Pitch storming results in injuries and arrests in France as Saint-Etienne are relegated

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For the second time in as many days, Sunday witnessed shocking scenes at a soccer game in France as AS Saint-Etienne were relegated from Ligue 1 on penalties, which enabled AJ Auxerre to return to the top flight via the playoffs. After the chaos at Stade de France on Saturday for the Champions League final, home supporters stormed the pitch at Stade Geoffroy Guichard moments after Les Verts’ Sunday relegation to Ligue 2 was confirmed 5-4 on penalties. According to local authorities, 33 people suffered minor injuries in Saint-Etienne with 14 police, 17 spectators and two Auxerre players injured.

The madness continued as spectators left the stadium with visiting fans unable to leave until long after the final whistle once the irate ASSE supporters had finished their damaging spree, which also saw home players’ cars targeted. Such sad scenes mirror the current state of affairs for some of French soccer’s elite with the 10-time Ligue 1 champions joining fellow fallen giants Girondins de Bordeaux in the second tier for next season, while AS Nancy Lorraine have tumbled into Championnat National 1 – the semi-professional third tier.

Saint-Etienne, once the darlings of the French game, winning eight of their 10 league titles and all six of their Coupe de France crowns in a 12-year period from the early 1960’s into the late 70’s, have fallen on hard times in recent years.

The ownership of maligned pair Bernard Caiazzo and Roland Romeyer brought the 2013 Coupe de la Ligue success but allowed stagnation to set in as one of the traditional domestic soccer powers began their decline after nearly eight years of stability under an emerging Christophe Galtier.

Between them, Saint-Etienne and Bordeaux will boast 16 French titles in Ligue 2 next season, and that is assuming that neither falls further via forced administrative relegation this summer which is a very real possibility for Les Girondins after their provisional relegation to the second tier was ultimately overturned last offseason.

Saint-Etienne, one of the two French clubs eligible to boast a star above their crest along with dominant current force Paris Saint-Germain, already announced moments after relegation was confirmed that there will soon be news on the club’s future with David S. Blitzer expected to add Les Verts to his growing portfolio of soccer teams imminently.

Replacing the relegated clubs, including FC Metz, will be Ligue 2 champions Toulouse FC, AC Ajaccio of Corsica and Auxerre, with the latter back among the French elite for the first time since their 2012 relegation, which was the same season as Montpellier HSC’s unexpected title success ahead of newly-minted PSG.

Auxerre have one Ligue 1 title and four Coupe de France successes to their name and are synonymous with their legendary former coach Guy Roux who led the club from 1961-2005 and oversaw each of those five major domestic triumphs in his 44-year reign.

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The Bourgogne Franche Comte outfit, now owned by Chinese businessman James Zhou, is also known for the youth academy nurtured by Roux, which has famously produced the likes of Djibril Cisse, Philippe Mexes and Eric Cantona to name just a few.

So, while Saint-Etienne and Bordeaux will leave big holes in Ligue 1 as they go, the likes of Auxerre do arrive in Le Championnat with some pedigree as French soccer’s domestic landscape undergoes significant change.

However, the backdrop of fan trouble and questionable spectator safety continues to threaten the game’s image outside of France with this past weekend’s ugly scenes sadly similar to others seen in Nice, Lyon, Lens and Nancy.

With the Olympics coming to Paris in 2024, France has significant work to do to eradicate these continuing ugly scenes which continue to undermine French soccer in particular.

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