United Abroad….St Etienne

European Cup Winners Cup….. 1st Round (First Leg) 14th September 1977


Geoffrey Guichard Stadium

Not the Russians in Afghanistan, But UNITED in St Etienne


Lots of people reading this article were not even born when this match was played and those of us that were around, Cor Blimey I suddenly feel old!. Its a struggle to remember everything that happened on this trip down memory lane, I’ll try to give you a perspective of what actually happened, and the story of my passage to the Loire region of France.                                                                                                                                                What Else Happened in 1977: Elvis Presley died; Jim Callaghan was the prime Minister, leader of the governing Labour party, with everybody going on strike at various occasions during the year, the country was in a right mess! Sound Familiar to anyone, even the old Bill (police) voted to strike at one point. The Twin Towers, World Trade Center in New York were finished and opened, but what will surprise most people is that!   And remember this actually happened on the 10th September 1977 the day before we set off for France, The Last person to be guillotined in France, had his sentence carried out. Hamida Djandoubi was executed for the torture slaying of his girlfriend, who he was trying to get, to go on the game. A doctor, who was present, reported that Hamida’s body was still responsive thirty seconds after he had been decapitated. So using the guillotine as a way to commute the Death sentence was replaced by more conventional methods.                                     Again I have to emphasize this was 1977 there was no Easyjet, Ryanair, FlyBe or any Budget airlines, it didn’t seem conceivable for us to fly, them days you went by train, or drove and if you didn’t have a car you Hitched!  I was lucky enough to have a twin brother who was kind enough to lend me his eight year old Vauxhall Viva with its brand new re-conditioned engine.

So on Sunday the 11th September, less than twenty fours after old Hamida had his head removed from his shoulders, Me, a fellow apprentice from work Moll (Maurice) and Gruff (Colin) packed the car with our Bell bottom jeans, Butterfly collar shirts and Platform shoes, we all brought baked beans, oh and the family tent, as much like Flying, staying in Hotels wasn’t included in our plans. Heading forDover, we stopped just outside Maidstone in Kent, to pick up a mate Phil (The Dill), the forth person in our party, who we’d got to know at Old Trafford on match days. Phil took us to his local working mans club in Teston for a few beers at lunchtime, before his Mum served up Sunday lunch.We caught a late afternoon ferry from Dover to Calais, setting up the tent in a camp site overlooking the Port of Calais, and after getting something to eat (Baked Beans) went looking for a bar.

                                            Monday 12th September, Up nice and early we all had a nice cup of tea and a cooked Breakfast of (Baked Beans) before heading south, taking the coastal road to Boulogne and Abbeville then onto Beauvais, on the outskirts of which we stopped for a brew and a quick snack (Baked Beans). And we found a bit of luxury in the towns toilets, some English style sit down one’s, so far we’d only come across the hole in the ground continental shitters, unfortunately the seats were in a right state though. Anyway we must have been short on conversation as we continued towards Paris, because I remember the chat soon turned to how we dealt with dirty toilet seats. I know its disgusting but when blokes get together after Football and Women, it’s not long before toilet habits rears its ugly head, one covered the seat in bog paper, one hovered without actually making contact with the seat, Phil cleaned it when he went in, and I lifted the seat, used the having a slash stance except aiming my backside toward the pan, it felt like I pissing out my arse anyway after only eating beans for two days. We reached the centre of Paris early in the afternoon, yes the centre, all I remember is Phil had said he knew the way, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I’m certain Bonnie Tyler wrote her hit single in 1983 about our drive through Paris, it was called “lost in France” and we certainly were, on the plus side from now on, I could tell people I have seen the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomph, and Longchamp the famous racecourse, where we found a quality campsite and considered staying the night but decided against it, as it was still light and didn’t want to be driving out of Paris early in the morning, More with luck than judgement we managed to get out of Paris, heading south and even managed to end up on the road we required. Fontainebleau was the lucky town we decided to bestow our custom that night, setting up the tent, having our usual dinner, and finding a bar.

Tuesday 13th September, Much the same as the previous day really, apart from not getting lost that is!… As I have already mentioned earlier Flying and Hotels were not in our remit, I forgot to mention so were Toll Roads too much money! The route we went, took us through three of the most beautiful towns imaginable Nemours, Nevers and Roanne on route to Lyon all of which stand on the River Loire I think! Stopping for a quick beer in each of them. Just letting you know I have got a cultural side, which a lot of people didn’t think existed. In Lyon we found a campsite habited with loads of reds, so we pitched tent had some grub, changed into our best gear, yes Holmsie I have got some! John Travolta eat your heart out,Lyon lock up your Daughter’s we’re heading into town looking for a disco!Except we didn’t, the fucking car wouldn’t start. “All dressed up and no where to go” is the saying, apart from the dingy Camp Cafe that is, Shiny white suits weren’t really the attire for such a dump anyway, especially when the temperature dropped and I put on my Donkey Jacket, i never quite took off as a fashion guru!

