John Lichfield: Paris prepares to fall – and the rest of France cheers

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The Independent Online

There is a mocking English football chant: "You're just a small town in London/Liverpool/Manchester". Paris, in football terms, may be about to become a small town in its own right.

If Fulham are relegated, London will be down to its last four Premier League teams. If Paris St-German are relegated, which looks increasingly likely, the French capital will have no teams at all in Ligue 1.

Paris, capital of the vice-champions of the world, will be the only major European capital with no club in the top flight of national football.

It has been a calamitous week and a calamitous season for PSG, a club who seem to lurch from humiliation to disgrace to crisis. On Friday, the French interior ministry ordered the dissolution of the largest of the club's official clans of supporters, Les Boulogne Boys.

Last Sunday, PSG, leading with seven minutes to go, managed to lose 3-2 at home to Nice and fall into the relegation zone of Ligue 1 with five games to play. In between they scrambled a 1-0 cup victory against Carquefou, an amateur team from the fifth level of French football.

PSG have a difficult away match against Caen this evening. If they lose, the richest club in French football, the team supported by the President of the Republic, the club with the longest continuous run in the top flight (34 years), could decorate Ligue 2 next season.

If that happens, most French football fans will cheer. PSG, oddly for a club with only moderate success, is the most hated team in football on this side of the Channel. The PSG entry in the French language version of Wikipedia has special defences against verbal amendments or additions because of "frequent acts of vandalism".

PSG have always been a strange club, one created from a shotgun wedding between two smaller clubs, to occupy the Parc des Princes when it was rebuilt in the early 1970s. The club have had some success, winning the French championship twice (but not since 1994), the French cup seven times and the old European Cup-Winners' Cup (in 1996).

Some fine players have worn the red and blue of PSG: Ronaldinho, David Ginola, Gabriel Heinze. They have a large and passionate base of well-heeled, middle-class fans but also some of the most racist followers in European football.

The Boulogne Boys distinguished themselves, not for the first time, by displaying a 30-metre banner at the League Cup final at the Stade de France last month. Their opponents were Lens, from the industrial north whose oft-mocked local language and culture – Ch'ti – stars in a film which has been a runaway success in the French cinema this spring: Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis.

The Boulogne Boys' enormous banner read: "Paedophiles, unemployed and inbred: Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis". President Nicolas Sarkozy threatened to leave the stadium. Six fans have since been arrested. The "Boys" – who have official status, and their own club room at the Parc des Princes – are to be dissolved under a clause in a two-year-old anti-hooliganism law which has never been used before.

Good riddance. Except that nothing will stop the individual Boulogne Boys occupying the Boulogne-Billancourt end of the Parc and causing even more trouble than before.

The racist reputation of a large fringe of PSG fans cuts off the club from a huge reservoir of football-mad talent in the multiracial suburbs around Paris. The club tends to be supported by the Parisian middle class and the white working classes of the banlieues. When I collect my 14-year-old daughter each Friday from her athletics club at a small stadium in the inner Paris suburbs, teenage boys of several races are gathering for their football training. They wear replica shirts from all over Europe: Arsenal, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United, Milan, Marseilles but never, never PSG.

Paris has arguably the most productive urban soil for football talent outside the slums of Brazil. Thierry Henry, Didier Drogba, Lilian Thuram, Louis Saha, Hatem Ben Arfa were all brought up in greater Paris without playing for PSG. Young players who sign for PSG – Patrice Evra, Nicolas Anelka – rarely succeed there.

That alone does not explain the club's lack of success. The PSG ownership and management structure have always been bizarre. The big French cable TV company, Canal Plus, sold out two years ago and the club are now owned by an American holding company, Colony Capital, a French holding company, Butler Capital Partners and an American bank, Morgan Stanley.

Good players, and good coaches, come to PSG and leave PSG, but rarely succeed there. The present coach, Paul Le Guen, was successful at Lyons, and less successful in a brief stint at Rangers. The present team has players like the Portugal striker, Pauleta, and the France and ex-Monaco winger, Jérôme Rothen. They sometimes play with spirit and skill but rarely for a whole game and never for a whole season.

There always seems to be a moral vacuum at PSG: as if this synthetic club, created to fill a stadium and repair the absence of a top club in the capital, has never truly found an identity or soul. Great clubs need roots but they also need committed hearts and brains. Just ask the disoriented fans of Liverpool.

Brian Viner returns next week

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