About 18 years ago, something incredible happened in France. It was in between the months of June and July 1998. Our team won the FIFA World Cup. Two years later, during the Euro, France won again, being the time ever that a team would win both titles back to back.
During this time, I was 7-9 then, you could really feel the excitement of young kids in school. This coincided with the time that we moved from the suburbs of Paris to the South of France. But nearly a thousand kilometres apart, the excitement was just as strong. The love that our people developed for the sport, the national team, and the local clubs was incredible. During that time period, our champions had given us so much hope, so much joy, and for a time, we felt on top of the world.
Ask anyone in France what Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” song represent to them, and if they were born before 1994, it’s likely that they’ll tell you about the ’98 World Cup.
I felt the same type of reaction amongst my peers, but on a lower scale, back in 2007 when France hosted the Rugby World Cup. On a lower scale still, as Football is still the dominant sport here in France, by far. But since 2007, more and more people have started to follow rugby, partially as an attraction to the sport, and partly as a reaction to the bad culture that has been around football too.
See, when a rugbyman gets pushed down, he goes back up immediately. When football players hit the ground, they tend to dive and look for a foul, possibly a yellow or red card against the person who touched them. For a lot of people, myself included, this has become unbearable. The corruption around the sport, the ego of some of the massively overpaid superstars, the lack of humility, it all started feeling dishonest for me, and that’s why I’ve only kept in touch with big international competitions.
But this year, something is in the air, something I haven’t felt since 1998. This year, France is hosting the 2016 UEFA tournament, the “European Cup”. The team has slowly been renewed since 2014, with a lot of fresh blood, exciting talented players, and a new coach. And despite some controversies around the team and the staff, there remains an excitement in the air.
I haven’t felt this excited about football since 1998. I haven’t felt so proud and hopeful about this new French team in many years. And I hope that we win this competition, but even if we don’t, I hope that this team delivers and that they give it all that they’ve got.
It’s hard to host a competition and be on the opening match. No matter the discipline, there’s an immeasurable amount of pressure on the local team to win the first game, and to continue getting better, stronger, and to some extent, our 2-1 victory over Romania has been a huge relief.
But the most important, whether we win this year or not, is that this team learns to work well together. Because we can’t wait another 18 years to inspire our youth and our people. Allez Les Bleus, on est tous avec vous!