There was a football competition down the road a few weeks ago; it was called something like ‘Euro 2008’. A bunch of countries from around the continent sent squads down to the Alps to kick a few balls around in the name of winning a bit of silverware to take back home. Spain won I think, because they seemed jolly happy about it.
Okay, I’m kidding, I was glued to the screen for a fortnight, which I have to confess was something I never expected to find myself doing.
You see I’ve never really been a huge fan of ‘the beautiful game’, not in the way that I’m a fan of Rugby, the ugly game if you will. (Due in no small part to being from the English west-country, rugby heartland and home to ‘Bath Rugby’ who at one time ruled both the English and European leagues.) So, I usually manage to avoid it except during times of national interest such as the European or World Cup finals.
This time however, unlike most other expat Englishmen, I wasn’t that fussed about the absence of England in the European Championships, partly because I was certain that my new adopted home nation, France, were sure to put in a good performance following their victory over England during the warm-ups. But that just shows how much I knew about football. With the benefit of hindsight I think we can safely say that if England had qualified for the tournament, they would probably have just embarrassed themselves, even more so than France. Oh la la.
So with England failing to even make it to the party and France being knocked out in the first round, what reason did I have to keep watching? Answer: the sheer spectacle of cracking top-flight international football. Thankfully, unlike the 2006 World Cup, the knock-out rounds were just as exciting as the pool games. Granted not every match was a crowd pleaser, but with upsets galore, usually involving Turkey it seemed, I was kept on the edge my of seat for the duration.
Am I hooked on the round ball game then? Not quite, but I’m certainly taking it more seriously. Maybe not as serious as taking low cost life insurance premiums into consideration but I think it’s a good start. I now live in a town that is very much a football town: Strasbourg. There is a rugby team here, but they’re so insignificant that their stadium doubles as a drainage ditch in wet weather. (The only upside being that they often serve ‘vin chaud’ to the handful of spectators at half time.) The nearest decent rugby team are Stade Français in Paris, a good 450 km away, so, with the home of ‘Le Racing’ just a few tram stops from my front door I am now, if by location alone, a Racing Strasbourg supporter.
Who? Okay, unless you avidly follow the French league, you probably haven’t even heard of Le Racing Club de Strasbourg (RC Strasbourg). That is not to say they aren’t a top flight outfit. Well right now they’re not, but I’ll explain: Division 2 (L2) is where they currently reside following their relegation from Division 1 (L1) last season; the season before that they were L2 and before that L1 again. Yes, they’ve been yo-yoing up and down the league like, well, a yoyo. … and so far unbeaten in L2 this season it looks like they’re heading back up again next year!
The club was founded in 1906 when the city was part of Germany, indeed they were founded as a ‘fussball club’; it was only after the end of the First World War that they chose to change their name to ‘Racing Club’, one supposes, in order to sound less German. Then during the Second World War, during the annexation of Alsace by Germany, the club existed in two locations: the one in Strasbourg was renamed ‘Rasensport club Strassburg’ and took part in the German league, while the evacuated Strasbourgeois regrouped in the Dordogne to continue playing in the French league. Needless to say, only one club continued to play after the war, and now, over a hundred years after their initial founding they are still going strong.
The trophy cabinet may not be bulging with silverware, but there have been occasional flashes of brilliance from France’s 9th largest city in recent years. The last time the keys to the trophy cabinet were required was in 2005 when they brought home the league cup (and thus qualified for the UEFA cup). Before that it was the French Cup Final in 2001 and before that the league cup once more in 1997. But then you have to start looking way, way back to find any further success worthy of something shiny to take home.
Much of the blame for this inconsistent performance has been laid at the feet of the City council, who have dragged their heels in allowing the club to expand and build a higher capacity stadium. After all, bums on seats equals more cash, more cash equals better players, better players equals better results, better results equals more trophies. So the good news is that a brand new a 45,000 seater stadium (The Eurostadium) is finally entering planning for completion by the 2013-14 season. Lets hope they’re still in L1 by then.
So, on reflection, it’s not actually a bad club to start following. So follow them I shall.
It just remains for me to practise the terrace chant, which goes ‘Allez les bleus et blancs’ (go the blue and whites). A chant, one supposes, not entirely dissimilar to ‘Allez les bleus’ (go the blues) which can be heard echoing across France whenever the national team play. In fact they chant ‘Allez les bleus’ regardless of whether they are watching football, rugby, tennis, basketball, cycling, athletics; and so too regardless of whether their team or player is winning or losing; it seems to have universal application. Much like ‘come on Aussie’ one supposes?
In the same spirit ‘Allez les bleus et blancs’ will have universal application for me. Seeing as I’m only ever likely to be supporting England (the whites), France (The blues), or Le Racing (The blue and Whites).
Visit www.rc-strasbourg.fr for more info.