AS Saint-Etienne are one of the great names in French football, a club whose glorious history ensures they remain one of the best-supported sides in the country and whose green shirt is one of the most iconic in Europe. Ligue1.com tells you all you need to know about Les Verts…
The club first came to life in 1919, created for the workers of the Casino supermarket group based in Saint-Etienne. Casino was even part of the name of the club at the very beginning. Following a merger with another local outfit, the club became the Association Sportive Stéphanoise in 1927 before turning professional in 1933 and adopting its current name, Association Sportive de Saint-Etienne. They began the professional era playing in the second tier, but won promotion to the top flight for the first time in 1938 under the Englishman Teddy Duckworth. They finished fourth that year in an impressive introduction to the elite, but the outbreak of World War II followed a few months later and they had to wait until 1945 to begin their second season in the top tier. Les Verts were runners-up in that first campaign back, but that early post-war era was dominated by the likes of Lille, OGC Nice and Stade de Reims.
Nevertheless, Saint-Etienne grew steadily into a force to be reckoned with under coach Jean Snella, a former player for the club. They won their first trophy in 1955, lifting the Coupe Charles Drago, a now defunct competition for teams eliminated early from the Coupe de France. Their first league title followed in 1957, as Sainté finished four points clear of RC Lens at the top. That gave the club a crack at the European Cup for the first time in the following campaign, but it was a short-lived adventure, as Saint-Etienne lost 4-3 on aggregate to Scottish giants Rangers in the preliminary round.
Two decades of dominance
Snella had laid the groundwork for the club to go on and dominate the French game for two decades from the early 1960s to the early 1980s. He was not in charge when they won their first Coupe de France in 1962, a bittersweet success as they were also relegated that season. Nevertheless, that campaign proved to be the beginning of a glorious era, as they came straight back up as second-tier champions and then won the league straight away on their return to the top flight in the 1963-64 season. Snella was now back in charge, André Guy was banging in the goals and the great Robert Herbin was now a key part of the side. Saint-Etienne were champions again in 1967, finishing four points clear of reigning champions FC Nantes.
Snella departed after that triumph, and was replaced by Albert Batteux, the man who had won five league titles in charge of Reims. Batteux picked up where Snella had left off, winning a league and cup double in his first season in charge. Inspired by the goals of Hervé Revelli and the brilliant Malian Salif Keïta, they were champions again in 1969 and then won another league and cup double in 1969-70, making it four consecutive league titles for the club. Les Verts also claimed their first major European scalp in 1969-70 as they beat Bayern Munich in the first round of the European Cup, but Batteux was unable to take the team on any lengthy runs in continental competitions.
Batteux left in 1972 and was replaced by a 33-year-old Herbin. With a team built around a host of players to have emerged from their youth set-up, Herbin took Sainté to another league and cup double in 1974, and then another in 1974-75. That was arguably the greatest season in the club’s history, as they finished nine points clear of Olympique de Marseille at the top of the league, beat Lens in the Cup final, and reached the semi-finals of the European Cup. That run featured a famous win over Hajduk Split in the second round before they were eventually beaten by Bayern in the semi-finals.
With Saint-Etienne at the peak of their powers, they won a third straight league title in 1976 and also reached the final of the European Cup, becoming just the second French side to do so. Herbin’s team beat Rangers, Dynamo Kiev and PSV Eindhoven on the way to another showdown with Bayern, this time in the final in Glasgow. Herbin’s team were unlucky to lose the final 1-0, and their misfortune that night is remembered in Saint-Etienne legend as being down to the square goal-posts of Hampden, the 'poteaux carrés’.
That year proved to be a high point for the club, although the following season saw them win another Coupe de France and go down to Liverpool in another memorable European tie, this time in the European Cup quarter-finals. Michel Platini joined the club in 1979 and was the catalyst for one last glorious spell alongside Dutchman Johnny Rep. Saint-Etienne won their 10th league title in 1981 - a 10th in 25 years - with Platini scoring 29 goals in that run. However they lost that year’s Coupe de France final to Bastia and were beaten in the final again the following year, after which Platini departed for Juventus.
Decline and revival
The decline set in after that, with long-serving president Roger Rocher standing down in an illicit payments scandal. Herbin departed during the following season, and Saint-Etienne were relegated in 1984. In the years that followed, there were brief moments of success, like a run to fourth place under the returning Herbin in 1988, but the club were relegated again in 1996 and even came close to dropping into the third tier after that. They came back up to the elite in 1999 but spent three more years in Ligue 2 after being relegated at the end of a 2000-01 campaign marred by a scandal over false passports implicating some of their foreign players.
Since those years Saint-Etienne have gradually become a force to be reckoned with again. Christophe Galtier restored them to something like their former glories in eight years in charge between 2009 and 2017. They have become top-six regulars again, enjoyed European runs, and ended a trophy drought of more than three decades when they won the Coupe de la Ligue in 2013, beating Stade Rennais FC in the final. They also made it through to the final of this season’s Coupe de France, in which they are due to face Paris Saint-Germain.
Saint-Etienne owe their iconic green shirts to their link with Casino. Green is also the colour of the major French supermarket chain, based in Saint-Etienne and who were behind the creation of the original club back in 1919. The star on the club’s badge marks their 10 league titles, which remains a French record.
Instantly recognisable with his perm-like mop of red hair, Herbin was a defender and midfielder in some brilliant Saint-Etienne sides between 1957 and 1972. He went on to become coach in 1972 at the age of just 33, replacing Albert Batteux in the dugout and overseeing four more league titles wins, three Coupe de France triumphs, and the run to the European Cup final in 1976. He made almost 500 appearances as a player. Only René Domingo, captain of the first Saint-Etienne title-winning team in 1957, has made more.
With 209 goals, Revelli is Saint-Etienne’s all-time top scorer. He is also in their top-10 list of all-time appearance-makers. Revelli played for the club between 1966 and 1971, and then returned in 1973 after a two-year stint at Nice. He remained until 1978. He won seven league titles with the club and played in the team that lost the 1976 European Cup final to Bayern Munich. Revelli was also the league’s leading goal-scorer on two occasions while at the club, in 1967 and again in 1970.
Platini was the star of the last great Saint-Etienne side. He joined the club from Nancy in 1979 and scored 20 goals in the side that won the title in 1981, to this date the last league championship won by Les Verts. He top-scored again the following season, but Saint-Etienne finished as runners-up in the league and the Coupe de France and he departed in 1982 for Juventus, where he enjoyed the best years of his career.
Stadium: Stade Geoffroy-Guichard
Saint-Etienne’s home since 1931 is named after Geoffroy Guichard, the founder of the Casino supermarket chain who was a resident of the city. It has undergone several renovations before hosting matches at major tournaments, from the 1984 European Championship to the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2016. It is popularly known as Le Chaudron, or The Cauldron.
The record attendance of 47,747 was set at at Coupe de France quarter-final against Lille in 1985. The south end of the ground is named after club legend Jean Snella, and the stadium also houses a museum dedicated to the rich history of Les Verts.
Did you know?
The city of Saint-Etienne was once a centre of the coal mining industry, situated at the heart of the Loire coal mining basin. The mines have long since closed, but the city remains proud of its heritage and new signings are given a miner’s lamp on joining Saint-Etienne. Current coach Claude Puel received one in a ceremony at a pétanque venue earlier this season. The club says the lamp is an "object symbolising the history of the city of Saint-Etienne" and carries the values of "hard work and bravery".