Wednesday 14th September, Match day, but would the car start? Luckily for us some of the reds that had made it into town last night had returned safely, admittedly a bit worse for wear, but still more knowledgeable in motor mechanics than any of us. One lad diagnosed the problem straight away…” It’s Your Starter Motor”  He used all the old tricks of the trade, Rocking the Car, side to side and some other stuff, I can’t remember what, but it worked and the little Beauty started. We were in St Etienne before 10am, parked up just off the town square and embarked on a day of debauchery!                                                        The town square is slowly beginning to fill with fellow reds and a fair few locals who haven’t seen anything like it since liberation in WW2. The Testosterone is still pumping after last nights disappointment and it’s not long before me and moll have got a couple Mademoiselle’s in tow, taking us to the best bars, I must have exchanged addresses, but I didn’t remember doing it, anyway for weeks after, I kept getting letters written in Pigeon English from one of them. And I know is Maaauurrriiiccee  (Moll) That’s how they prounced Maurice, kept in touch with his bird for along while after.

                                      Everything seemed peaceful in the town square as United’s numbers multiplied and the beers started to flow, but by early afternoon the police presence was clearly visible and they seemed agitated. I know nowadays if you hang around the town centre, singing and jumping in the fountains you get labelled a barmy! But back then it was the cool thing to do. And with limited knowledge of European travel it was always the meeting place, nowadays you can plot up in a quiet boozer somewhere, and ring around your mates to meet up..

We are lapping up the French beer in all the café’s and Bars and as usual the licensee” likes our money but not our behaviour and end having to drink bottles in the square with the rest of the throng. The girls are suitable impressed when Gruff and I invite them to join us in the water fountain sat in there singing and drinking beer, what girl wouldn’t!  Well the old Bill didn’t and they suddenly lost it and started nicking everyone left right and centre. I saw them coming and tried to leg it but I got caught and ended up in the back of a van, Gruff got away and Moll was rescued away by the two girls, as I looked around Phil the Dil was already sat in there. The van started to leave the square to take us away, when the driver saw a group of Drenched united fans down some side street and took chase, the van screeched to a halt and all the old bill jumped out and chased them, everyone looked at each other in the van, I thought fuck it! Lets try the door, and it opened, I couldn’t believe it, so i am off, like a rat up a drain, down the road. Phil made his escape as well, but about six other lads just sat there like Lemons, and ended up missing the game. I never saw Phil, Moll or the girls again that afternoon, but found Gruff in some little bar well away from the Town Square; sirens were going all afternoon so we thought it best to keep our heads down in this Bar until kick off. We carried on guzzling and got absolutely blitzed until about an hour before kick-off, leaving the bar pissed and no idea where the ground is, I remember buying some Bread, French Sticks and savaging them, we sat down on the side of the road to rest. I honestly think at this point Gruff and I did not care if we got to the game or not, in fact we had even fallen asleep for a few minutes, when a car beeping its horn woke us up, some French bloke gesticulating something, I think he knew we were English and was offering to take us to the stadium. Our new-found friend dropped us at the stadium where unbelievably we meet up again with Phil and Moll who help us into the ground, Phil leads us to what was supposedly the United End, but it was packed in there, not just United Fans but French family type supporters’ so it was decided to go in their End, where it seemed quite lively, and they were booming out their song ALLEZ LES VERTE’S Allez..By the time the game started there must have been about two hundred United fans in their end, looking from the United End we are at the top on the right hand side. We have now adopted their anthem, and are returning song with ALLEZ LES ROUGE Allez. The French now started throwing chunks of French bread at us, not in an aggressive tone I admit, more Mickey taking really, as back home in England we were in the middle of a bread strike. But then Plastic bottles filled with Piss were being thrown, so we charged across the terraces and pushed them more than half way across the end, pass the goalmouth, As usual in the seventies a sort of no mans land appeared and both sets of fans bounced about inviting the other side to “Come On” suddenly this French Bloke stepped into no mans land waving his arms about telling everybody to “Calm Down” and “Cool it”

