Fire up the flux capacitor and set the co-ordinates for the 1970s as we take a trip back in time to when Le Coq Sportif and Saint-Étienne came close to ruling European football!
Nineteen seventy-six was the year Star Wars began filming in Tunisia, the year that Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak founded Apple, and the year temperatures soared in the UK’s long hot summer.
Elsewhere, the delicious nonchalance of Antonín Panenka’s chipped penalty defeated holders West Germany at Euro ’76, giving schoolboys everywhere another chance to practice spelling C-Z-E-C-H-O-S-L-O-V-A-K-I-A.
This was also the year when Saint-Étienne came close to winning the European Cup in a shirt so cool it is commonly regarded as one of the best of all time.
The 1970s were a very important era in the evolution of the football shirt.
As shinier fabrics glowed under the floodlights, clubs in France had woken up to the commercial opportunies offered by football and colour television.
Le Coq Sportif had been applying their logo to the front of shirts for a few years before the French FA struck a deal with mineral water magnates Vittel for all sides to wear their name in Coupe de France matches, all the way back in 1968.
The deal was so far ahead of its time it predictably led to protest and boycotts, however, Valenciennes became the first to wear the name and would soon be followed by Marseille and Bastia, each wearing shirts with Perrier across their chests for the 1972 French Cup Final.
To put this in context, it would take Leeds United and Admiral until 1973 to strike their commercial deal and it would be another 3 years before Kettering Town started wearing Britain’s first sponsors’ logos, ahead of Hibernian in 1977 and Liverpool in 1979.
Grotesque to some, an art form to others, there’s no doubt that sponsorship and branding has come to define football shirts and Le Coq Sportif’s iconic green shirt with its patriotic tricolore trim and massive sponsor was right at the fulcrum of that movement.
Worn during a period of domestic dominance, Saint-Étienne’s 1975-77 home shirt had the logo of sponsors Manufrance right in the massif central of the shirt.
We’re sure we don’t need to tell you that Manufrance is the trading name of Manufacture Francaise d’Armes et Cycles de St. Etienne (French Arms and Cycle Factory of St. Etienne), a mail order company specialising in shotguns, bicycles and fishing rods amongst other products.
Association Sportive de Saint-Étienne Loire (ASSE) trace their lineage and club colours back to 1919 when employees of the Saint-Étienne-based Groupe Casino began playing in the green principal colour of the French grocery chain, under the name of Amicale des Employés de la Société des Magasins Casino (ASC).
As professionalism beckoned, AS Saint-Étienne began playing under their current name in 1933 and went on to rule French football in the 1950s, 60s and 70s; recording an incredible ten Ligue 1 titles between 1956 and 1981.
To put that period of dominance into perspective, that haul of 10 French league championships remains a record shared with Marseille, although PSG are closing in on them with nine titles at the time of writing.
The Manufrance shirts starred as ASSE won one league title, a French cup and came close to being crowned champions of Europe.
Their 1976 side were left in tears and cursing the Hampden Park woodwork after a narrow 1-0 defeat to Bayern Munich in the European Cup Final.
St-Etienne were not permitted to wear the Manufrance logo on that evening in Glasgow, as shirts in the showcase final remained sponsorless until as late as 1995.
Les Verts (the Greens) wore their preferred white shorts with those iconic shirts for the final, but the club’s outfit was often completed by black shorts.
Of course Saint-Étienne were not alone in favouring a big, brash sponsorship logo across their club colours, with PSG’s RTL shirt another that springs to mind.
Later incarnations of the famous green continued the pattern into the 1980s with the Super-Télé (the French answer to Radio Times) sponsored shirts fondly remembered by football kit aficionados.
At a time when the Subbuteo catalogue might be your main resource and encyclopedia of European football kit design, this super Saint-Étienne shirt typifies that certain mystique and lustre foreign club’s jerseys held over British fans in the 1970s.
Let’s face it, they don’t come much more continental than this.