Monday, 12 March 2012

Allez les blancs

My wife Danielle, who is French – a point which is not entirely irrelevant to my theme today – reminds me that there’s a subject I have failed to address, much to the detriment of a blog that sets out to cover every theme that matters to mankind.

Danielle has been told by our good friend Yannick, equally French, that he was delighted by my failure to gloat over yesterday’s narrow but nonetheless famous  victory of the English rugby team over the French, in the Six Nations championship.

Now I know how to take a hint. At heart, Yannick is not in fact grateful for my silence. There is an etiquette in these matters. When your team beats your friend’s, there is an obligation to rub his nose in it a bit. If you don’t, you deprive him of the opportunity to do the same back to you when the tables are turned at some distant period in the future.

But I’m sorry, Yannick, I will not descend so low. There will be no hint of gloating from me. However fine the victory. And even though it took place in Paris. And even though France were unbeaten at home in the previous eleven matches. And had beaten England in every encounter since 2008.



Instead, Yannick, let me urge you to be philosophical. And if that doesn't work, at least indulge in a little Schadenfreude. You must be able to take satisfaction from the repeated shots we got of the face of Nicolas Sarkozy, in the crowd. He looked grim, didn’t he? You must admit that a lost international may be a price worth paying to see the usual fatuous smile wiped off those particular features.

In any case, it is not entirely in Yannick’s honour that I am writing this post. No, another and stranger incident strengthened my determination to respond to the reminder Danielle passed on from him.

Coming through St Pancras International station tonight, I happened to cross the path of Serge Betsen. He’s what’s known as a flanker in rugby and played a significant role in the French team until his retirement from the international game in 2008. Today, he plays at club level in England, for London Wasps. He was no doubt at St Pancras having caught the Eurostar back from Paris after yesterday’s superbly satisfying match.

Not that he shared my view of that outstanding game. I say that not as mere speculation, guessing that a former France player wouldn’t relish such a conclusive humiliation of his countrymen, but because I heard him express his dissatisfaction live and to camera, for the BBC. 



For reasons that escape me the BBC persist in using him as a commentator, despite the fact that his English can only be described, even in the most charitable terms, as inadequate to the task. Few sports commentators ever seem to rise far above the level of the banal; when they only have a vocabulary of 200 words, it becomes practically impossible.

Shame really. On the pitch he was fluent and graceful, though when he was wearing a French shirt, that was something I could 
frequently only admit through gritted teeth.

Serge Betsen at his best. How are the mighty fallen
I suppose the BBC stick with him because he plays in England. 


Incidentally, when the French talk about where a sportsman plays, they use the verb évoluer. In other words, they would say that Serge evolves in England.

Fortunately I have forbidden myself the slightest hint of gloating. Otherwise I might have said something ungenerous. I might have been tempted to write that on yesterday’s performance, it could do the entire French XV some good to evolve a little in England.



But that would have been unworthy of me.

2 comments:

Mark Reynolds said...

"When your team beats your friend’s, there is an obligation to rub his nose in it a bit. If you don’t, you deprive him of the opportunity to do the same back to you when the tables are turned at some distant period in the future. "

A more concise summary of sports fandom has never been writ. The main reason I pay attention to hockey is to torment my friend Tim for his loyalty to the perennially hapless Bruins. Last year was a good year for Tim, sadly.

David Beeson said...

The Buddhists talk about the great wheel of life, don't they, and surely sport is its most striking illustration - so don't worry, Mark, it'll turn in time...