Few young Rugby League fans will be able to remember that just over twenty years ago a Paris side competed in the inaugural season of Super League in 1996 and then in Super League II the following year. This project in the heart of France lasted barely two years before a highly-publicized scandal led to the dissolution of the Rugby League branch of the sporting giant, Paris St Germain. Although only entertaining a brief existence, the club would create an important legacy which still lives on today.

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The creation and controversy

Paris St Germain Rugby League - Psg or PSG RL for short - was founded just two days before Christmas Day in 1993. Led by club president and former Rugby Union player and coach, Jacques Fouroux, PSG were given a place within the newly-formed Super League competition for the 1996 season to give the top flight a "French dimension".

Their inclusion, however, had serious consequences for a number of clubs and the game as a whole.

The new Super League had 12 teams, the original First Division had 14. But, with PSG and London Broncos - a team who had just finished fourth in the Second Division - awarded a place in the top flight, those teams finishing below 10th in the First Division were excluded. This meant that Featherstone Rovers, Wakefield Trinity, Hull and Widnes were left out as were Keighley whom just had finished top of the Second Division and whom would have been promoted had the Super League competition not come into being.

For Featherstone, it was a bitter blow that they have, ultimately, never recovered from and one which their fans still resent. For Hull, it ultimately led to their financial meltdown and their subsequent merger with Gateshead Thunder, which, had catastrophic effects on Rugby League in the North East, leaving scars which are still present today.

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Fouroux, the club president, pre-selected 40 players in the French Championship to make the team, before announcing the final list comprised of 26. The team included nine "foreign" players - Australians, New Zealanders, Samoans, but also the first Polish player to ever play in Super League - Grzegorz Kacala.

Excitement in Paris and French legacy

The buzz surrounding the Rugby League experiment in the capital was enormous; PSG's debut home match in Round One of Super League at the Stade Sebastien Charlety drew in nearly 18,000 spectators - the biggest attendance for a Rugby League game in France for 38 years - all eager to watch, what would be for the majority, their first live game of Rugby League. PSG could not have made a better start to their Rugby League and Super League career, beating Sheffield Eagles 30-24 in March 1996.

It was an utterly thrilling game and one which had the French crowd on their feet. And, with a French coach - Michel Mazare - and a team which included many French nationals, it appeared as though a real French side could compete in the top flight.

It was a real show-stopping moment in the history of French Rugby League; there was an appetite for the game, there was intrigue, and there was a real possibility of making a French dimension to Super League actually work.

Arguably, it is from this initial response that this idea was formed: that a French side could be popular and could enhance the Super League brand as being something new and innovative as well as European rather than just English. As a result, the original Paris experiment would be one of the key reasons as to why Catalans Dragons were given a place in Super League for 2006. PSG, effectively, in a victory over a team from South Yorkshire, created a French legacy that is very much a part of the top flight in present times.

In the words of the then President Jacques Fouroux, "Ninety-eight percent of them [the crowd] were new to the game, but they understood it right away. They saw tries, lots of commitment and lots of movement. They saw beauty. They attended a great party." Indeed, it was at this cold night in Paris that the seeds were planted for Catalans to sow.

Dream to a nightmare

After such a wonderful start, however, reality soon set in and PSG's opening victory against Sheffield would be just one of three wins that the Paris side would notch up throughout the 1996 season. And, the excitement amongst the spectators for that first game to watch history in the making soon began to dwindle also. Detached very much from the Rugby League heartland of the south, the Paris project was perhaps doomed to fail from the start. When just 500 turned up for a home game against Salford, those associated with the club knew they were within touching distance of disaster.

Two wins and a draw from their opening five matches had initially yielded great optimism, but, soon PSG was on a downward spiral - 11 games without a win was set in motion following a 76-8 hammering by Wigan. By the skin of their teeth, however, PSG managed to avoid relegation as Workington Town accrued just five points as opposed to PSG's seven.

PSG's season was marred even further when club president and brainchild of the Paris experiment - Jacques Fouroux - resigned from all his duties at the beginning of September 1996. With the heart of the club ripped out, PSG faced an uncertain future as debts mounted.

Decline and fall

The fact that PSG even competed in the 1997 season was a miracle; led by new club president Jacques Larose, Paris was fraught with budget problems. After originally envisioning a budget of 13 million francs, the club was, agonisingly, 5 million short and, as a result, only three French players made up the squad managed by Australian Peter Mulholland - now Cronulla Sharks' recruitment manager - in 1997. A squad, which in 1996, had just nine foreign players, now had 22 with only two of them present the previous season: Deon Bird and Jason Sands.

However, PSG's second season started in likewise fashion to their first; a victory over Sheffield Eagles - this time 18-4 - boosted hopes, but, a run of eight defeats soon destroyed any remaining positivity. And, despite beating bottom side Castleford Tigers 13-8, Mulholland was sacked and replaced by former Great Britain international Andy Goodway. For the first time in their history, they registered back-to-back wins in Round 17 and 18 with victories over Wigan - whom would finish top in Super League II - and Halifax.

In an even more remarkable fashion, midway through the 1997 season, PSG - in a newly-created "super-competition" called the World Club Challenge which included all teams playing in the Super League and the then-named Australian Super League - beat the Western Reds 24-0, though they eventually exited the competition at the hands of St Helens. This victory and the brilliant 30-28 win over Wigan in Round 17 was, however, as good as it got for PSG; in yet another disappointing season, the French side finished 11th once more with just six wins, saved from relegation by Oldham Bears (now Roughyeds).

Scandal

Revelling in the shock victory over Wigan, things quickly turned sour for Paris St Germain as, just a few days later, controversy hit the club with such a force that PSG would be unable to recover. Two administrators at the club, the Dabe brothers, were in a dispute with the Super League who denounced the contracts of some of the players - most of whom were Australian - to the French authorities. This was on the basis that the players in question did not have employment visas, but rather tourist visas to avoid paying certain taxes in France.

The scandal hit the Paris club hard; it was, essentially, the final nail in the coffin for PSG Rugby League. PSG RL played its last game against Wigan - one final hurrah - and though the PSG board withdrew the club from the "PSG RL" association to become Paris Rugby for their last five games and relocated to Narbonne in Bayonne - over 500 miles from Paris - it was not enough for the Rugby Football League (RFL).

With profitability running at an all-time low, crowds into the two to three thousand mark, and now a revelation that smeared the reputation of Super League - a competition that was still very much in its infancy - the Rugby Football League (RFL) would simply not tolerate the Paris project any longer. And, just a week after the end of Super League II, the Paris club announced its dissolution. With that, the dream of Jacques Fouroux was dead and buried.

It is sad that the failure of Paris St Germain Rugby League was down to financial issues; perhaps, the Paris project came too early as Super League and the summer era were still new concepts. However, as Rugby League has grown massively from this point - with French sides Catalans Dragons and Toulouse Olympique both being successful franchises - perhaps a Paris side could, one day, rise from the ashes.