I don’t mean for this to turn into a sports blog- trust me I’m the last guy you want discussing sports but last week I saw a rugby match and this week (Saturday) I watched a soccer game, Paris versus Lens. As I mentioned, the Rugby match was violent but the fans were very demur and respectful. Soccer is a whole different makeup. The game is played by gentlemen and watched by animals. The quiet of the rugby field was in sharp contrast to the riotous chanting of the soccer (european football) fans.
Walking to the Stade de Paris from the metro I was struck by the drunken yelling of young men. Alcohol is not served in the stadium so all the best drinking is done outside. Young men screaming at the top of their lungs to other young men who, in turn, scream back a response. An impromptu song breaks out shouted by hundreds of people. This is, mind you, on the way to the stadium. The game won’t start for another 2 hours.
Our tickets are free, a gift from a major French news organization via a wonderful woman that writes at the American Library. I am with the more successful Misplaced In New Zealand. We are discussing the coup in scoring the tickets and the terrible state of our professional careers- although he is quick to remind me that he has actually published a book and won awards for his novel as well as having numerous articles published in a well-respected paper. I mention that I had 12 commenters on my Henry Miller post and that I was almost in a movie- he seems unimpressed. I bust out that I met a very famous supermodel- he agrees that I win- but suggests that I am more of a stalker than an actual friend to this woman. “Nicely played,” I concede. “Revenge is a dish best served cold.” I think to myself.
Paris Saint Germaine is playing Lens, a small commune in northern France. Lens is well represented at the stadium their orange flags out number the blue Paris flags 2 to 1. We walk to our seats and my day gets better- my seat is on the aisle- oh happy day- unfortunately the more successful Misplaced’s seat is being occupied by a large Silver Back Gorilla waving a Lens flag and chewing on a carrot. “I believe you are in his seat.” I said in English motioning to the seat number and the nervous New Zealander. I’m secure in the knowledge that if there is trouble I don’t have to outrun the gorilla just the New Zealander. They must get the Nature Channel in New Zealand because my Kiwi friend seems to know what happens to the submissive gorilla when the dominant male is challenged. He quickly employs the defense mechanism used by New Zealanders for centuries- charm. He gives the Silver Back a great big New Zealander smile and begins to speak in stilted French. It’s amazing to hear French spoken poorly in a New Zealand accent- it’s like hearing the Queen pass gas; you know it happens but you just can’t believe it when you hear it for yourself.
The gorilla is disarmed and unbalanced by the atrocious French pronunciation and scoots down a seat. Unwilling to concede complete defeat he shoves a large Lens flag into the Kiwi’s shaking hand and, thankfully, grunts instructions on how to wave it. For the remainder of the game the New Zealander, a fan of Paris but a larger fan of life, holds the flag tightly, his knuckles whitened, his Lens flag trembling. He shouts a small “hooray” when the Lens team does well. I half expect him to begin picking lice out of his new friends fur.
I have always heard that soccer was dull- I played soccer and felt it was dull. Soccer is not dull. The score is 1-1 we go into overtime. The stadium now resembles Thunderdome, red flairs are ignited in the stands, and smoke bombs go off. Security magically doubles on the field- they don’t watch the game, they watch us- I haven’t needed to be watched in a long time- it feels strangely exhilarating- it’s a prison riot waiting to happen. Good-looking guys with nice hair, like me, know to disappear during a prison riot- but I persevere. Paris scores break the tie and win the game!! New Zealand guy slyly gives me a thumbs up- but frowns sadly at the Silver Back and returns the flag to him as if to say, “well, we did all we could.” The crowd is screaming- the noise level unbearable. Disenfranchised youth with enough disposable income to buy tickets are about to explode. We hightail it out of there and meet up with our host who has wisely squirreled himself away in the press box.
We take the train home with 70,000 others enjoying the esprit de corps albeit cramped cars.