Lyon's lesson shows the better side of patriotism

Peter Drury
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The Independent Football

Proud patriotism is great. Blind patriotism not so. It does you good to see your national neighbours in a flattering light.

Proud patriotism is great. Blind patriotism not so. It does you good to see your national neighbours in a flattering light.

It was a worthwhile exercise this week, therefore, for this delighted-to-be-died-in-the-wool Englishman to eavesdrop on a veritable civic celebration of Frenchness in Lyon... and then to register that, amid it all, two of the staunchest sportsman that Blighty has to offer shone gloriously.

But, France first. To arrive in Lyon on a beautifully clear spring day is, in itself, to be seduced by the country. The river shimmers with a decorative stateliness beneath ornate bridges; the air is crisp and lung-friendly; the architecture - even to a self-confessed architectural philistine - is a stylish blend of modern, ancient and older still; and the fabled gastronomy is more than just a reputation or a cliché - it is a lip-smacking reality.

Added to all of which, the citizens of France's second city have a very evident civic pride which encompasses a considerable warmth for their football club. Evidently, too, that local pride is an extension of a national pride which manifested itself in the welcoming embrace afforded to Francophile Arsenal before Tuesday's Champions' League match.

Maybe it was imaginary, but there did seem to be a brief pause when Thierry Henry's name was first announced to the crowd. There were, perhaps, a few nervous sideways glances as the home supporters decided whether to greet him as one of "us" or one of "them". But it was almost imperceptibly brief. A consensus was quickly reached and the ensuing universal applause smacked of delight at the overseas success of a dynamic French export.

A similar show of affection was granted to Patrick Vieira and Robert Pires. Even Gilles Grimandi - uncapped and a player who you would tend to exclude from the "superstar" class - was welcomed home.

Nobody read out Arsÿne Wenger's name over the Tannoy. But it is unthinkable that he'd have been treated any differently. Indeed, even at his eve-of-match press conference with the French scribblers, respect blended comfortably with familiarity. An "easy" mood prevailed.

In no sense is all this French "talent" considered treacherously to have abandoned its homeland. Rather, the stars have planted, on fields across the length and breadth of England Tricolors emblematic of the fact that France currently rules the footballing world. As a result, even when they fly home intent on dashing the dream of a French club side, they are invited unequivocally back into the fold. No bitterness. No jealousy.

Arsenal's visit to Lyon represented a special occasion. This wasn't just another European match. They sold out le Stade de Gerland within hours. Apparently, they could have flogged all 40,000 tickets twice over again. All because of the abundance of French connections.

The party never once erupted into xenophobia. It was a smashing match which deserved more than the single goal provided by - of course - Henry. Hard. Competitive. Physical. But roundly enjoyed by an audience whose perspective did them credit.

Right down to the airport-bound taxi-ride, Lyon portrayed itself admirably. In immaculate English, our driver expanded on the merits of his home town and its team, humbly acknowledging Arsenal's deserved victory, expressing his pleasure (yes, pleasure) at seeing young English fans out enjoying the city centre into the early hours and pointing out - correctly - the dominant roles of two English yeomen in the previous night's piece.

Perhaps, Tony Adams and David Seaman are immortal after all. One has bowed to his body's demands and opted out of international football; the other, having kept his goal ball-free for a sixth consecutive club match, waits phlegmatically to see whether Sven Goran Eriksson is seduced by his eternal youth.

Actually, Tord Grip (Eriksson's henchman) was at the game and it is hard to see how in his subsequent memo to Sven, under the heading: "David Seaman - selection thereof", he didn't write: "You'd be crazy not to." The Arsenal goalkeeper patrols his penalty area with the calm authority of a favourite uncle while plunging around the six-yard box like a hyperactive child. A goalless first half hour in Sunday's FA Cup tie against Chelsea will make it 10 hours since he conceded a goal.

As for Adams, his international retirement renders European club football his biggest stage now and, with that characteristic uprightness and sleeves rolled up, he clearly plans to bestride it mightily.

Any English patriot would have been proud of those two (and Dixon and Parlour and Cole) in Lyon. The good French patriots had the grace to appreciate them too.

Peter Drury is an ITV sports commentator

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