Red Star, Paris St-Germain and the contrasting global brands of Parisian football

Red Star players celebrate at Stade Bauer with their fans
Red Star, if Paris St-Germain were a Hollywood blockbuster says David Bellion, is an independent film directed by Ken Loach and Michel Gondry. It's about the oldest, most popular, and most fashionable football club in Paris.

Bellion, who was a Manchester United and Sunderland striker, is naturally drawn to the links between football, art, and culture. He is currently the creative director of Red Star, a French third division team that, like PSG, has a brand that resonates worldwide with fans, but for very different reasons.

They were founded in 1897 and are located in the heart of Saint-Ouen. This diverse, working-class suburb of Paris is home to them.

They have been absent from the top flight since 1974-1975. However, they were still in the sixth tier in 2005. Their Stade Bauer home, built in 1909, is in dire need of improvements to ensure it meets Ligue 2 standards.

Just seven miles to the west of the city is the Parc des Princes with its glamorous tenants, PSG.

Since their inception in 1970, many ambitious owners have passed away. However, it was only after the arrival of Qatar Investment Authority a decade back that the club started to dominate French football and won seven of the nine last titles.

This backing allows PSG to operate in a vastly differing financial world. They serve a largely contrasting audience than Red Star and Paris FC, the third professional team in the city. Paris FC finished fifth last season in Ligue 2 and is now beginning a new chapter in their own after recent investment from the Kingdom.

So far so different. Red Star and PSG both want the same fashion appeal, and the uber-cool Parisian energy. Their unique brands have attracted global interest. Red Star for its underground melting pot of culture and diversity, while PSG for its glitz and glamour.

Bellion tells BBC Sport, "What interests me about football is the creative direction. How to build an image of the club and tell its story across the globe."

"Red Star is a strong and beautiful star that deserves to be heard.

It has been visionary since its inception. Rimet created it around the idea that there was no social status. It was a sports and literature organization. The goal was not just to promote football but also to promote equality between social classes.

These values are still valid. Red Star shirt this year features customisable velcro buttons, one with a message saying "Refugees welcome" and sponsored by LinkedOut. This project helps homeless and disadvantaged adults find work.

The jersey doubled as an educational tool last season. It featured important historical landmarks celebrating multiculturalism in the area, and included an image Rino Della Negra (Red Star player and Communist resistance fighter) who was executed by Nazi occupation during World War Two. Bellion claims that the stadium was used to store weapons.

The 38-year old adds that "we developed some ideas which are very good because it's not scary about how it will be interpreted, but what we want is to just be sincere."

It is deep and we aren't faking it. We don't buy culture because it is expensive, but we love creating culture. We do things differently because of that.

Bellion, left, watches over, while Red Star's Stade Bauer is at home in the air

Bellion finished his playing career in 2016 at Stade Bauer. He likens it to Fulham's Craven Cottage. Bellion also found his Red Star president, Patrice Haddad, a man after his heart.

Haddad assumed control in 2008, when the club was in the fourth tier. They have twice been promoted to Ligue 2 since Haddad's arrival. They were relegated in 2019, and must return to the club this season, or risk losing their professional status according to French regulations.

Red Star has seen a rise in global support over the years due to its unique philosophies and trendy, unorthodox merchandise. They also have a deep-rooted identity within the club that has been often compared to St Pauli, who was a former employee.

Bellion says, "One day, I was in Tokyo and we played football there. I saw a man who wore an orange Red Star jersey." "We produced only 20 for Colette, which is a Paris shop!"

Although it doesn't make us wealthy, if you think about the love and passion that we have for the club, you will feel a sense happiness to know that it works and that this story touches some people.

Bellion loves to collaborate with musicians, artists, and photographers. He also has a love for British pop culture (the history jersey was designed by AcidFC in London), but his true passion is education and shaping "well-built citizens".

He says, "The story of our club, and this is something I believed in my time as a player is that it's not just about performance."

"Officially, it is important that you perform and strive to get promoted. But we only have 500 children at the club, from the under-6s up to the reserves. It is therefore important to encourage culture and education in them.

