when ASSE flirted with hell

• 1962: express passage to the lower level

ASSE’s first relegation to Division 2 dates back to 1962. The 1961-62 season for the Greens was a paradox. As the club went through all the stages of the Coupe de France and won the trophy, they had more trouble in the league and were relegated to the second division for the first time in their history.

The Greens are fearless. With François Wicart as coach, they flew over the D2 Championship the following season and returned to the elite.

The 1961-1962 season was paradoxical: the Greens were relegated… but won the Coupe de France. Photo Archive Progress / Charly Minassian

• 1964-1982: two decades at the highest level

Since the emergence of 1963, the successes have been linked to each other. The Greens became champions of France in 1964. History is in flux. The following years are fruitful. They won four championships in a row (1967, 1968, 1969 and 1970), three Champions Trophies (1967, 1968 and 1969) and two French Cups (1968 and 1970), ie nine titles in just four years. The Greens dominate French football.

The descent in D2 from a few years ago is largely forgotten. Indeed, the following decade confirmed the hegemony of Saint-Etienne. In addition to the hexagonal dominance (three championships and three French cups between 1974 and 1977), the Greens add European achievements, and in particular the famous epic from 1976 to the final of the C1.

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• 1982: the slush fund affair plunges ASSE back into D2

ASSE’s reign at the top of French football came to an abrupt end in 1982 with the slush fund affair (see below). The resulting reduction in payroll led to the departure of many key players (Michel Platini, Johnny Rep, Patrick Battiston, Bernard Genghini, etc.). The club finished 14th in the 1982-83 season and were relegated the following year, in 1984, after losing a play-off in Geoffroy-Guichard to Jean-Luc Lagardère’s Racing de Paris (0-0 first leg, 0-2 on the far back).

Roger Rocher at the court of Saint-Etienne on September 1 Archive for retro Loire year 1982 Archive photo Progrès

The slush fund affair

The ASSE slush fund, a cash reserve, makes it possible to keep the best players of the club (Platini, Larios, etc.). Under the presidency of Roger Rocher (photo), some of the revenues are said to have been diverted between 1977 and 1982 (sale of Honorary Committee tickets, tickets to friendly matches, cash sales in the Greens’ shop and bistro…).

This money, not declared to the tax authorities, is used to pay, always in a hidden way, the players whose salaries swell with the fame of the team and Europe’s successes. The embezzled amount is estimated at 20 billion francs.

President Roger Rocher was sentenced on May 15, 1991 to 36 months in prison, four of which were closed, and a fine of 800,000 francs.

• 1984-1986: two years to find the elite

The following season, in 1984-85, after a catastrophic start in D2, the Greens climbed the slope and seized the right to play a play-off game in hopes of coming back. But they lost to Stade Rennes (0-2). In the same season, they were eliminated only in the quarter-finals of the Coupe de France, by Lille, thus showing their return to form.

ASSE, coached by Henryk Kasperczak, is once again counting on young people from the training center. The next year will be the good year. The Saint-Etienne club dominated D2 in 1985-1986 and returned to the top at the end of the year.

With 37 goals between 1984 and 1986, Cameroonian striker Roger Milla is a great architect of the Greens’ rise in D1. Photo archive progress

• 1987-1995: the Greens hold out

However, the miracle of 1963 will not happen again. Because the return to the elite is difficult and the young people, no matter how brave they are, are struggling to conserve.

Despite the return of Robert Herbin from 1987 to 1990, ASSE is far from the supremacy of the 60s and 70s, far from the innovative capacity (training, diversified resources, structured organization) that had been its strength. She does not achieve her goal of finding Europe.

Worse, the club is beginning to suffer a chronic deficit. The results are disappointing, even with ambitious recruitment. Relationships within management are difficult. You have to save money. The best players are sold. The financial crisis is weighing on the game, it is the plunging sport. 18th in 1995, ASSE was saved by the ban on Marseille from going back to the first division (the Valenciennes – OM match fixing affair).

• 1996-1999: disaster narrowly avoided

The cleaver does not take long to fall. The Greens were relegated the following year, in 1996, finishing 19th.

The 1996-97 season turned into a nightmare, to the point of fear of descent into National, the third French division. ASSE eventually finished 17th, with a maintenance that would not be completed until the last day. The return of Robert Herbin as sports director in the summer of 1997, with Pierre Repellini as coach, was also catastrophic: red lantern of D2 in the autumn, ASSE was sold to Alain Bompard. On the sporting side, Herbin and Repellini finally manage to save the essence: keeping D2 with a new 17th place.

