Leftist politicians were up in arms on Friday after a US investment firm purchased a beloved blue-collar football club, Red Star, warning that a French cultural and sporting icon could wither in American hands.
Third-division Red Star, rendered in English for reasons obscure, is one of France’s oldest clubs, created in 1897 by the World Cup founder Jules Rimet.
While the club’s performance on the pitch has not always matched its popularity, Red Star’s bastion in the gritty northern Paris suburb of Saint-Ouen is hallowed ground for working-class fans, many of whom have fond memories of the area’s Communist past.
A match on April 15 had to be abandoned after supporters inundated the pitch with smoke bombs to protest the purchase by Miami-based 777 Partners, a private equity group focusing on finance businesses.
Hard-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon, who is forging an alliance to challenge President Emmanuel Macron in parliamentary elections next month, was among several politicians who signed an open letter in Le Monde daily denouncing the takeover.
“For us, Red Star is a common good that cannot be sacrificed on the altar of profit,” they wrote, urging the government to scupper the sale and defend “a different vision of football.”
Fans claim that 777 is buying up the club, and the pool of potential talent in the low-income neighbourhoods that surround it, to pluck players for its other clubs.
The firm also owns Standard Liege in Belgium, Genoa in Italy and Vasco de Gama in Brazil, and says it has a “major stake” in Spanish first division side Sevilla.
Red Star’s former majority owner Patrice Haddad vowed that 777 would respect the club’s DNA and its “human aspect.”
“How can we protect accessible football if we don’t have the resources? How can we have tickets costing just 10 euros? You need money for all that,” he told sports daily L’Equipe this week.