Eleven writers on football Authors on the ball
France is not a football nation. Or is winning just too vulgar? Bruno Heckmann is one of eleven writers of the authors team of the Goethe Institute. He writes about the absence of enthusiasm for football, the great men that France’s game needs, and exceptional victories.
In the presence of my wife, I always say that the most beautiful day of my life was the day our first child was born. As she isn’t here now, I can let you into a secret: that’s not true. The most beautiful day of my life will always be 12th July 1998. A vast, pure, absolute, total feeling of joy. Becoming a father is, at the end of the day, banal. But becoming world champion by beating Brazil 3:0? That’s exceptional, improbable, unimaginable.
Bruno Heckmann | Photo: privat We always thought this holy grail was reserved for others, the usual contenders. Germany, Brazil, Italy. Not us. We are, at heart, great losers, romantics who intoxicate themselves with hopeless moves and heroic defeats, as beautiful as a Greek tragedy – oh, Seville 1982! The French, in fact, avoid victory. Winning is a bit vulgar, trivial. It’s no coincidence that the country which invented the world cup and the European championship has long since abstained from bringing the titles home. We almost did it in 2006 nonetheless, but in the end we thought, no, the Italians seem to enjoy it so much, why not let them have it. Such is our generous nature. Dismissive, but generous.
1998 is an anomaly. Like the European cup wins in 1984 and 2000. An illogical moment in the land of logic. For France is not a football nation. There’s no real passion, no true enthusiasm. No equivalent to the songs of Anfield Road, the Yellow Wall of the Westphalia stadium. A puny Mexican wave here, a meagre Marseillaise there, two or three flags – that’s it. Our home championship resembles a speech by François Hollande: triste, monotonous, boring. Moderately filled stadiums, unengaged spectators, a poor show. In truth, the Frenchman is unable to give himself over to the passion of the beautiful game. For passion requires revoking sense and critical spirit, the fundamental virtues of this country of incorrigible Cartesians. And if football is a secular religion – how could one of the most atheist peoples in the world honour gods, even if they are the gods of the stadium?
France may not be a football nation, but, a further paradox, it is a nation of footballers. And, indeed, of great ones. Kopa, Platini, Zidane. These three number 10s embody the pinnacles of French football. This is the moral of our story: in order to be great, France needs great men. Without them there can be no salvation. Since Zidane stepped down, the Bleus have shone more off the pitch than on it. Culminating in South Africa: a training boycott had never been seen before in the history of the world cup. And all of the talk that followed: a scandal! A crying shame! Bring back the guillotine! Yet the episode with the bus simply reflects one of the main features of the French character: the strike.
But that’s okay. Everything is now okay. I have lived to see France as world champion. Since then the definitive truth, expressed by the historic TV commentator Thierry Roland on that very 12th July 1998 in the euphoria following the final whistle, has held true for me: ‘I think, we can all die in peace now.’