As an expat, dual national, Franco-Beano-Brit long since gone native, I always support the French – unless Les Bleus are playing us Rosbifs that is, which, down the years, has often dented in the entente cordiale chez Masstairmann here in Dinan.
Yes, after nigh on 40 years here, I still fail the Tebbit test – fortunately or unfortunately, I can never decide which. You may remember that ol’ Norm’, Baron T, was the Thatcher minister, aka the Chingford Skinhead, who said that immigrants would know they were fully integrated when they shouted for England rather than India, Pakistan or the Windies or wherever.
The French do love to beat La Perfide Albion, though. They see us as arrogant because we go into every competition thinking we can win it, or as stupid because we go into every competition thinking we can win it. Or both.
Show us your medals, my father always used to say when anyone was boasting about their sporting prowess and it has to be conceded that, as Le Monde gloated the other day, the English footy team hasn’t won a bean since 1966, and not a sausage before that, either.
It’s been nothing but disappointments and humiliations and crowning failures for the nation that invented ‘le foot’, the paper went on. England’s football team symbolises a country that has been going down the gurgler since 1945, and never more so than now in the turmoil of Brexit.
Actually, the Patronne and I hosted two London teachers on a school exchange last week and I was burbling away about Bobby Moore and the boys when I suddenly realised that these middle-aged men weren’t even born when he wiped his hands on his shirt before our dear Queen handed him the original Jules Rimet Trophy. I was only a spotty yoof myself at the time too, come to that, and here I am now, closer to 70 than bears thinking about.
But the English are world champions in one sport, though, Le Monde conceded. Aah oui Monsieur, Aah oui Madame! They’re unbeatable at ‘l’autodérision’ and their fans will be deploying their most formidable arm in Russia – self-mocking humour.
The French just don’t get it when they sing Always Look on the Bright Side as their brave lads are being crucified, again, then tell their crowing conquerors that ‘You’re nothing special because everyone beats us, whatever the sport – football, cricket, rugby, you name it’.
Thomas Castaignède, the great rugby international who was in Jersey coaching not so long ago, once ruefully agreed with a commentator that it was indeed wonderful to leave the pitch in Paris to the ecstatic cheers of 70,000 adoring compatriots. ‘But when we lose, they shower us in spit.’
Talking of commentators, I’m missing Arsène Wenger. He used to be French TV’s expert summarizer for internationals and was always pertinent, intelligent and interesting, unlike his co-presenters. That’s probably why they sacked him, much to his surprise and disappointment, and mine.
He’s been replaced by Bixente Lizarazu, the Basque full-back who won the World Cup in 1998 with ‘Zizoo’ Zidane and is as nice a bloke as ever bit a baguette. But he doesn’t realise that his viewers can see. A shot goes just wide? ‘He shot just wide,’ is his expert analysis.
And he has the moral compass of any pro footballer. If a player is held back by his shirt, he explains why his opponent had to do it. Amateur refs nationwide must curse him every time they reach for their yellow cards and the offender bawls that he didn’t have any choice – ‘Liza’ said so.
The women’s game is refreshingly free from all that, for the moment anyway, and their U20 World Cup will be taking place here in Brittany in August, would you believe. St Malo and Dinan host six pool-games each, with England, Brazil, France, the USA, Spain and Germany among the visiting teams. And I really think the Three Lions might just go on and win the big one this time. But don’t tell Mme Masstairmann I said that, eh.