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.

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special
tvNick Frost, Natalie Gumede and Michael Troughton step up
Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Beard, Ben Schnetzer, Douglas Booth and Jack Farthing in ‘The Riot Club’
filmReview: Sheer nastiness of Riot Club takes you aback
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
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

Research Manager - Quantitative/Qualitative

£32000 - £42000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Senior Research Executive - Quantitative/Qualitative

£27000 - £31000 Per Annum Excellent Benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

ETL Developer / Consultant

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

Primary supply teachers required in Stowmarket

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Primary teachers requ...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week