"We want the football club to convey a message. We want them to be healthy citizens.

Red Star Lab was established to facilitate academy players learning and drawing inspiration from other vocations. Bellion loved the moment when Rakhmi, a local craftsman, helped teenagers make their own football boots.

"We know maybe one child from a generation will be a professional, but what about the rest?" He asks. We are offering them photography, fashion and music as a way to help them discover their passions. They can watch and learn for free.

"If you look back 10 years, and one of those kids says that I am working for the BBC because I fell madly in love with media," one said. One at StockX, one at Nike, one at StockX. This is a greater victory than winning a Champions League.

PSG boasts a frontline of Neymar, Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe

Even though PSG lost the Champions League finals in 2020, President Nasser Al Khalaifi's investment has made Les Parisiens elite. Although the club is still chasing the continental title, it has been a huge commercial success.

PSG formed a partnership three years ago with Nike. This partnership would see them becoming the first football team to use the Jumpman logo, which is well-known with Michael Jordan. The initial exclusive 40,000-item Jumpman collection was sold within one week.

A Nike spokesperson stated that the partnership "marked two icons in sport and style partnering with to fuel sports lifestyle culture", while Fabien Allgre, PSG's director for brand development, said it was "aimed towards bridging street fashion and sportswear".

Allegre explained that the club's mission is to connect with other cultures and spread the brand in new directions. Allegre pointed to partnerships with Justin Timberlake, Travis Scott and LeBron James wearing club's shirt prior to an NBA game.

It was proof that the PSG brand was successfully integrating youth culture when a Thiago Silva shirt and bucket hat was worn by a fan.

Russell Stopford, chief of digital at PSG, stated that the club is "disrupting the game of football on and off the pitch in a Parisian fashion - that's what we want to tell the story."

Paris Fashion Week has seen club shirts featured in various designs, and Hollywood stars have been featured in promotional videos for their films. PSG sold merchandise inspired by the Rolling Stones when they played in Paris.

Allegre stated, "It allowed us to reach fans that didn't necessarily follow PSG soccer club, but felt that wearing an article from the collection was cool from lifestyle point of view."

The club sold over 1 million shirts in 2019, and nearly half of its Jordan collection was shipped to customers from outside France. Since then, they have opened stores in Los Angeles as well as Tokyo.

According to a Harvard study, commercial revenues rose from 22m to 312m in just eight years after the Qatar Investment Authority tookover. Al-Khelaifi believes that the club has the potential to grow even further, and reach a "value far exceeding 3bn". Al-Khelaifi wants PSG to be a top-three brand in sport worldwide. He hopes they will be as synonymous with Paris as the Yankees with New York.

Red Star Lab in action. On the right, artwork at Stade Bauer

PSG's ambition is undeniable, but they are not without critics. The club's lavish spending on stars such as Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, and Lionel Messi have attracted accusations of sportswashing and disregard for Financial Fair Play. Javier Tebas, chief of La Liga, has been one of the most vocal opponents.

Bellion is not a problem with PSG. Bellion jokes that Red Star is the Rolling Stones, and Les Parisiens are the Beatles. However, he says that the clubs respect each others' positions in the city and the French soccer landscape. He's happy that his side has a "fantastic story" to tell.

He says that his son enjoys watching Neymar and Kylian Mbappe.

"We can't compare ourselves with Paris St-Germain. They do amazing things for their audience, and Paris St-Germain's audience is also a huge success.

"Even though we have the money, we wouldn't do it because we are more attracted to indie things. But we work with Foot Locker and we work with Vice. We aren't snobs because we love this type of culture. That's what we like.

He adds, "We have a new way of thinking and a different method of communicating."

"We attract the crowd that we like to attract, and everyone is welcome except for people that are homophobic or that are fascist. If they do hate in our stadium, they will not be welcome. But that has never happened before.

"For me, youth is the foundation. I feel confident that we are doing a great job. It is important not to take yourself too seriously when it comes to football. There is more to football than just the act of kicking a ball.