A still pissed Gruff stepped into the gap with him; I thought to mediate, Really! And just sticks the nut on this bloke and we charge again. Their fans panic and start trying to climb over the fence to take refuge on the pitch. In the meantime the Riot police come in and push us back, then squeeze us into, again looking from the other end, the bottom right hand corner, towards yet another line of Riot police, shoving us out the stadium but making us run a gauntlet of batons while exiting.    Manchester United fans were public enemy number one in those days, so as you can imagine the English press had a field day, and spent the next few days slaughtering United fans and labelling us Barbarians who have shamed the country.Incidentally no one was killed! But we then and still to this day are treated like Lepers’ unlike another unmentionable set of supporters who have been involved in Mass murder, but are permanently loved up! By the media.                                                                                 And this sort of headline was common place. It didn’t help our parents’ reading stuff like that, who were worried sick, and with No Mobiles, Internet, etc it was hard to let them know you are safe.  Anyway after our ignominious  early exit from the stadium, The match actually finished 1-1 and St Etienne, France’s premier team at the time, played some good football and United were happy to leave with a draw, so I am told, and with all hell breaking loose we headed back to town, jumped in the car and started to drive…Everyone is totally knackered, Gruff fell asleep when we set off and never woke again until the morning, ether that or he pretended to be sleeping so he didn’t have put the tent up.                 Nevertheless the first quiet spot we could find, north of St Etienne was chosen as a makeshift campsite, we were too tired to find a proper site. I just remember it been absolutely pitch black, and having to use our headlights, when we pitched tent, three of crashed out in the tent leaving Gruff in the motor. Anyway and god knows what time it was, but it was starting to get light, the three of were woken with a thunderous noise, Whoosh! The ground shuddering and the tent blowing from side to side, and then silence. We just looked at each and went back to kip, a few minutes later exactly the same thing again…Whoosh! Next minute the three of us are sticking our heads out the tent…..Like a scene in a carry on film, to see what the fuck! Was that?  In the meantime another Whoosh! And it’s then we realise we have set up camp, on the Hard shoulder of a motorway, it is Juggernauts driving by, gusting the tent away. It’s not long before we have all joined Gruff back in the car.

Thursday 15th September                                                                                              Due to last night’s disastrous navigation and campsite location, we have an early start and take the same scenic journey towards Paris; it never seems to looks as pretty second time around. We still have plenty of beans of left, so stop on route to have our fix and a cuppa. By late afternoon we have reached Paris, this time deliberately and have set up the tent in the campsite we found in our impromptu visit to the French capital on Monday, planning a night on the tiles in the iconic city of Paris on the river Seine. We weren’t the only reds here either, and during next few hours our numbers swelled to about two hundred, some battered and bruised courtesy of the French Riot Police, and even a couple of Dicks who stayed in the police van, when we made our escape, that’s how I knew they missed the game, some others hadn’t got in either, having arrived late at the ground, they were caught up in our unwanted evacuation. The bar on site was becoming really lively and you’d think it was match day, so did the old bill, our reputation must have preceded us, after last nights shenanigans. Everyone’s plans of a night in Paris were scuppered, when the Riot Police surrounded the campsite and would not let anyone leave. This campsite must have been two hundred and fifty miles from St Etienne, to have this many fans turn up unplanned like this just would never happen nowadays. We all got pissed anyway, and had real laugh with some of the lads on site, with me been so quiet and reserved all the non-English present wished they had stayed in a different camp that night.                                                                                                                             

Friday 16th September                                                                                                    Time to go home! We get up, pack up and go, well that was the plan, but the Vauxhall Viva decided to play up again, so we called upon the help of the still present united fans to give us a bump start, pushing on grass isn’t easy and we started with about five pushing us, but she wouldn’t start, eventually we had a crowd of about fifty trying to help, and when the engine kicked in everyone cheered and waved us on our way. We had one more stop to make before leaving France, and that was a visit to a boulangerie and stock up with sticks of French bread, because with the Bread strike back home, it’s a way for us all to get back in our parents good books after they have been having kittens, worrying about us for past four days. We dropped Phil off and headed home, I got home Friday night and managed to get the last hour in my local, to meet a few mates, and talk about tomorrows impending visit of Chelsea to Old Trafford, rumour has it they are actually  bringing a mob, but only if they get a police escort. That’s another story anyway. … Well that’s the story behind the 1977 Cup Winners Cup, 1st Round, First Leg    The repercussions that followed meant United Were Banned from the competition,But this was later overturned.Here’s a link to BBC nine o’clock news announcing the Ban…                   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=800TKQh2MoU

8 thoughts on “United Abroad….St Etienne

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