When Lyon and Saint Etienne take the pitch on Saturday at the Stade Municipal de Gerland, it will be more than just a return match from earlier in the week. The two rivals will take part in the 103rd match in the Rhone-Alpes Derby.
Saturday’s match will celebrate the 60th anniversary of the derby that kicked off on October 28th, 1951. While not the most prominent derby in football, the ASSE-Lyon rivalry holds a wealth of history and factors contributing to its place among the best derbies.
Unlike most derbies, Lyon and ASSE do not share residence in the same city. What they share is a location along the Rhone River a mere 31 miles apart. Located in the Rhone-Alpes region to the southeast of Paris, both teams have created a loyal following extending beyond their region and beyond the French borders.
Like every great rivalry, factors off the pitch push it towards the boiling point. For the Rhone-Alpes Derby it is the social undertones it carries. For those who live in the region it became a symbol of the blue collar, coal-mining town (ASSE) against the white collar, merchant city (Lyon)—the classic poor man vs. rich man story. These social views have helped to extend the rivalry off the pitch, making ASSE-Lyon the most heated rivalry in France.
The stoppage of this past Wednesday’s Coupe de la Ligue match due to flares is a minor occurrence compared to past instances, as a large police presence always accompanies these games. With several supporter groups like the Green Angels and Magic Fans (ASSE) and Bad Gones 1987 and Lugdunum’s Lions (Lyon) adding to the atmosphere, the visiting side is always welcomed and serenaded with the best each home team's fans can give.
History is a big part in every derby, and both teams boast impressive resumes. From the late 1950s to the early 1980s, Saint Etienne was the dominant force in French football. They captured 10 league titles and were a force in European competition throughout the 1970s.
ASSE has been home to players like Michel Platini, Aime Jacquet and Laurent Blanc. After their last title in 1981, ASSE slipped into Division 2 in 1984. Since the 1981 title, a passport scandal, owner imprisonment and other factors have kept this once-proud club struggling to climb back to the top.
Saint Etienne’s upper hand on their rivals along with their record of 10 French titles seemed safe until Lyon began a record streak of their own in 2002. Beginning in 2002, Lyon ran off a string of seven consecutive Ligue 1 titles, closing the gap on their rivals down the river. During this time, Lyon has cultivated some of the top young talents in Europe including Karim Benzema, Michael Essien and Florent Malouda.
The first 30 years years of the rivalry saw ASSE dominating French football while Lyon was making its way, while the last 10 years of the rivalry has seen a reversal in these roles. The head-to-head record in the Rhone-Alpes Derby stands at 39 wins for ASSE, 34 wins for Lyon and 30 draws.
No matter how each club is doing in the standings, the feelings of disdain will remain, and the claws will come out whenever these two clubs share the field.
S'asseoir en arrière, à l'écoute et profitez du spectacle (Sit back, tune in and enjoy the show).