It’s unfortunate that when you mention the Corsican club SC Bastia to modern football fans, the main image that springs to mind is violent and racist supporters who have regularly besmirched their club and their island with their bad behaviour.
It wasn’t always that way; there was a time in the 1970s when Bastia were known for its football and for fielding two of the greatest wide men of the 20th century – the Yugoslav Dragan Džajić and the Dutchman Johnny Rep.
This was a club that began its professional journey later than most French League sides in 1965. Establishing itself gradually over the next few seasons, by 1968 Bastia were good enough to win the Ligue 2 title, join the elite for the first time and undertake what would be the most rewarding and the most exotic period in their history.
In 1972 Bastia reached a first Coupe de France Final and qualified for the Cup Winners Cup despite losing to league champions and European Cup-bound Marseille. The ongoing upward trajectory of the club raised ambitions and raised the desire to bring in a glamour signing to attract more fans to home fixtures. And so, in 1975, arrived the biggest name in the club’s history: Dragan Džajić.
Now 29, Džajić had starred on the left-wing for Red Star and Yugoslavia for more than a decade and had been long-considered as the best player in Eastern Europe. His skills were legendary: great crosses and passes, unstoppable dribbling with great pace, natural technique and some of the best left footed free-kicks ever seen.
France was a happy home for Yugoslav players of that generation and this proved no exception for Džajić who settled in quickly to his new life. He earned the nickname of ‘the magic Dragan’ and was Bastia’s outstanding player for the next two seasons, scoring 31 goals and tormenting every defence he came up against.
His second season was especially profitable. With the talented Zimako on the opposite wing, centre forward Francois Felix alongside him and French international midfielder Claude Papi behind him, this fine attacking quartet scored 82 goals en route to a third-placed Ligue 1 finish – Bastia’s best ever.
In the summer of 1977 Džajić answered the call to return home and see out his career back with Red Star and Bastia was left to ponder how to fill the huge void he left behind. News emerged that Johnny Rep, another wonderfully mercurial talent who played in a similar role, had bought himself out of his contract at Valencia to end his unhappy spell there.
Negotiations started between Rep’s people and Bastia’s sponsors who were necessary to finance such a move. Rep was tempted by the opportunity of UEFA Cup football that Džajić had delivered and took the bold move to sign on with what was still a profoundly unfashionable club.
His debut against Bordeaux was quiet but he improved markedly and, despite a shoulder injury and a blank spell of three months without a goal, had a fine season that yielded 18 goals. Rep’s influence and class were vital during Bastia’s miraculous UEFA Cup run that took them past Sporting Lisbon, Newcastle United, Torino, Carl Zeiss Jena and Grasshoppers Zurich before agonisingly losing out in the final to PSV Eindhoven.
Rep’s form continued during his second season with the Corsicans and a brilliant individual goal he scored in an away league game at Saint Etienne would shape his future. So impressed with the Dutchman was the ASSE president Roger Rocher that he vowed to sign him in the future. Ultimately he didn’t have to wait very long. Bastia ran into difficulties with their bank and had to drastically cut costs, so halfway through his four-year contract Rep was sold on to Saint Etienne.
Bastia’s golden era did at least end on a high note as the club won its only major honour a few years later – the 1981 Coupe de France. This was a time when Bastia was inextricably associated with good football and the fulminating skills of Džajić and Rep, but time and events off the field shifted perception considerably.
Let’s hope SC Bastia can turn round their fortunes and create new history based upon what they do on the pitch rather than what goes on in the stands.