Football: French find discreet ways to prolong World Cup euphoria

New supporters are attracted as the season starts across the Channel.
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The Independent Online
IF, AS most Frenchmen agree, winning the World Cup matched Liberation as their nation's greatest day, then why are they not celebrating it properly? Or maybe they really are superior beings to the rest of us when it comes to discretion and subtlety.

Even us Francophiles who cheered ourselves hoarse, doing our utmost to raise the ultra-modernised roof from the Stade de France on that glorious night a month ago, deluding ourselves that we had always had a few drops, at least, of French blood coursing through our veins, may never completely understand their way of doing things over here.

On the night of their team's astonishing 3-0 win over Brazil, a few French men and women did go a little berserk. Thousands who had never been to a football match in France spent the next two days cavorting, dancing on cars, bringing traffic to a standstill, simply because France had won a football match.

But whereas many football-obsessed Englishmen would have used the occasion - as they most surely did 32 years ago - as an excuse to get paralytic for months on end, the French have contained their euphoria. Never was that more evident than at the weekend when the new domestic league campaign got underway.

Perversely, perhaps, for a nation that has established itself as the world's best, only four of France's World Cup squad were involved. Two Monaco players, Fabien Barthez and Thierry Henry, helped their team defeat Lorient 2-1 on Friday, and two from Olympique Marseille, Laurent Blanc and Robert Pires, a new arrival from Metz, featured in their team's 2- 0 win over Nantes on Saturday.

With more crowds such as the record-equalling 58,000 at the Stade Velodrome in Marseilles, French clubs might eventually be able to persuade their top earners to stay instead of following players like Zinedine Zidane, their two-goal hero in the final, to Italy.

"Allez les Bleus" was the cry during the World Cup but only a select few supporters chose to wear their national team's blue shirt on opening day. Nor were tricolor flags greatly in evidence. Several fans at Nancy, for instance, sported their club colours, among them those with the name of Cascarino emblazoned on the back. The Irish international duly obliged, putting his side ahead in the match against Sochaux, another promoted club.

Not even an injury-time equaliser could completely dampen the spirits of the 35-year-old veteran of two World Cup campaigns. "Shot, what shot?" Cascarino asked of his puny 65th-minute effort, certainly no blockbuster, that trickled over the line just before it was hacked clear.

In more serious mode, Cascarino revealed his pleasure at participating among World Cup winners. "I got caught up with it," he admitted.

"There was a good night when France beat Croatia in the semi-final but we were in serious training by the time of the final. I actually tipped France to win. I'm only disappointed I didn't have a bet on them.

"But the mood hasn't let up. The feeling for football is still there and that has to be good for the game here. Take this club, for instance. We've doubled our season-ticket sales and that isn't only because we have gone up. The World Cup has had a lot to do with it."

And so it has, even at Nancy, whose World Cup connections are tenuous in the extreme; the club has links with the new national team coach, Roger Lemerre, and two of his predecessors, the illustrious Michel Platini and the World Cup-winning Aime Jacquet. This season a substantial group of fans have formed what is known as the Collectif Nancien behind one of the goals in the Marcel Picot Stadium.

Preferring a seat in the main stand was Anne Routty, a 33-year-old housewife who had joined her husband Jean-Marie at a match for the first time. She was clad neither in her club nor her country's colours but had needed no persuading to make her debut. "It is because we are the best," she explained, having formed her opinion from endless hours of watching World Cup games on television.

"Before I didn't think I liked places with a lot of people. It made me afraid, perhaps, but now that I know it is safe I will come another day with my children."

Madame Routty and her enfants will be safe, presumably, so long as they keep well out of the way of the Nancy groundsman when he is cutting the grass on the pitch. Judging by the skew-whiff shades of green where his mower went awry, one man, at least, seems to have been keeping up his World Cup celebrations. But then, was there ever a more justifiable cause?

Goals: Cascarino 65 (1-0); Fiawoo 90 (1-1).

Nancy (4-4-2): Roux; Ferreria (Rodriguez, 78), Lecluse, Hognon, Meniri; Moraccini,Bastien (Moustaid, 88), Biancalani, Kone; Cascarino, Wiart (Rambo, 84),

Sochaux (4-4-2): Fernandez; Raschke, Maraval, Flachez, Martin (Klausz, 69); Chaintreuil, Chedli (Dedebant, 61), Santini (Isabey, 69), Baudry; Fiawoo, Vandecasteele.

Booking: Sochaux: Isabey.

Referee: M Colombo.

Man of the match: Baudry.

Attendance: 8,000.