A club without memory is a club without a future. In Saint-Etienne, for lack of a happy present, nostalgia for a delicious past is carefully cultivated. From the time when the heart of French football was beating in a cauldron and when a European epic had dyed the country green. From its deep roots, dug to the conduits of the Forez mines, ASSE decided ten years ago to make it a museum. The first in the history of French football that only Lyon, since, has imitated. Before the pandemic, 45,000 people a year visited it.
If the Musée des Verts opened in December 2013, within the Geoffroy-Guichard stadium, it owes it first to a passionate person. Philippe Gastal, 60, is the museum’s curator. The suitable man as his life has been marked with a green iron. “My first match was the final of the Coupe de France, on May 31, 1970 between ASSE and Nantes (5-0) in Colombes, he said. In front of me, there was Bosquier, Keita, Jacquet, Revelli and this legendary outfit with the names of the players on the shorts. It was like love at first sight. “
The helping hand of Platini and Curkovic
The rest of his life will be a long green thread. Hundreds of matches in Saint-Etienne and on the move for the young Auvergnat, who became a doctor in pharmacy. Founder of the supporters’ section of ASSE in Montpellier, he was transferred to Saint-Etienne in 1991. He volunteered to comment on the club’s matches to produce video K7s which were then sold to supporters.
“Our record is 1,200 sales of a friendly match against the great AC Milan in 1995,” he relishes. He will also take care of the Greens’ shop. “In the early 2000s, I had the idea of a museum. The then president, Alain Bompard, gave me his consent and we even thought of a place next to the stadium. But the club went back down to Ligue 2 and the project remained dormant. Even if I forged links with a lot of former players at the same time. “
The real kickoff is given with the announcement of the renovation of the stadium for Euro 2016. But Geoffroy-Guichard then belongs to the city and political dissensions bogged down the project. It will take the intervention of Michel Platini, then president of UEFA and ex-goalkeeper Ivan Curkovic, who put pressure on the elected officials at each passage to Geoffroy-Guichard, to give the final impetus to the project. 800 square meters are reserved for the museum and Philippe Gastal can resume his quest. “I had moments of happiness like when Rachid Mekhloufi gave us his shoes for the 1962 Coupe de France final with which he scored two goals. Or, to complete the route of his childhood, the tracksuit worn by Salif Keita on the day of the 1970 final against Nantes.
Curkovic’s Mercedes windshield doubles as a screen to project videos
Gastal also remembers the day he recovered the green tunic worn by Stéphane captain René Domingo during the first of six ASSE French Cup victories in 1962. “He had promised it to me for a long time, saying that ‘he would offer it on the day of the museum’s inauguration. He died seven months before and it was his family who brought it to us. “
One of the museum’s most notable pieces is Ivan Curkovic’s Mercedes when he played at ASSE and offered himself with his qualifying bonus for the European final. “One day he called me while he was in Serbia,” Gastal remembers. He told me to go to Cannes where he still had a second home and gave me the address of a garage where his old Mercedes was still in working order. He gives it to the museum. On the windshield, we project videos of the Greens. “
Donations have poured in. The family of President Roger Rocher notably offered one of his famous pipes. But the must-see of the museum is obviously the exhibition of the famous square posts, hit twice by Bathenay and then Santini during the 1976 Greens final in Glasgow against Bayern Munich. This symbol of the excuses of the time, where “with if”, the French would have won all their matches.
“If you only knew the number of people that I saw cry when leaving the museum”
“We knew they were kept in Hampden Park in Glasgow,” says Gastal. It was again Ivan Curkovic who was the trigger. One day he called me and told me that he was in the penalty area where he conceded the only goal of the final and that he had just seen the famous posts in a room. Philippe, we have to put them in the museum, he told me. These posts, half rotten by time, belonged to a pool of private shareholders. For the only time, ASSE will spend money, 20,000 euros, to offer them.
If the Covid crisis is resolved, the museum’s next big moment is scheduled for September 13, 2021. It will be the 90th anniversary of the inauguration of the Geoffroy-Guichard stadium. The museum will then exhibit one of the shirts worn on the day of the first match. A friendly meeting between the Association Sportive Stéphanoise, ancestor of ASSE, and Sporting Saint-Etienne.
Gastal, an employee of the club since 2013, after 25 years of volunteering, still has quests. “I’m looking for one of the 1975 final jerseys with the nice RTL logo. The day of a legendary goal from Jean-Michel Larqué. But I can not. But the main thing is the soul of this museum. Everyone can find a little personal history or relive the passion of a loved one. If you only knew how many people I saw cry on the way out… ”