Paris Saint-Germain Rugby League (commonly known as Paris Saint-Germain Rugby League, and is also known as PSG Rugby League or PSG RL) was France’s first-ever Super League team.
They were one of the original 12 Super League teams in 1996 who played at Stade Sébastien Charléty in Paris. It seemed the perfect place to grow the game of rugby league; Paris is the capital city and financial centre of France.
When including Paris and Île-de-France (the Paris region), they account for approximately 30 percent of France’s GDP in 2016.
It looked like Paris was the best way to move forward for the rugby league. However, there were problems with Paris, that caused it to fold after only two years in Super League.
Paris Saint-Germain – The Only Original Super League Team Outside of England
Paris Saint-Germain was formed in 1995. It was led by club president and former Rugby Union player and coach, Jacques Fouroux.
Rise of PSG Rugby League
Paris Saint-Germain was established in 1995. Their home opener against the Sheffield Eagles had close to 18,000 fans in the 1996 Super League season opener in Paris. PSG Rugby League won that game 30-24 over the Eagles. This is what Australian stand-off Todd Brown said according to Ash Hope of Total Rugby League.
“It was great, you had the French Rugby League supporters who were mostly based in the South and the PSG supporters didn’t know much about Rugby League, but were loyal and very passionate.”
There were also a lot of French players playing for Paris Saint-Germain. This is because French players also played in the Elite One Competition. Therefore the PSG RL players hardly got a break. This is what Brown said in Hope’s article:
“The French competition started in September and finished at the end of March. We played the French Championship final on the Saturday and then about 10 of us backed up on the Monday to play Castleford.”
As a result, Paris Saint-Germain finished with the second-worst record in Super League. It was clear that things needed to change.
John Kear was drafted as an RFL (Rugby Football League) director. His logic was to avoid relegation at all costs according to Hope. However, it had a lot to do with PSG RL not doubling up fixtures as Kear explains:
“People wondered why they got better, people put it down to the coaching so I’ll take some credit for it, but basically a lot of it was that they were only playing one game a week,” he quipped.
Unfortunately, PSG RL still had a bad record in the 1996 Super League season. They finished with only three wins, one draw, and 18 losses, which resulted in seven points. They were also only two points above the relegation zone.
Fall of PSG RL
The 1997 Super League season was PSG RL’s last. In fact, the PSG RL team could have folded before the 1997 Super League season. They had a budget of 13 million francs but fell short. As a result, according to Paris.canal-historique, PSG RL only had three French players on the team in 1997.
On the field, the attendance was dropping. For example, when PSG RL faced the Salford Reds (now the Salford Red Devils) Paris only drew 500 fans.
This was the lowest attendance of all games attended for the Super League in 1997. According to James Gordon of Total Rugby League, PSG RL only drew 3,500 fans in the 1997 Super League season.
Some of it had to do with the team losing. In their second season, they were only three points above the relegation zone with six wins and 16 losses, which resulted in 12 points. It was though an improvement from last season.
However, a scandal of PSG RL soon followed. Some players for PSG RL had tourist visas to avoid certain taxes in France. This was in the placement of employment contracts.
Unfortunately, this scandal never escaped Paris Saint-Germain. It played a pivotal role in its demise. However, they were some highlights in PSG RL’s 1997 season.
In the 1997 World Club Challenge, PSG RL shocked the Australian team the Western Reds 24-0. They also defeated the Wigan Warriors in the 1997 Super League season. At the time the Warriors was one of the best teams in the Super League.
Robert Elstone and his time with Paris Saint-Germain
Current Super League chief executive Robert Elstone also spent time with Paris Saint-Germain according to Marc Bazeley of Sky Sports RL. This is what he said about the first-ever Super League game in Paris.
“It kind of beat all expectations in the end and it turned out to be a pretty special night.”
Super League Rewind⏪
Paris St Germain🇫🇷 vs Sheffield Eagles🦅 – March 29, 1996
— Sky Sports Rugby League (@SkySportsRL) March 24, 2020
However, as explained before, the team never was high on Paris’s radar. Elstone explains how the PSG RL experiment went:
“We never really galvanised the support of the football club and never did in any meaningful way in terms of the business or public sector communities in Paris.”
Elstone also mentioned, according to Bazeley, that Paris is a challenging city to break into. Unless someone had a large budget, a professional sports team in Paris would likely not work.
Significance and Legacy of Paris Saint-Germain
Paris was unable to sustain a professional rugby league team. However, it gave France its first-ever taste of Super League action. The Catalan Dragons XIII, which is based in Perpignan is now France’s lone Super League team.
Perpignan applied to join Super League in 2005. They beat both Toulouse Olympique and Villeneuve Leopards to enter the 2006 Super League season. The Dragons won the 2018 Challenge Cup, which was the first and only time the Challenge Cup has been won by a team outside of the United Kingdom.
Furthermore, Toulouse Olympique XIII is also in the Rugby Football League structure. They joined the RFL in 2009 but left in 2012. However, they came back for good in 2016 in League One, the third-tier of the RFL. They were promoted to the second-tier Championship with a 32-22 win in the League One promotion final against the Barrow Raiders in 2016. Toulouse has remained in the Championship since that win over the Raiders.
EN CHAMPIONSHIP !!!! pic.twitter.com/NsVDaQWYKM
— Toulouse Olympique XIII (@TOXIII) October 1, 2016
It would not be surprising if they also get promoted in the Super League in the short-term. Both teams are based in the south-west of France in the region of Occitanie. This has long been considered the heartland of the sport of rugby league in France.
This is what Laurent Lucchese, former French rugby league player said in Hope’s article:
🏆VAINQUEURS DE LA CHALLENGE CUP 2018 🏆 pic.twitter.com/n1eQeFGmMa
— Dragons Catalans (@DragonsOfficiel) August 25, 2018
This might have been the case for Paris in 1997. However, expanding into non-traditional markets should not be abandoned.
This can clearly be seen with the Toronto Wolfpack, who averaged more than 7,000 fans in 2019. This is more than double the fans PSG RL had in the 1997 Super League season.
Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images