Football: Leboeuf sees red over British beef sandwiches

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The Independent Online
IT IS unfortunate or Frank Leboeuf, but his name sums up pretty much all that is wrong between France and England. That is the limit of my sympathy for him, however. I will nail my colours to the mast early on: I am neither pro-European nor anti-Gallic. The issues and idiosyncrasies that divide the British and the French are as ridiculous as they are hilarious, so I will not belittle hundreds of years of history here.

But fate has determined that I must relay a few illuminating incidents which may help us understand the current discord between the two nations. Last Sunday I was at Loftus Road to watch Wasps play Bourgoin in the Heineken Cup (rugby union's Champions' League), after I had foolishly given up a ticket to see Chelsea v Leeds at Stamford Bridge. Wasps beat the French side comfortably, as they had done in Bourgoin the previous Saturday.

Back in the players' lounge afterwards irony was everywhere. The most you are likely to get after a regular Wasps game is a glass of (Australian) wine or a pint of beer. So it was amusing when some bright spark decided to serve British beef sandwiches last weekend. How we chuckled. The Bourgoin players would have to go hungry or munch mince pies.

Satisfied that a small group of people were standing up for Britain's farmers - if not the great British sense of humour - I turned my attention to the football on TV, where Leeds were doing their best to ruin Gianluca Vialli's Christmas.

Just when we thought the French were down and out, in west London at least, they came back with a vengeance. It was as if someone had relayed the events at Loftus Road to Frank Leboeuf, whose retaliation was swift and to the point, the point being Harry Kewell's ankle. (Let us overlook the fact that Kewell is Australian for now; Leeds are, after all, the Premiership's most "English" team).

Leboeuf's behaviour (stamping on the player while he was on the ground and nowhere near the ball) was appalling. He is a World Cup winner and an apparently civilised individual who should know better. That description would also fit Patrick Vieira when he spat at Neil Ruddock a couple of months ago. Then there is Nicolas Anelka, who is finding it hard to win friends and influence people in Spain, so he would like the British to know that we misunderstood him. Even David Ginola, who has milked our hairdressing industry for all it is worth, is intent on disrupting Kevin Keegan's national side, after Keegan brought him here in the first place.

Ginola's war of words with Alan Shearer has spilled over on to the pitch, and will presumably resume tonight at St James' Park in Newcastle's FA Cup replay against Spurs. It is all pretty distressing for those of us who had mentally awarded Ginola refugee status from the vitriol handed out to him by the French press after he was personally blamed for their failure to qualify for USA 94. That is all the thanks we get for giving the original French beefcake two prestigious Footballer of the Year awards last season.

All these recent experiences contrast sharply with our first really serious French connection; the wonderful world of Eric Cantona. In the days when British beef on the bone was still served in Parisian restaurants, the man for whom the phrase "enfant terrible" was invented came over to entertain us with his quotations, minimalist lifestyle (take note David and Victoria) and of course his effortless brilliance on a football pitch. Somehow Cantona's eccentricity was much easier to accept a few years ago than today's Gallic misadventures in the Premiership. Which, logically, can mean only one thing: the French public's propensity to eat British beef is intrinsically linked to our tolerance of their footballers' petulance.

I WAS working in Leeds the other day so I popped into my parents' house for an hour. No sooner had I walked in the door than my father was moaning he could not walk because of a sore foot and asking me to pop out to his car to fetch his phone.

Thinking he had injured himself in training that morning, I did as I was told. "What's wrong with your foot?" I asked when I returned. He was pulling off his sock and showing me a large bump on the bridge of his battered appendage.

"When did you do that?" I asked.

"When I captained Wales against Iceland in 1981," he replied with a straight face. Old footballers do not die, they just take longer to heal.

Gabby Yorath is an ITV sports presenter