager in 1997, and soon the club’s league position ascended. They were the team that occupied the place below the ‘Big Three’ in 1999/2000. Despite their position in the league granting them entry into the UEFA Cup Qualifying Round, there was a mild sense of disappointment surrounding the club. The previous season Boavista had finished second to Porto, accumulating 71 points in the process- 16 more than they managed in the preceding campaign. Still, Boavista’s back-to-back finishes in the top four showed that they were a club on the up and ready to challenge for titles, although, it still seemed unlikely that they would ever get their hands on the coveted Primeira Liga title.

Pacheco’s team certainly had talent. Boavista’s goalkeeper, Ricardo, went on to make 79 appearances for Portugal. At the heart of their defence was Pedro Emmanuel and Litos, with the former going on to win the UEFA Cup and the Champions League. Boavista’s midfield was equally talented- the diamond jewel of it was Bolivian midfielder, Erwin Sanchez, dubbed as ‘Platini’ for most of his career- indicating the South American’s skilful and graceful style of play. At the base of the midfield was the Portuguese pair of Rui Bento and Petit- who provided an added industry to the team. The latter would go on to play 148 times for Benfica and 57 times for Portugal. The more eccentric players came in the forward positions, Duda, Silva and Martelinho, who offered pace and creativity going forward. Pacheco had created a wonderfully balanced team, filled with dynamism, ingenuity, and a resilience that made them incredibly difficult to beat, and clinical going forward.  

Despite this, the club at the time were still in the shadow of the ‘Big Three’ in Portugal. Midfield starlet Nuno Gomes was sold to Benfica, as was the proficient forward João Vieira Pinto. Meanwhile, young forward Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink was sold further ashore- to Leeds. It did not seem that the club was soon to break the power-fold that had been present for over 50 years in Portugal. The fact that many of their players were poached by other clubs was unsurpirisng given how well the Boavista team had been performing, and the lack of financial might that the club had to keep their star assets when bigger clubs came calling. In Portugal, Boavista were dwarfed by the ‘Top Three’ in terms of finances. These clubs could offer players greater salaries, as well as higher quality training facilities. The record transfer fee of Boavista by 2000 contextualises the lack of funds available. They spent €700,000 on Elpídio Silva. Benfica’s record transfer fee by 2000 was in excess of €6.7 million spent on Brazilian midifielder Roger. The gap between Boavista and the top teams in Portugal was profound- making their achievement even greater.

Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink playing for Boavista

So how did they do it? It started with a win, a convincing one, beating Beira-Mar 4-2. This was immediately followed up by an emphatic 4-0 drubbing of União de Leiria. A draw and defeat followed, but the club responded like champions beating Benfica 1-0. In what proved to be their crucial part of their season- Boavista went on a 15-match unbeaten run, crucially during this period they were able to beat the city neighbours, and closest challengers FC Porto, once more the scoreline read 1-0, thanks to a 31st minute goal from Martelinho. Following a defeat to Braga at the beginning of the year, the club once more responded by not losing in 12 and winning 10 of those games- accumulating 32 points from a possible 36. They had wrapped up the title with a game to spare, which no doubt allowed everyone associated with Boavista to breathe easy, as they faced second placed FC Porto on the final day of the season. Despite FC Porto thrashing Boavista 4-0, the league title was already secured and the shackles were off- the club had made history.

Boavista fans celebrating the 2001 Primeira Liga

There were several key parts that made the Boavista machine tick. The defence was solid and robust, and they conceded five goals fewer than any other side, and four of those goal came after the title was already secured. Going forward the team was also clinical, scoring 63 goals. The vast array of goalscorers that Boavista had typified the collective spirit and attitude of the team. No player scored more than 11 (Silva, Duda), but the whole was greater than the sum of its parts. The quality of hardwork and defiance definitely was not lost on Pacheco and the Boavista team. Capello later remarked that, ‘no other club in Europe runs as much.’

Boavista’s famous Primeira Liga win was the pinnacle of their success. Although, they did not immediately fall off the pace, the club started to regress in the following seasons. A respectable second place finish in the 2001/2002 season may have suggested that the club would become a staple at the top of the Portuguese league, as the club amassed 70 points, and conceded a mere 20 goals. Furthermore, their Champions League campaign put them in the limelight on the biggest European stage. Two draws against Liverpool, as well as victories over Dynamo Kiev and Borussia Dortmund enabled Boavista to progress from the Champions League first group stage. Despite failing to qualify from their second group stage, the Portuguese club put in a respectable performance, but fell short to Manchester United and Bayern Munich. Boavista did progress further in European competition in 2002/2003- this time in the UEFA Cup, but the club were knocked out of the semi-finals by a late Henrik Larsson goal, which prevent an all-Oporto final. This success was not shared on the domestic front, as Boavista slumped to 10th place.

