French have developed game on and off pitch

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Like Jane Birkin and crème brulée, football had its roots in England but it needed to journey across the Channel to be transformed into a truly international dish.

Like Jane Birkin and crème brulée, football had its roots in England but it needed to journey across the Channel to be transformed into a truly international dish.

The country that invented the game spent the best part of its first 100 years with a belief in splendid isolation and a misplaced sense of superiority. Yes, for most of that period, from the 1870s onwards, England had the measure of France on the pitch. Club football on this side of the water took off much earlier. The French generally followed the English lead, with Le Havre, their first club, founded in 1872, still playing today in a two-tone blue strip reflecting the Oxbridge origins of its early bigwigs.

Internationally, les Rosbifs were always sure of victory over les Bleus, England scoring 49 goals in their first four (unofficial) matches against France between 1906 and 1910, with France not finding the net at all until the fourth game, a 10-1 defeat.

But it was the French who undertook the serious business of growing the sport internationally and Frenchmen who were most influential in the foundation and organisation of tournaments.

Fifa got off the ground - in Paris, 100 years ago last month - only after France's Robert Guerin tired of the English FA's procrastination to form a world governing body and invited other nations to do so instead. The World Cup came about under the Fifa presidency of another Frenchman, Jules Rimet. The European Championship was the brainchild of a third, Henri Delaunay, the first general secretary of Uefa, European football's governing body. The trophy being contested in Portugal is named after him.

Since the countries first faced each other competitively, in 1962, meetings have tended to reflect their relative positions on the world stage. France had the better of the first two meaningful matches, drawing 1-1 at Hillsborough in the first leg of a European Championship qualifier for 1964 and then winning 5-2 at home in the return, Alf Ramsey's first game in charge. When they next met, at the 1966 World Cup, Ramsey's side won 2-0 en route to England's only major trophy.

The 1982 World Cup was something of an anomaly. England beat France 3-1 in the first group stage and ended up winning three matches and drawing two at the tournament but were still eliminated before the knockout phase. France won three, drew one and lost one to reach the semi-finals.

By the time of a friendly in early 1984, which France won 2-0, they were clearly in the ascendancy, as their Platini-inspired Euro '84 triumph on home turfproved. Matches either side of the 1998 World Cup demonstrated another French upswing.

English football evidently admires what France offers. There have been more imports from France than from any other nation. Frenchmen have won five of the last nine Footballer of the Year awards. Clearly, nous les aimons. But tomorrow, perhaps, pas beaucoup.


27 FEBRUARY 1963 France 5 England 2 (ECQ, Paris)

Alf Ramsey's first game as England manager was this European Championship qualifier. He played with five strikers but his side were 3-0 down at half-time despite the hosts being without the talismanic Raymond Kopa. Headers from Bobby Smith and Bobby Tambling cut the deficit but Wisnieski and Cossou made it 5-2.

20 JULY 1966 England 2 France 0 (WCF, Wembley)

Ramsey's second managerial encounter with France was in England's third group match of the 1966 World Cup finals. Only three players from his first match - Bobby Moore, Jimmy Greaves and Bobby Charlton - remained in the starting line-up. France, who had Youri Djorkjaeff's father, Jean, in the team, lost the forward Roby Herbin to injury early on. Victory came via Roger Hunt scoring twice on his 28th birthday.

29 FEBRUARY 1984 France 2 England 0 (Friendly, Paris)

England had beaten France in their previous meeting, 3-1 in the first group stage of the 1982 World Cup. This friendly, marred by English hooligans, marked a turning of the tide. The French beat Bobby Robson's team courtesy of two goals from Michel Platini. The peerless Juventus star, along with Tigana, Fernandez, Giresse and Co, won Euro 84 that summer.

14 JUNE 1992 France 0 England 0 (ECF, Malmo)

Graham Taylor's team featured Lineker, Shearer and Platt. Michel Platini's had Cantona, Papin and Deschamps. A general lack of quality led to a dull game ending in a result that did neither nation any favours in a Euro 92 group also including Denmark and Sweden. England and France went home early, Sweden won the group and Denmark went on to win the tournament.

7 JUNE 1997 France 0 England 1 (Tournoi, Montpellier)

Alan Shearer's late goal secured Glenn Hoddle's England their sixth win on the bounce and hinted that a decent France '98 might be on the cards. England had beaten Italy 2-0 in their previous match and scored eight in the four games prior to that, conceding only one. France's side was taking shaping, however, with the body of the World Cup-winning side already in place.

14 FEBRUARY 1999 England 0 France 2 (Friendly, Wembley)

The World Cup holders dazzled, not least through Pires' pace, Zidane's genius playmaking and Djorkjaeff's incisive passing. Nicolas Anelka scored twice (France's first-ever goals at Wembley) and had a third disallowed. France's coach, Roger Lemerre, said afterwards: "Perhaps in some way it's the myth of Wembley disappearing."