Thierry Roland: Football commentator known for his faux pas

After insulting a Tunisian referee, he apologised: ‘I’m no racist – my son’s babysitter is Tunisian,’ he said

The football commentator Thierry Roland was a colourful and popular figure in his native France, and covered 13 World Cups and nine European Championships. His partisan coverage of Les Bleus was legendary while his outbursts and off-the-cuff remarks attracted controversy but endeared him to armchair fans of the French national team.

Following his death last Saturday, French media and football fans gloried in the retelling and replaying of several of his most acerbic comments, often aimed at referees. These included “Mr. Foote, you are a bastard, there's no other word for it,” about Ian Foote, the Scottish referee who awarded a penalty to Bulgaria in a World Cup qualifier against France in October 1976.

A decade later, following Diego Maradona's infamous “Hand of God” goal against England in Mexico City, he quipped to his sidekick, the former midfielder Jean-Michel Larqué: “Honestly, Jean-Michel, don't you think they could have picked someone else rather than a Tunisian referee for such a big game?” He subsequently apologised to Ali Bennaceur, the Tunisian referee, yet came up with “I'm no racist, my son's babysitter is Tunisian,” a line of defence typical of a man mercilessly lampooned by Les Guignols De L'Info, the French equivalent of Spitting Image.

Even when commentating on France's greatest triumph, when Les Bleus won the World Cup at home by beating Brazil 3-0 in 1998, his orgiastic ad lib - “I believe that after witnessing this, one can die happy! As late in life as possible but happy. Superb! What a trip! I can't believe it” - contained an “Oh, putain!” interjection [Damn it!] which captured the mood of a jubilant nation yet was bleeped out in the many televisual tributes.

Born at Boulogne-Billancourt, a wealthy suburb west of Paris, in 1937, he was the son of a jeweller who died when he was 10 and a Russian mother. Partly educated in the UK, he joined the sports department of RTF, France's state-controlled media at 18 as an enthusiastic radio reporter. In 1960, he switched to television and covered basketball, boxing and athletics as well as the Rome Olympics. In 1966, when Strasbourg beat Nantes in the Coupe de France final, he asserted that “the Cup was leaving France,” prompting boos whenever he visited the Alsace region.

However, following the May 1968 protests, despite the fact that he held rather conservative views, Roland was a victim of President De Gaulle's clear-out of supposed “leftist” broadcasters. He engineered a swift return to the airwaves on the radio station France Inter in 1969 and eventually resumed his television career with Antenne 2 in 1975.

Four years later, Larqué joined Roland to add insight and technical nous and balance out his jingoistic tendencies. In 1984, they transferred to TF1, where they remained for the next two decades and also hosted the popular Sunday morning magazine Téléfoot. Roland engaged viewers as much as he infuriated them, and walked a thin line between bons mots - “These two are unlikely to go on holiday together” about a man-marking defender and his suffering target - and faux pas such as “all Korean players look alike, apart from the goalkeeper.”

He was criticised for his lack of gravitas reporting from the Heysel disaster in 1985 and the Furiani disaster in 1992, when a temporary stand collapsed before a Cup semi-final between Bastia and Olympique Marseille, causing the death of 18 spectators. Yet he was meticulous in his preparations and owned every single issue of France-Football magazine going back to the 1950s.

In 2003, Roland suffered a ruptured aneurysm, and struggled to reestablish himself as TF1's “Monsieur Football”. In June 2005, after covering the French Cup final between Auxerre and Sedan, he made a tearful exit from TF1, but re-emerged a few months later with its commercial television rival M6.

Having picked Frank Lebœuf, formerly of Chelsea and France, as his new sidekick, he covered the 2006 World Cup in Germany and became a regular pundit on M6's 100% Foot programme. Last September he enjoyed a reunion with Larqué for the Romania-France European Championship qualifier on M6, and remarked: “Old habits die hard. I'm still on the right and he is to my left.”

The archetype of a grumpy Frenchman, Roland often contributed to Les Grosses Têtes, a radio comedy panel show on RTL, France's number one commercial station. He also wrote several football books - including his autobiography Tout à fait Thierry [Of Course, Thierry, after one of Larqué's comebacks] - appeared as himself in three French films and even recorded a couple of singles, including “La Troisième Mi-Temps” under the name Carton Rouge [Red Card] in 1988.

Following a gallstone operation he had hoped to renew his partnership with Larqué and to cover this summer's European Football Championship but declared himself unable to travel two weeks ago. He died of a stroke a few hours after watching France's 2-0 victory over Ukraine last Friday.

Paying tribute, Larqué said: “In the commentary box, we held each other's hands. I am younger than him but I sometimes had to be a father to him. Thierry could be a big kid but you'd forgive him anything.”

Thierry Roland, sports commentator: born Boulogne-Billancourt 4 August 1937; married 2004 Françoise Boulain (one son); died Paris 16 June 2012.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Life and Style
tech
News
The 67P/CG comet as seen from the Philae lander
scienceThe most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Ian McKellen as Gandalf in The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies
film
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Koenig, creator of popular podcast Serial, which is to be broadcast by the BBC
tvReview: The secret to the programme's success is that it allows its audience to play detective
News
Ruby Wax has previously written about her mental health problems in her book Sane New World
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £60,000

£25000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Care Workers Required - The London Borough of Bromley

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This homecare agency is based in Beckenh...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas