Bernard Tapie, the former football club chairman and politician whose name was a byword for the fast-talking, fast-living France of the Eighties, embarked yesterday on a last-ditch attempt to save himself from the prison sentence that has longed seemed his destiny.
Thinner than before and uncharacteristically restrained, he arrived early at the courthouse in Douai to start his appeal against conviction for fixing a football match.
In May, Tapie was found guilty of organising payments to two players from the Valenciennes football club to ensure victory for his own team, Olympique Marseille, in a crucial tie. After a high-profile trial, during which he suffered betrayal by a former Marseille colleague, Jean-Pierre Vernes, Tapie was found guilty and sentenced to two years in prison, one to be suspended.
His appeal relies on a new version of events, according to which he admits for the first time meeting the Valenciennes trainer, but denies instigating any payments. Last week, Tapie threatened legal proceedings over a report in the sports newspaper, l'Equipe, which said that Olympique Marseille under his chairmanship was a money-laundering machine.
The threatened prison sentence seemed to take away some of his flamboyance and he has adopted a low-key approach to his appeal. But scepticism has been expressed about his new image. Some even questioned whether a hospital stay last week might not have been intended to save him from prison on health grounds. In a newspaper interview, Tapie said prison "terrified" him.