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 long 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 Valenciennes to ensure victory for his own team, Olympique Marseille, in a crucial tie. After a high-profile trial, Tapie was found guilty and sentenced to two years in prison, one to be suspended.
His appeal relies on a new version of events, in which he admits meeting the Valenciennes trainer, but denies instigating any payments. Last week, Tapie threatened legal action over a report in the sports newspaper, l'Equipe, which said that Olympique Marseille under his chairmanship was a money-laundering machine.
The threat of jail seemed to make him less flamboyant, 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.