Mark Steel: View From The Terraces (or seeing Le Pen's defeat in a French bar)

Tous ensemble for Zizou's black and white masterpiece
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The Independent Online

Apparently, the main point of the France v Portugal semi-final was that Ronaldo "cried like a petulant little boy," according to The Daily Mirror. Or as The Sun put it "Oh diddums." Because our boys never cry. Well, all right, they do, but they cry men's tears, bulldog tears that said "Oi - I'm gonna make you right wet, you dirty German grass," not poofy Portuguese Ronaldo tears, full of glitter and amyl nitrate.

The hundreds who squeezed into the French bar in Battersea, south London, to watch the game had other reasons for enjoying the match. Partly this was because they all seemed so young. Even the 60-year-old in a jacket and tie looked young, in an Engelbert Humperdinck sort of way; and they all acted like students. So even when it was thoroughly, stiflingly packed and there was no oxygen, so it was the sort of conditions to which I imagine they subject trainee astronauts, everyone called and texted as if it was part of the fun, and there cannot possibly be a phrase in French that means "Could you turn the noise down? I've got a bit of a headache."

Something else wonderfully French in the bar was that there were two big screens and one showed the game in black and white. Perhaps they were hoping to show the "art" version of the match, in which the referee would ask "Is it a penalty?" then slowly blow smoke into the camera, say "Peut-être oui, peut-être non," shrug his shoulders and leave the field. Or Thierry Henry would grab Vieira by the cheeks and say "Patrick, I hate you - kiss me."

"Zizou, Zizou," they all chanted whenever Zizou (Zinedine Zidane's nickname), got the ball, then they'd chant "tous ensemble tous ensemble," (all together), which I last heard chanted en masse on the vast demonstration against the fascist Jean-Marie Le Pen.

This was not a coincidence, as Le Pen said last week he didn't "recognise the team as France" because of "the number of coloured players". Whereas in the bar, Nicolas, a student, said Zidane was so popular because "we have problems with racism, and he is so articulate, so whenever he appears he solves them." Similarly, his friend Laurent said: "If older people don't know why people from Algeria and Africa are part of the French team, they are stupid."

Zidane's penalty had put the French ahead and during the scrappy second half the French supporters rarely seemed worried, except when Fabien Barthez dropped a shot from Ronaldo. The tall boy next to me slowly lifted his hands and sighed mildly "Huh - putain Barthez," as if he was about to read a poem and this was the title. For those who don't know, "Putain Barthez" translated is "The goalkeeper's a whore." Aah, the French.

And if anyone was in any doubt which nationality they were, at the full-time whistle the bar staff sprayed everyone in the face with champagne. If they win the final, they'll hose everyone down with a sauce made from rabbit, mustard and raspberries.

How different this was to watching Italy beat Ukraine, where no alcohol was allowed in the wonderfully welcoming but temperate sandwich bar in the West End, where your entrance fee included a lemonade and a panini. Will there ever be a time when English fans call each other to say, "Come round to mine to watch the match tonight - I've got a crate of paninis in?" And then if an argument starts, someone try to stop it by holding people apart and saying "All right, calm down - we've ALL had a sun-dried tomato"?

For the Italians, football can be an intense business. Even the Italian daily sport paper is pink like the Financial Times. And for whole sections of the game, there were no cheers, just studied comments, with the occasional clap, frown, then yell of approval, so they looked like the people in that big room at Nasa watching the progress of a manned rocket.

And all the while, Felice, the owner, chopped and sliced and made paninis, only ever looking up to see the replays of the goals, still chopping, and not losing a single finger. After their 3-0 win one Italian said "Aah - but we played terrible tonight."

Whereas for the French, their celebrations were the continuation of the student party, no punching the air but lots of spraying beer and dancing down the pavement, and big squeezy hugs, and the 60-year-old took off his jacket and crooned "The Marseillaise". It seemed to be not just a victory for France against Portugal, but a victory for new France over old France.

"When are we going to be able to celebrate like this?" lamented an English lad. But perhaps it won't be until we can look forward instead of back, forever boasting about two world wars and ruling the waves. So that whenever we lose we insist we were cheated, and the attitude of many people is "We're England so we deserve the World Cup but cheating poxy Fifa insist on this bloody rule where we have to play matches, with a ball and posts and it's a conspiracy. Well, I'm going to go to Fifaland and give the Fifans a bloody kicking. Except then it'll be me who gets done. I tell you, they're taking the piss."

And yet Le Pen got one fifth of the votes in France four years ago, and you can observe the young French celebrations because London is the most cosmopolitan city in the world. Football's complicated, isn't it?

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