Marc Roche: 'Le football has brought the British on side'

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When I arrived in Britain in 1985, I worked for a French magazine. At the time, the coverage of France by the British tabloid press was systematically negative, an attitude exemplified by The Sun's "Up Yours Delors" front page of 1990. The tone of journalism was xenophobic, even racist.

Of course, today's coverage depends on which papers you choose to read. Both The Independent and The Guardian have a normal, balanced critical approach but offer the reader a range of diverse opinions. The press is more careful now - opinion goes out of bounds only when you have a major crisis, such as the war in Iraq, when The Sun described Chirac as a "worm". The Telegraph also has an undercurrent of pro-American bias in its pages and thus can often seem anti-European. But all these voices make for better overall coverage and a more balanced view.

The change in attitude is down to three things. The first is the Eurostar. It is the symbol of Entente Cordiale, and as a result, French people are more prominent in British society. Similarly, the British have a higher profile in France. Second, the past few years have seen a vast increase in the number of Britons moving to France. The ambassadors of Britain, these men and women have regenerated areas of France that were dying, and have been vital in Britain's reappraisal of France.

But the essential factor in explaining why the popular press is soft-pedalling is because of the French players in the football Premiership. You cannot say that all the French are worms when Thierry Henri is the top scorer in the Premiership, and when Arsenal - thanks to Arsène Wenger - is now the top team in this country. Arsenal boast half of the French national team; Anelka plays for Manchester City; Houllier manages Liverpool. All those people have played an enormous role in the better understanding of France by the British.

In 1985, Britain compared its relative prosperity and growth with France's, and saw its neighbours as being part of the old world. Today, the old world is considerably more attractive. France has decent hospitals and a decent train service. People work 35 hours a week. The British have realised that life there is not that bad; you pay a bit more tax and have a better quality of life.

In a further 100 years, we will all be part of Europe. Britain will be part of Europe, despite what The Sun has said, and we will all be happy in a federal Europe, while keeping our national identities. Blair is the most pro-European Prime Minister Britain has ever had. He speaks French, has holidays in France and, despite all the troubles, he is helping the entente. The political climate is excellent. You will always find people who think that Britain would rather be the 51st state of America. Just as in France, people support the National Front. So be it. There is enough goodwill in both countries to make the entente last for ever.

Marc Roche is a broadcaster and writer for 'Le Monde'

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