There and back again – a Groundhopper's tale
I'm normaly not a groundhopper, a football fan visiting the most exotic venues just for the love of unintelligible languages, undisgestible food and hilarious tales about getting lost on the way to a stadium. I was born to follow and I follow my clubs, Mainz 05 and Paris Saint-Germain plus the Brazilian national team (I never said I was normal!) to some extent and to some places.
But this time and last weekend in Paris I had an evening off and decided to treat myself to a French Ligue 2 game and that's where my groundhopper's tale begins.
Paris FC, actually something like PSG's step-brother or maiden mother, did me the favour to play local rival US Créteil in a tight battle against relegation. Paris FC occupied the last place in the table, Créteil the last but one.
I emerged from the Métro to the view of a spindly legged concrete bowl proudly sporting a banner in dark blue and black with a stylised Eiffel Tower: Home of Paris FC.
This suburban concrete charme prevailed on the inside of the stadium.
To my surprise I wasn't the only foreigner wanting to see the mighty Paris FC. Some young men joined me in trying to come by the information where and how to get a ticket. There weren't that many possibilities, really, but one of the boxes was obviously open only for youth teams coming to see the match, another one only took credit card ...Well, we made it inside and were told to pick a place, any place in the stands. So I dived into the concrete bowl.
There were children playing with some toys obviously put there for their use. Like in Sunday School.
There was one counter offering sandwiches, soft drinks, water and – hoorray! - chips (glutenfree!)
There was a stadium speaker, doing a carioca on the pitch and announcing everything from the players to the flood lights going on like he was at Parc de Princes or Stade de France, Paris' real big venues. Football temples.
There were Ultràs prepating for a tifo.
There was everything football needs.
I'm a secrete admirer of everything ultrà, so I occupied a seat at the back of the block where the black and blue hoard mingled and were in the process of inflating blue and white balloons. More than 99 of them.
A steward spotted me there and approached me, his brow signalling worry. „Madame,“ he began and switched to English, when I produced my best nondescript foreigner's face, „this is where the Ultràs are.“
„Are you sure you want to stay here?“
I reassured him that I was familiar with Ultràs, knew how to handle them and would keep my distance. He was relieved. „Ah, you're a football fan. Yes, keep safe, they can be … pushy.“
Yes, they can.
I thanked him for his concern and prepared myself for the game.
Before the actual match a parade of youth teams marched in to triumphant music. Obviously they had been doing very well, each team was carrying trophies, and were to receive their well merited honours. I marvelled at the many girl teams and among those at the obvious number of Muslim girls, wearing elaborate headscarfs. In Black and blue, of course.
It were exactly those girls who climbed up into the stands next to me when the game began and started supporting them with a fervour short of nothing I was about to see the next day at Stade de France when PSG played OSC Lille in the cup final. Come to that, I wouldn't see many fans dancing on the seats at Stade de France.
The support was all hand (or lungs) made. 100% passion. 100% percent Paris. Unwaivering chants. Nonstop drums. Blue and white balloons waved (and later popped to make up for the lack of explosives).And an unmistakeable attitude.
Since it was a derby of some sorts, several stands were mixed scenes, but there was a large block of definite US Créteil Ultràs situated right across the concrete bowl, as far away from the PFC Ultràs as was strategically possible and advisable. They stripped their chests bare as soon as the game began and when Ultràs striptease they mean business.
Since there was no alcohol sold at the stadium, the fans had to fuel their passion simply on adrenaline and they managed to. When Créteil equalised and thus doomed Paris FC to go back to the National League, France's third tier, some guys to my left said something intensely displeasing the PFC's capo. He threw them both bodily from the stands.
They remained unharmed, but proceeded to pay back the attitude. Stewards intervened and suddenly all the PFC's Ultràs left the block to join the brawl rather than support their team.
Priorities! USC Ultràs on the far side of the stadium gloated.
The girls in the stands kept their agitated distance.
Somehow the whole thing inflated. Stewards, Ultràs, rogue fans and Muslim girls all returned to their seats. Meanwhile the attitude had meandered to the pitch where the players staged a small brawl of their own. The referee marched in and booked the contestants. Continue playing, si'il-vous plait!
The game was a typical 2nd tier match. Some good football, some abysmal one, much mediocre display, but all in all – what do you expect? Ten-a-side kicking a ball, with their feet and heads, running and flying and passing and diving for control of that round sphere that evaded and lured them and gave itself over to them them again like a capricious Parisian beauty. All you need to fall into poetry and song on a cold and windy night in Paris. I sang „Allez, Paris FC!“ with the rest.
I left the stadium with the vague feeling that, according to what my beloved and spoiled and pampered PSG had shown me over the last weeks, this may very well turn out to have been the more entertaining event of the weekend.
(It wasn't. But that's a different story)
When I left the stadium, fate caught up with me in the form of a French lady, maybe some years my senior, who asked what had been going on in the stadium and was aghast when I explained her with radiant eyes that a football game had taken place and I had actually been there. She couldn't believe it.
„You? A Woman? A woman YOUR age?!“
Merci beaucoup, sister!
She offered to pray for me and earnestly begged me to wear a Wondrous Miraculous Medal in future when visiting such dark and demonically infested places.
She was quite charming, actually, after an hour's talk, so I might. I have such a medal at home.
While I was telling her that I indeed am every bit as catholic as her, police escorted USC fans home long after the match had ended and PFC fans had dispersed.
„They are good lads, really“ I told her.
Madame the French lady looked unconvinced.
I went back to my hotel. It was freezing cold and my fingers were numb, the cold part of my body. It hadn't felt that cold in the stands. I had been watching a game in which I didn't know any player or much about the teams save for what I had checked with wikipedia right before the match. I had thoroughly enjoyed it. I really must love football.