Farewell to Hearts’ Stéphane Paille

Stephane Paille poses in a Hearts scarf
Stephane Paille poses in a Hearts scarf
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Former Hearts FC and French internationalist footballer Stéphane Paille died on his 52nd birthday in Lyon from liver cancer.

For a brief period in the 1990s, Paille was a hero to the fans of Hearts but his time at Tynecastle was tainted when he became the first footballer in Scotland to fail a random drugs test.

Hearts, who were then in the Premier Division, tore up his contract after he was banned for six months after testing positive for an “amphetamine-based medication” after Hearts’ away league match against Kilmarnock in 1997.

The substance was actually a diet pill known as Dinintel, legal in Paille’s native France where he bought it, but which he claimed not to know was on the list of prohibited drugs in the UK.

Born in Scionzier in the Rhône-Alpes region of sourth-east France, the much-travelled Paille began his career with FC Sochaux in Montbéliard near the French border with Switzerland.

FC Sochaux is renowned for the quality of its youth coaching and Paille was one of its academy’s best graduates. He made his debut in Sochaux’s senior side at the age of 17 and stayed with the club for seven years until 1989 when he moved to Montpelier.

It was while he was at Sochaux that Paille was touted as one of the new breed of talanted young French players that included Eric Cantona and Laurent Blanc.

Paille remained a lifelong friend of Cantona, while another friend from that time at Sochaux who also played in the French side was Franck Sauzée, later to play for and manage Hibs.

Paille was elected France’s player of the year in 1988 after helping Sochaux reach the French Cup final.

Paille began his full international career in 1986 and by 1989 had acquired eight caps.

Yet it was France’s second choice goalkeeper at the time, Gilles Rousset, who was to have a big influence later in Paille’s career as it was he who, when playing for Hearts, pointed the then manager Jim Jefferies in the direction of his old colleague in 1996.

By that time, Paille had played for no fewer than eight different clubs including Bordeaux where he became friends with fellow player Zinedine Zidane.

Rousset convinced Jefferies that Paille could be an asset for Hearts. He played as a triallist and was signed on a short term contract.

In a memorable Coca Cola League Cup semi-final against Dundee at Easter Road he scored a fine goal in a man-of-the-match display. He and Rousset both featured in the 1996 League Cup final at Celtic Park. Though beset with illness the following season, Paille did enough to win a contract extension but then came the failed drugs test. Even more damagingly, shortly after his return to France, Paille was arrested and charged with drug trafficking. He was very briefly in prison, but was given a suspended sentence and then emerged to become a coach and manager at numerous clubs such as Besancon, Racing Paris, Angers, Cannes and Evian-Thonon-Gaillard before his old friend Zidane persuaded Jose Mourinho to make him a scout for Real Madrid.

Paille is survived by his son Jeremy.

MARTIN HANNAN