While at Haverford this past Spring I mentioned to one of my French friends who was going to be in Paris this summer that I wanted to go to a soccer game…I mean football.
When we both arrived in France, she invited me to the National Rugby Championship, saying that the soccer season was pretty much over, and that rugby was probably a better idea if I felt like staying healthy (the soccer games get pretty rowdy).
We met at the Gare de Lyon train station and took the regional rail to le Stade de France, built in 1998 for the World Cup. Seating 80,000, it was surprisingly full. We found our seats high up among the sea of blue and yellow of the Clermont team. Amazingly, just before the start, like a switch was turned, the stadium hushed for a moment of silence.
But that was the last quiet of the night — from then on it was no holds barred. There were eruptions from the stands, replete with flags and noise-makers, cheering and whistles. Sporadically, the fans would cheer “Un Essai (roughly equivalent to a “touchdown” in English), or an anthem that my French wasn’t quite refined enough to understand.
The Perpignan team pulled ahead until it was clear they would win, and when the final whistle sounded, their fans went nuts. Several flares ignited in the crowd. One hit a wall in front of the first row and caught on fire. Still, fans manically celebrated for 20 minutes, jumping up and down and tackling each other.
Once awarded “le bouclier,” the championship plaque with a large silver shield on it, they took it around the front row letting their fans touch it. Then, the players left the field and they announced there would be fireworks. After they were over, we descended into the masses on the streets, where it seemed that all 80,000 fans were heading in the same direction to take the trains back in to Paris.
Les Français (French) who we were with laughed while showing us the difference between football and rugby fans: after soccer games there are riots, but these fans were congratulating each other, with “Bravo,” or “Felicitations.”
I was caught up in the festive mood, and happy to be a part of this unique piece of European culture.