Football: World Cup: Crossing the divide into South's empire of senses

At Large In France
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The Independent Online
I THINK it was De Gaulle who said: "How can you govern a country that has 284 different kinds of cheese?" The concept of France as "L'Hexagone" implies a rather more manageable six-sidedness. But, when you slim it right down to the bone, there are only two widely divergent parts to France: North and South. But the divide is seriously Cartesian - the North belongs to the mind and the South to the body.

In taking the train from Paris to Marseilles I feel I am crossing a frontier (somewhere around Lyon). As the temperature outside rises a few degrees, and the predominant colour turns from grey to grape, we are also leaving the realm of cool, controlling super-ego and entering the land of the uninhibited id and unleashed libido.

Today the TGV is loaded with England football supporters, but they are following in the tracks of what has become an exalted tradition as writers and artists have flocked south in search of the empire of the senses.

Ernest Hemingway went South for bullfights, blood and gore. Andre Gide (and Joe Orton) came down this way on the look out for erotic adventures. At the age of 15, in the grip of more heterosexual fantasies, my best friend Griffo and I hitched South in our quest for St Tropez and Brigitte Bardot, convinced that she had an unconquerable weakness for 15-year- olds. Turned out she didn't. But the occasional slap in the face from the reality principal is not going to stop any of us equating the North with rigid self-repression and the South with relaxed, liberated hedonism. The England team, for one, should feel at home here.

It was Albert Camus, the great writer and goalkeeper, who did as much as anyone to mythify the South's sunny sensuality. The "Nordic" character, according to Camus, was typically angst-ridden and neurotical and solitary (he was probably thinking of his sometime friend, the philosopher Jean- Paul Sartre, who once said to him in a Paris bistro, "I'm more intelligent then you.). Whereas the "solar" culture of the Mediterranean was all dionysian orgies and communion with nature.

I will check this out and report back while in Marseilles. Meanwhile, one pervasive myth I can definitely scotch is the idea that Camus once played in goal for Algeria. He rose as high as wearing the No 1 jumper for the junior team of the Algiers Racing University Club, but he could never have played for Algieria because (a) he developed tuberculosis, which turned a promising goalie into a Premier Division writer, and (b) there was no Algerian team at the time. As Baron Pierre de Coubertin points out in his book Essais de Psychologie Sportive, the French colonial administration did not like native Algerians to play, in case they won and this went to their heads and sparked a rebellion.

In a way they were right. In his account of playing in Algiers, Camus puts the stress on the "association" side of football: the game is all about solidarity and brotherhood. But the reality was less harmonious and the Algerian football field increasingly became the arena for a showdown between pro- and ante-colonial forces. The turning point was April 1958 when 10 professional Algerian players turned their backs on France and founded an independent Algerian team then based in Tunis.

But another of Camus's books, The Myth of Sisyphus, evoked the epic, drawn out struggle that is the World Cup. Glenn Hoddle, like Camus, might well sympathise with the heroic figure of Sisyphus, doomed to roll his rock up one hill only to have to roll it up the next. The last line of the book is one only a man of the South could have written: "We have to imagine that Sisyphus was happy."