Anna turns her profiling eye to the joy and the sheer madness that is Uncle Gigi’s ‘hood.
When I first got into rugby, there was never a question of if I would fall in love with Stade Francais. It was only ever a matter of how long it would take…
Stade Francais, in their current guise, are a marketing dream come true in glorious technicolour. While it would be very easy to be cynical about the commercial success of the club, it is also difficult to not be impressed by their rise to notoreity in French rugby after a half century slump.
The club dates back to 1883, though you’d be forgiven for not knowing about those first hundred years or so, despite early success, as the modern day Stade Francais tends to… overshadow, shall we say, the club’s origins. It was in 1992, when businessman Max Guazzini took over as president, that Stade properly stepped into the limelight and started to become the elite squad that we have come to recognise in all their rose-tinted glory.
Uncle Max (or Gigi, as the Manpilez ladies affectionately know him) had a simple vision: to give the people of Paris a team that they could support and love. Bernard Laporte was drafted in as Head Coach and turned the tide for Stade, taking them from the third to first division over the course of three seasons. Gigi, meanwhile, was weaving his marketing magic to get those Parisien bottoms on seats and suddenly Stade Francais CASG was an all-singing, all-dancing, cheerleading, flag-waving force to be reckoned with. Then came the shirts. And the calendars.
The boys have come close to Heineken Cup glory twice, being pipped at the post by Leicester and Toulouse in 2001 and 2005 respectively. Their 2009-10 outing proved to be disappointing as they were, frankly, washed by Toulouse and sent out in the Quarter Finals. Stade’s last season was a bit of a nightmare all in all, so they’ll certainly be hoping for better things in 2010-11 and I fear they could do worse than the Big Man himself, Sergio Parisse, stepping up to take on skipper duties. Godspeed, Stade. You just might be my second team, at least for the next season…
Words by Anna, Pictures by Stade Francais