In Marion's second post for ESG, she shares her experience celebrating with her country in the aftermath of the FIFA World Cup 2018 Championship!

[Her first post was a reflection on returning to Paris after living in London...stay tuned for Part 2!] 

Fireworks, Football & Being French

What a weekend we had last week over here in France! Our fête Nationale on the 14th (Bastille Day to much of the world) and the football World Cup final on the next day! Or is it "soccer" in the US? I can’t believe it was more than a week ago! The least we can say is that the weekend of 14th-15th July 2018 will always remain one associated with joy and celebration of being French! People out on the streets everywhere in France, celebrating and just being together! 

La Fille Qui N’aimait Pas Le Foot (The Girl Who Didn't Like Football)

I have to admit that I’m not much of a football fan myself...The truth is, I only watch games during the World Cup (or UEFA Euro Championship), and only if France manages to get as far as quarterfinals. Before they reach that point, I’m not bothered (don’t tell anyone).

This year, it was all the same. When the competition started in June, I thought it’d be nice and fun if we won, you know, for the symbolic "20 years later" thing everyone was talking about (well…everyone here, at least!). Indeed, France won the FIFA World Cup in 1998 for the first time ever in our HISTORY, and I remember it quite well. I was 14 then and camping with a friend and her family in Brittany. We had watched the game in the common TV room at the camping site, and although at the time I understood football rules even less than now (yes, that’s possible), I remember enjoying the night so much, and celebrating it with everyone there!

This year, I didn’t know much about the team, apart from a couple of the players and the name of the coach (who was part of the winning team in 1998, as a matter of fact, along with our world famous Zidane and Henry). When we played one of the earlier matches against Argentina, I was in my parent’s garden – actually, writing on my first post for the blog. I didn’t follow the game, but I could hear the neighbors screaming at every goal we scored, and I had Google on the back to keep me informed. When M’Bappé scored twice in four minutes (64’, 68’) and we managed to bring the score to 4-2, I stood up and went straight to the TV. I HAD to see this. That’s the moment I started being "into" the World Cup, for real. I mean…Argentina, guys! We defeated them. Twice world champions already, and team of Messi. I couldn’t believe it. 

After that game, I followed every other match religiously, each time being amazed that we were still in the competition: France-Uruguay, France-Belgium (I even went out to a bar for that one!); and, of course, the final: France-Croatia. I ended up researching all of the players, and I really warmed up to them! They seemed to be a nice group of guys, good team players and overall, quite down-to-earth; not bragging like the teams from years before. A couple of days after we won, a documentary aired on TV about the team (actually, it was a friend’s cousin who directed it). After seeing it, I loved the players even more. They’re just nice, and you can really see that they love and support each other. They started the competition wanting to win it and to play as a true team – not just individuals. I think that’s what allowed them to win in the end (please admire my technical expertise in how the game is won! Ahaha). That, their high technical playing skills, and a good coach, obviously. I see you coming at me here: “Of course she’s rooting for them; they’re her team!” But that wasn’t always the case. In 2010, the team was horrible. The coach was different then, and there was no cohesion between the players, or between the team and the coach. I remember that I was furious with them, especially when they went on some stupid strike (I know, they’re French!), and refused to go out and meet their fans after their trainings. Spoiled idiots, they were! And they lost. I think they were eliminated in the first round.

Anyhow, I’m digressing…French passion coming out! I’m more and more aware while writing this, that this is a female blog, so I’m hoping the topic about our men's football teams will still interest you despite the male strong references! And I'm also hoping some men do read us, too. 

So yes, here we are, on Sunday 15
th July 2018, 5:00pm GMT+1. I was away in Tours, France that weekend, visiting some friends. We watched the game between girls: my friend and I, and her two daughters, almost 6- and 2-year-olds. It was so much fun! We dressed in blue, white and red, we had flags on our cheeks (even my feet!), and actual flags that we were brandishing in the living room.

With my friend’s flat being right in the center of the city, we could hear screaming at each goal France scored (!), so it was as if we were in the crowds ourselves. When the game ended, we went down in the street to celebrate with everyone else. The atmosphere was quite something! Joy everywhere, blue and red smokes, people singing “La Marseillaise” (our national anthem), brandishing flags, climbing on bus stops...CRAZY, but GOOD CRAZY, you know.

I was really emotional. Seeing people brought together was amazing, and it’s true that football in France does it like no other sport. 20 years later, World Champions for the second time. A true dream come true! That night, I took a train back to Paris, and again, people were celebrating everywhere; the Metro was just full of flags and smiles everywhere!

Here's some of the videos I took on my phone:  

There’s been a lot of talk about the players on our team – controversial talk, even – and I haven’t followed it all, to be honest. I prefer to focus on the good things that came out of us winning the World Cup. Yes, our team is diverse, and most of our players have foreign backgrounds. So what??! Everyone seems to have forgotten that was also true back in 1998…We heard the same song back then. Journalists even had a nickname for it: “la France black-blanc-beur." I don’t think I need to translate the first two words to English, but “beur” is what we call people of North African descent. I, for one, am really proud of this. Our team is diverse...well, so is our country! It’s time people realize it. And, if you ask each one of the players, they will proudly say they’re French, without meaning to (or needing to) disown their origins. They were born in France, they were playing for France. That’s it, need to discuss much further. I mean, look at those faces; don’t you just want to love them?

Kylian Mbappé

Paul Pogba

I agree it will take more than our diverse football team to eradicate racism in our country, and there are hypocritical people out there who will be happy when we win the World Cup, but will still vote for extreme right political parties. What can you do? I’m not convinced it will help, but I think what matters right now is that the whole event and everything surrounding it has brought us, the people of France, a lot of joy – and a few days when all we talked about was just football.

As I’m sure you’re well aware, France has suffered a lot of terrorism in the past couple of years. In fact, two years earlier (14th July 2016) wasn’t joyful at all, with the attack on Nice. There were 87 victims. So, it had been a long time since the people of France came together in the streets for a positive reason – just something GOOD – to actually celebrate. And for that only, I thank “les bleus,” as they gave us a lot of joy and pride by winning this World Cup. MERCI MERCI MERCI. I’ll treasure this memory...until we win again! (in 2038, right?). Now sing with me: 

“On est les champions, on est les champions, on est, on est, on est les champions!!!”