Boavista’s Duda battles for the ball with Liverpool’s Sami Hyypia

Whilst the club enjoyed some success on the pitch, they were struggling off it. Winning the Primeira Liga and competing in both the Champions League and the UEFA Cup meant that the club had to give out improved contracts and big bonuses. The poor financial situation was compounded by the need to construct the new club stadium (Estádio do Bessa XXI) in time for Euro 2004 which was to be held in Portugal. The Portuguese government failed to live up to the financial support that it had promised for the stadium, and the club plunged into debt.

In 2004 Pachecho was let go by the club, as they once more lurked in the mid-table of the Primeira Liga. But worse was yet to come. In 2008, via the ‘Golden Whistle Enquiry’, it had emerged that both FC Porto and Boavista FC were involved in the alleged bribery of referees in the 2003/04 season. In 2008 Boavista were relegated to the Liga de Honra (Second Division), due to the verdict that the club had ‘coerced’ match officials in three Liga games, versus Belnenses, Benfica and Académica. Former president João Loureiro was suspended for four years, and the club was fined €180,000.

A long five year spell, battling in both the Liga de Honra and the Segunda Divisão (Third Division) finally came to an end in 2014, when the Portuguese Professional Football League made the decision to promote Boavista back to the Primeira Liga following several judicial reviews, as the club leapt forward two divisions. Around the same time João Loureiro rejoined the club, and he helped to cut the debt from the ‘Golden Whistle Enquiry’ in half.

Boavista still sporting their balck and white cheques.

Under the guidance of former midfielder, Petit, Boavista finished a respectable 13th in the 2014/15 season, as the club looked to consolidate their Primeira Liga status. Since then performances have gradually improved as the club has gone on to finish 14th, 9th, 8th and 8th once more last season. And whilst the club are miles away from winning the Primeira Liga, fans will be grateful to experience the top Portuguese division once again. Meanwhile, it seems that the ‘Big Three’ are set for another spell of dominance- no club other than Sporting, Benfica and Porto have lifted the trophy since Boavista’s triumph at the start of the millennium.

Paris FC: The Forgotten Club of Paris

The 2018/19 football season ended for PSG with a sense of underachievement once again. Despite comfortably winning Ligue 1 with 91 points, the team crashed out once more in the Champions League, losing on away goals to Manchester United. Their misery was further compounded by defeat to Rennes in the Coupe de France final, despite holding a 2-0 lead. However, their not-so noisy neighbours- Paris FC have had an equally heart-breaking end to their season. Although their story is not so well known.

In the Quarter-final play-off for promotion to Ligue 1 Paris FC found themselves 1-0 down to Lens, thanks to a misplaced pass in midfield and an incisive breakaway that resulted in Thierry Ambrose slotting the ball home from 10 yards. However, with seconds to play Paris FC substitute, the Bosnian Marko Maletic, latched on to a flick-on and rifled home from a tight angle to make the score level and keep the Paris FC promotion dream firmly alive. This elation soon turned to despair as they crashed out to Lens on penalties, with Romain Perraud (who is now at Celtic) hitting the right post with his spot kick. Paris FC, literally inches from a possible promotion to Ligue 1, truly displaying the fine lines of football and how a season can be made or broken on one kick. Still, Paris FC should not look back on the previous season with too much gloom. The club finished 4 places better off than the previous season, moving from 8th to 4th and held the best defensive record in the league conceding just 22 goals in 38 games, a record even Atletico Madrid would be proud of. Certainly, their Parisian home, the Stade Sebastien-Charlety, in the 13th arrondissement of Paris, proved somewhat of a fortress, conceding 6 goals in 19 games and losing just once to eventual runners up, Brest. These achievements are not to be taken lightly once analysing the club’s woeful 47-year history.

Thierry Ambrose celebrating after scoring vs Paris FC

 This brings us back to Paris-Saint-Germain, the football team that dominates Paris. This was not always such a formality, however. In an attempt to propel the quality and audience of football within Paris, Paris FC was launched in 1969. The club then fused with Stade Saint-Germain to form, the infamous Paris Saint-Germain. However, the clubs divorced in 1971, as the mayor of Paris refused to support a non-Parisian club, as they had been situated in the Saint-Germain-en-Laye suburbs. Surprisingly maybe, it was Paris Saint-Germain coming off the worst off out of the two clubs. Paris FC held both its Ligue 1 status and the right to play at the Parc des Princes, whilst Paris Saint-Germain were demoted to the French Third division. So how have the tables turned so dramatically between the two clubs? One factor is the contrasting fortunes of the clubs following the split. Paris FC were relegated after two seasons, whilst PSG gained promotion to the top division in the same year, which also led to their acquisition of the Parc des Princes over Paris FC. PSG have remained a mainstay in France’s top league ever since, although the same cannot be said for their neighbours in the 13th arrondissement.

