Straight for the goal! The incredible journey of CASG

The Societe Generale Athletics Club (CASG) is a two-time winner of the Coupe de France football championship. It is the only corporate sporting association to have won the competition.

Sunday, 6 April 1919. Ten thousand spectators were gathered at Parc des Princes stadium to watch the Coup de France final. The Societe Generale Athletics Club (CASG - Club Athlétique de Société Générale) was up against title-holder Olympique de Pantin. The match went into extra time. Uniformed in sky blue and white, the "Généraux" had just tied the match at 2-2 and were keen to snatch the victory. Two minutes of play remained. Reclaiming the ball in the penalty area, Louis Hatzfeld, CASG's star striker, took control of the ball, eliminated a player on the opposing team and made a powerful kick. The ball flew into the goal. To the applause of the spectators, the English-born centre-forward erupted with joy as his teammates ran toward him and lifted him off the ground in triumph. Moments later, the referee blew his whistle to signal the end of the match. Victory was theirs! The CASG team did a victory lap with the Cup raised high. In a dramatic turnaround, the team had mustered up the resources to up the score as the high-level match drew to a close. To this day, it remains the only corporate club to have ever won the Coupe de France.

Societe Generale's participation in this competition was not at all surprising. Founded in 1903, CASG was one of the most successful athletics clubs in Europe. In amateur sports, it was a real breeding ground for champions. Its football section was particularly well stocked with talent. The bank's management, which encourages employees to participate in sporting activities (particularly those involving speed and team sports), was right to keep football firmly in its sights. The first two teams were formed in Paris in 1905. Under the umbrella of the Union of French Athletic Sports Clubs (USFSA - Union des Sociétés Françaises de Sports Athlétiques), local sections began proliferating across the country. Before going professional in 1932, championships were held on the regional level. Notably, CASG Orléans was champion of the Touraine region from 1911 to 1914. The original team of CASG Paris also won the title in 1913. This team’s players proudly wore the colours of the "Bankers", as they were first called. Led by a generation of talented players, several of whom were selected to play professionally, they became the most successful team in Paris. Their list of achievements tells it all. In 1914 they won the Montriond International Tournament held in Lausanne, Switzerland, becoming the first French team to win a competition abroad. From 1915 to 1917 the team took home two Coupes des Alliés and three National Cups organised by the USFSA. The quality of their gameplay, with a strong offensive focus, won them the support of the public.

Remarkably, the Parisian team had three Englishmen, one of whom, defender John Mentha, was the captain. Then there was a young striker by the name of Jean Boyer, whose star would later rise with Olympique de Marseille. At the first Coupe de France in 1918 CASG Paris was eliminated in the semi-finals by Olympique de Pantin. The following year the French Football Federation (FFF) was created. Too corporate in name, Societe Generale's athletics club was rebranded the General Sports Athletics Club (Club Athlétique des Sports Généraux), hence the players' "Généraux" nickname. The Parisian team, as we saw, snatched the Coupe de France after a gripping match. In the semi-final round, they had already achieved quite a feat by defeating Rennes 4-3 on the opponent's own turf.

CASG Paris did not make it to the Coupe de France finals again until 1925. That year saw even stiffer competition with 326 clubs participating. One by one, the "Généraux" beat Brest, Boulogne, Colombes and FC Sète. In the final, they were up against FC Rouen. The match took place on 25 April at the Stade de Colombes. But neither side could gain an advantage, ending with a score of 1-1. As the rule of extra time had not yet been adopted, the FFF called a rematch. The CASG players were enraged, and for good reason! Moments before the final whistle, CASG striker Henri Tissot had been disallowed a goal unjustly for a supposed hand ball violation. But the "Généraux" would not give in to discouragement. Two weeks later, before a crowd of 18,000 spectators, they came out on top with a score of 3-2.

It would be their last moment of glory. Strongly attached to the rules of amateur football, Societe Generale turned down the chance to go professional in 1932. CASG Paris could no longer put together a team capable of rivalling larger French clubs like Racing, FC Sochaux and Olympique de Marseille. In 1933 it narrowly took the victory in the Honneur d’Ile-de-France division. And while CASG Orléans has fared well, as have the local football sections of Marseille and Bordeaux, these teams have only been successful on a regional level. However, this more challenging sports environment did not keep CASG management from launching successful new initiatives, such as starting a football school in 1932 and promoting women's football. The strategy has paid off. Two years later, the junior team took home the Paris Coupe des Minimes. And in 1927 the women's section of CASG Marseille made it to the French championship final. Not a bad way to bring team spirit to life!

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