Football / European Cup: The joy of victory overcomes all differences: On a night of triumph, national pride was stronger than regional prejudice. John Roberts in Paris witnessed the celebrations

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The Independent Online
NEEDING to make a telephone call, I turned down the volume of the television set in my hotel room. Marseille had been awarded a corner, but the way chances had been squandered by both sides there was no reason to suppose that the match was about to be won and lost.

When Basile Boli's head made the crucial connection, amplification from the silent screen was unnecessary. A communal roar from the houses along the Rue Poussin in Auteuil came through the open window like the crack of thunder.

Rain rescued the city from humidity, but it did not dampen the celebrations. Three minutes after the match, traffic on the Champs-Elysees was jammed by fans waving the blue and white flags of a club which usually provokes revulsion in the capital.

'We can now say that French soccer has lost its virginity,' Michel Platini, France's most celebrated footballer and a spectator in Munich, said. 'It was not a great match but the important thing was to win the trophy.' Platini himself won a European Cup- winner's medal as a player, with the Italian club, Juventus, in 1985.

For the moment, regional differences are forgotten. Marseille had won for France. At L'Equipe, a sub- editor was writing the front page headline: 'Le Jour de Gloire'. The late Gabriel Hanot, a journalist on the sports daily had originated the European Cup in the 1950s, and the trophy was coming home at last. It was more than just good news for the paper to print, for the sales of 983,078 copies broke its all-time record.

Car horns honked, some to add to the carnival, others to warn people to stop dancing on the roof. A joyful procession went up the Champs-Elysees and down the Champs-Elysees. One man was naked, but who cared?

Richard Kaufman, an umpire at the French Open, was attempting to return to his hotel after supper, and his taxi was among the many trapped in the crowd. 'I began to wonder if I'd make it to the court in time next day,' he said.

Many of my French colleagues were surprised by the unbounded enthusiasm. 'I haven't seen anything like this since Marcel Cerdan was fighting for the world championship,' one said.

In 1991, I was in Bari for the dreadful final between Marseille and Red Star Belgrade. French anticipation that the combination of Chris Waddle and Jean-Pierre Papin would produce a triumph foundered against opponents who bided their time for the penalty shoot-out. By all accounts, Paris was quiet that night. This time the carousing continued beyond 4am, I am reliably informed.

Marseille itself was obviously in party mode, with an estimated 20,000 celebrating in the streets. 'This won't relieve the poverty of some of our neighborhoods, or ease the worries of thousands of unemployed,' a local newspaper, La Marseillaise, said. 'But for a few hours, Marseille could dream, Marseille could sing.' The only discordant note came with the tearing down and burning of an effigy of Papin - who now plays for Milan - in a cafe in the town.

The celebrations spread throughout the country, although in Nice they were used as an excuse for a spate of looting and vandalism in which 15 people were arrested. In Toulouse, police used tear gas to disperse youths who smashed three patrol car windshields. And in Valence, a motorist who lost his temper when his car was blocked by revellers fired several gunshots without injuring anyone.

'It will be interesting to see what the atmosphere is like on Saturday,' a colleague remarked. That is when Paris St Germain, the pride of the city, visit Marseille for a match which could decide the destiny of the French league championship. C'est la vie.