Ever since their relegation in 1975, Paris FC have only been back in the top division of France for one season. The club was even in the Championnat de France amateur for six years, before their overdue promotion to the National division in 2006. So how did one of Paris’ clubs become a European superpower, whilst her ex-partner struggles in the lower divisions of French football.

Although it is difficult to identify specific points in analysing any club’s progress, there are aspects of Paris FC which have, and continue to hold the club back from its ambition of competing in Ligue 1. The average attendance at the Stade Sebastien-Charlety in the previous season was a meagre 3,849, despite the stadium holding a 20,000 seat capacity. Although an improvement on the 3,072 average attendance in 2017/18, this was only better than six other teams in Ligue 2. Interestingly, Parisian club Red Star FC had the lowest attendance of all teams in Ligue 2, suggesting a deep-rooted problem in the popularity of Parisian clubs outside of PSG. The low attendance seems unsurprising for Paris FC however, when considering their stadium. Stade Charlety has been shared with Stade Francais Rugby Union club, Paris Saint-Germain Rugby League club, Paris Universite Club and Paris Saint-Germain Feminines. The stadium also has an athletic track surrounding the pitch, which dilutes any atmosphere created, and hinders the experience and enjoyment for Paris FC fans watching.

Stade Charlety

President of Paris FC, Pierre Feracci is open to the idea of renovating the stadium before the club are promoted, although this could be an arduous and expensive process that could see the club selling their key assets in order to keep Paris FC financially stable. Nevertheless, the issues surrounding Stade Charlety do not seem to be taking a hold of the current group of players. The aforementioned solitary loss at home, suggests that last season the team firmly considered their stadium home.

A second issue, which the club have already identified and attempted to resolve is the constant stream of youngsters who have left the club in their early years, leaving for little to no money, and going on to move to big European clubs. In 2018, the club moved into a new training ground in southern Paris, costing 7 million euros. Feracci, as quoted in The Independent stated: ‘We had arguably the worst infrastructure of any Ligue 2 club; now it’s among the best. I think in the next four to five years our training ground will be one of the best in France’. Feracci went on to say, ‘We’ve got four high-quality pitches, including a hybrid, heated one… Orly has added so much energy and vitality to the club.’ How does this help them attract and keep any young talent that they hold? Their professional accreditation from the French Football Association last year allows the club to make better contract offers to young players, so they are less likely to move on in hope of a better deal. Feracci (again in The Independent) lamented that ‘in the ten years I’ve been here, 15 to 20 youngsters between 11-19 have left the club every year… We couldn’t offer professional contracts before the age of 20, and we lost players at a younger age, too.’

It seems for a club like Paris FC the prospect of young talent is more important than most French clubs. At the 2018 World Cup 52 players were born in France, more than any other country. For example, Mehdi Benatia was born in France, but chose to represent Morocco due to his parents. Out of the 52 players born in France, 15 were from Paris. There has been an increase in the amount of Parisian both in the French team, and Parisians participating at the World Cup between 2002 and 2018. As the graph shows, 3 Parisians represented France in 2002, which increased to 7 in 2018. Similarly, 7 Parisians were at the 2002 World Cup for all countries, compared to 15 in 2019. What is potentially even more enticing for a club like Paris FC is the estimated worth of Parisian talent. Players from Paris at the 2018 World Cup had an accumulative worth of 483 million euros (according to Transfermarkt values- taken 5.6.2018). This is nearly triple the value of what players from London at the World Cup were (167 million euros). Although Paris FC is unlikely to have too many players competing at the World Cup in the near future, they are sure to take optimism from the deep pool of football talent that Paris holds.

Graph indicating number of Parisians at the World Cup between 2002-2018
Player value by country at 2018 World Cup (credit to RunRepeat)

Paris FC have seen this Parisian talent first-hand with a number of players starting their career with Paris FC before jetting off elsewhere. Former Liverpool defender and PSG captain, Mamadou Sakho was at Paris FC from age 6-12. Strasbourg right-back Kenny Lala was at Paris FC from 17-19, and Red Bull Leipzig defender, Nordi Mukiele was at the club from age 7-16. These are just a handful of players that Paris FC could not keep hold of, and who left the club for no major profit. Transfermarkt shows the current value of the three players to total 44 million euros, and while it is ambitious to believe that Paris FC would be able to hold on to these players long enough to make that kind of money, it is certainly reasonable to think that the club could have made a healthy profit if they were able to hold on to their assets.

Nordi Mukiele, formely of Paris FC playing for RB Leipzig in the UEFA Europa League (Photo by Matthias Kern/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Now, with the professional accreditation from the French Football Association for the clubs new training ground, Paris FC will have a better chance of holding on to their youngsters. The future looks brighter than the past for Paris FC, thanks to their new infrastructure, allowing the club to offer youngsters professional contracts before they reached 20. Their ability to keep hold of youngsters and offer better facilities at their training ground may be the crucial push which propels the forgotten Parisian club back into Ligue 1 after their 40-year absence.