Victory for France brings dancing in the boulevards, but fighting in the banlieues

Euro 2000 celebrations: Footballing success is rapturously received in a country already feeling good about an economic transformation
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The Independent Online

A cacophony of horns, fireworks, flares and screams greeted the triumphant France football team when they appeared on the Place de la Concorde with a broken and battered European nations' cup yesterday afternoon.

A cacophony of horns, fireworks, flares and screams greeted the triumphant France football team when they appeared on the Place de la Concorde with a broken and battered European nations' cup yesterday afternoon.

The delight of the crowd was boundless; so was that of the players, their wives and families. Zinedine Zidane, the star of the team, appeared with a semi-shaven head, the result of a bet with the former Arsenal striker, Nicolas Anelka.

The European Nations cup had accidentally snapped from its large, black plinth in the rumbustious pitch celebrations in Rotterdam the previous night. With startling insouciance, the players threw the silver upper half from hand-to-hand along the elegant stone balcony of the Crillon Hotel.

However, the size of the multitude on the square below told its own story. There were 50,000 at most, compared to something approaching one million on the Champs Elysées on the day after the World Cup victory two years ago. Déjà vu is déjà vu. Nothing is quite the same, the second time around.

The World Cup win in 1998 produced a spontaneous outpouring of national joy. It blew away the gloom and introspection of seven years of economic failure and political and social instability. The extraordinary racial mixture of the winning team suggested that brown, white and black could, after all, blend with red, white and blue. France could be a successful multi-racial society.

The European victory in Rotterdam on Sunday night came as France is already on a roll, economically (with 500,000 jobs created in the last 12 months). The Euro 2000 victory has been rapturously received, but the country was in a pretty good mood already: gearing up for its presidency of the European Union; expecting a record number of tourists this summer. Victory, this time, has not had the same explosive psychological impact outside the football-supporting classes.

The racial blend of the team - Norman, Basque, Provençal, Languedocian, Armenian, Spanish, North African, African, Caribbean and Oceanian - is still a source of pride and relief to many French people. Its importance in promoting generational change in racial attitudes in France should not be underestimated.

But the first, unofficial, celebrations of the victory disintegrated into violence in central Paris on Sunday night and the early hours of Monday. About 400 youths from the disadvantaged suburbs ringing Paris smashed the windows of designer shops and expensive cars and fought with riot police.

This is fairly standard behaviour by teenagers from the banlieues during any large street event in the capital. The point is that it did not happen, on such a scale, after the World Cup victory. Then, the "Zidane effect" - the presence of a successful North African in a successful French team - had persuaded even the most violent kids to celebrate peacefully. Two years on, many seemed to have decided that the Zidane Effect had done nothing much for them recently.

This was a racial statement; and it was also an outpouring of frustration and envy. The gangs, like all Parisian banlieue gangs, were racially mixed, with second and third generation Arab teenagers fighting alongside black, Turkish, and white kids. Their behaviour, though no more forgiveable than that of England fans in Belgium, is a reminder that there are some parts of France which the boom has yet to reach. The economic importance of the World Cup victory was confirmed yesterday by no less a person than the Governor of the Bank of France, Jean-Claude Trichet. He predicted the Euro 2000 victory would have a "tremendous impact on the morale of France" and would help to further unleash the animal spirits of the economy. If so, that is good news for all of us. France, with 3.8 per cent growth forecast this year, is already the new locomotive of the European economy. A continuing Gallic boom could help to balance the effects of a downturn in the United States.

Mr Trichet made another interesting comparison - between the French soccer team and the anti-trade, anti-capitalism protest of 30,000 people called by the small farmers' leader and anti-McDonald's campaigner, Jose Bove, at the weekend. Mr Trichet said the French team "incarnated the modernity of a successful France". Mr Bove stood for a mistaken view of a France threatened by global trade and increased contact and competition with the rest of the world.

He has a good point. The economic success of France in the past three years has coincided with a more open, competitive approach to markets and business methods.

The France team is not significantly more talented than French teams which have gone before and, gloriously, won nothing. The difference is in combativeness and will to win. The players attribute these qualities to the fact that almost all of them play abroad, in Italy, England and Spain, in club competitions which do not tolerate glorious failure.