Alain Bompard surrounds himself with two men: Gérard Soler as deputy chairman and Robert Nouzaret as coach. With few resources, they have accomplished a smart and winning recruit since the Greens returned on a good note to the First Division at the end of the 1998-99 season and won the French D2 Championship.

Alain Bompard (left) and Gérard Soler (right) take over the club in the depths of the D2 and manage to raise it again. Photo archive Progress/Stéphane GUIOCHON

• 2001: false passports and the collapse

The return to the elite continued the following season (1999-2000) with the same dynamism. The Greens finish in 6th place. All hope is allowed.

Unfortunately, it’s a downfall. The affair of the false passports (read below) broke the 2000-2001 season, which had already started badly from a sporting point of view. The legal developments are numerous, the club is threatened with many penalty points (up to seven). This lawsuit has a major impact on players and managers. Four coaches, including Welshman John Toshack, succeed each other in vain. ASSE finished 17th and fell back to D2. At that time, the D1 consisted of 18 teams.

In 2001 there are some similarities with the current situation of the Greens. The season already came to an end in La Beaujoire, against Nantes. The defense is very weak: ASSE conceded 56 goals in 34 games, against 76 goals in 2021-2022 (in 38 days). The Greens record in 2001 is 8 wins, 10 draws and 16 defeats. In 2022 it will be 7 wins, 11 draws and 20 losses.

Photo archive progress

The case of false passports

Since the beginning of the 2000-2001 season, there have been rumors about the legality of the passports of several foreign players in the championship. Among them are three ASSE players: Brazilians Alex and Aloisio (pictured), and Ukrainian goalkeeper Maxim Levitsky. On December 2, 2000, Saint-Étienne faced Toulouse. Alex is the starter. The Greens win, but Toulouse complains.

Alex and Aloisio’s Portuguese passports will turn out to be false, as will Levitsky’s Greek passport. The plan was to enable the club to recruit more foreign players who are not citizens of the European Union, whose number is limited to three.

This is the start of an endless legal marathon. Appeal to appeal, appeal to appeal, the victory over Toulouse, in turn, is confirmed and then annulled. The Greens are also penalized with seven penalty points, which they eventually get back at the end of the season. But the damage has been done: undermined by the turmoil of this affair, ASSE finished penultimate and fell to the second division.

• 2004: a comeback with a bang

Even with D1 expanding from 18 to 20 clubs, it will take the Greens three seasons to earn their ticket to the elite. This happened in 2004, with Frédéric Antonetti at the head of the team. ASSE and Stade Malherbe de Caen crush the D2 championship and find the highest echelons. The Stéphanois are even crowned champions, thanks to a brilliant goal by Damien Bridonneau at the end of the match against Châteauroux, in a boiling cauldron.

Damien Bridonneau bursts with joy: his goal earns ASSE the title of second division. Photo archive Progress/Celik ERKUL

Back in Ligue 1, the club’s new management team consists of Roland Romeyer and Bernard Caïazzo, a duo who still run ASSE. A positive page in the club’s history opens: the Greens recapture the top of the league table, qualify for the European Cup several times and, with Christophe Galtier at the helm, win the League Cup in 2013.

The departure of the coach, in 2017, marks the beginning of the downturn. The seasons are tough and ASSE flirts with relegation several times. Until this 2021-2022 fiscal year, where what had to be done: At the end of a disastrous championship, the Greens had to go through a barrage against Auxerre to stay in Ligue 1.

Photo archive progress

ASSE and roadblocks: a story about falling in love

Until now, the play-off formula never smiled at the Greens. On the contrary, the precedents in ASSE’s history correspond mainly to painful memories for the supporters of Saint-Etienne.

At the end of the 1983-1984 season, the Greens played their survival in the first division against Racing de Paris. After a draw (0-0) in the capital, they lost the return to Geoffroy-Guichard (0-2). Stunned to see their team, champions of France three years earlier, plunge into D2.

A year later, the challenge is similar, but the Greens want to go back this time. However, they have to play a pre-play-off match against Rennes, which they lose, still to Geoffroy-Guichard (0-2). We will have to wait another season to find the elite.

The party is in 1986. ASSE is guaranteed to go back to D1. She is still playing a “match of champions” against … Racing de Paris, to determine who will be crowned champion of D2. The Greens are again defeated (3-2 in Paris, 1-1 in Saint-Etienne). They’ve been promoted, but no champions.

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