Monday, June 14, 2004

Allez, les Bleus !!!

Phew!! I've just come back from watching a real nail-biter. My usual hangout was completely full and rather impolite bouncers were sending people away and a bunch of us headed over to the Ukrainian Sports Club on 2nd Ave. betw. Saint Marks Place and 7th St, a sweaty, smelly, dank place.

There's nothing quite like the sound of supporters belching to make you want their side to lose. The England crowd were a fat lot of farting (no, really), shouting, and and spilling beer on innocent people. The man behind me shouted out "£43 million of shit!" as Zidane was preparing to answer his insult in fitting style. It's no wonder that, as is the case year after year, the FA itself is worried England might get ejected if its supporters misbehave (more than they feel is necessary). No one smashed a chair over anyone's head but had England started to lose in the first half, it would't have surprised me.

France were losing today's match until the final five minutes. In the first half, both sides seemed pretty evenly matched though France couldn't find their feet for the first fifteen minutes of regulation play. Beckham shot a freekick to Frank Lampard who headed it past Barthez into the net. And that's how it stayed until the 89th minute... Worst of all was how much the England supporters were sure they had it all sewn up with 20 mins left to play, chortling to themselves over how it was all over but the shouting. A particularly tubby one behind me intermittently shouted "Sakra Blur!" — as though that were some sort of joke — to the approving laughter of his friends. After Zizou had burried the stoppage time penalty, sealing England's fate, I turned to him and said "Sacré bleu!" but he was already close to tears.

I had ambiguous feelings starting at the match: England and England supporters suffer so much so often that it'd be nice to see them win for once. You often hear that many "football" fans in England have given up on their national team and have any real emotional investment in their clubs. However, in recent years, England haven't had as far to fall as France have done (the only reigning champions ever to be eliminated from the following World Cup without even scoring a measly goal).

As it began to look increasingly as though France might not even be able to salvage a draw, my sympathies began to tilt in favor of Les Bleus. But what decided the matter were the England supporters around me. Everytime I'm around English fans I am constantly amazed and every time I tell myself they're not representative of the rest.

For a long time, I had to surpress my feelings of admiration for the French side and their indisputable skill and talent because of their stinging defeat of my heros, Brazil in 1998. When France won Euro 2000 (in similar circumstances to their stunning victory to-day), I was in Paris, watching the whole city explode with joy after a stupendous defeat of Italy (also with two, last minute goals). I walked alone down the streets, my hands in my pockets and a very sour look on my face. Seeing Brazil win its fifth WC finals while France was so deeply humiliated went some way toward slaking my desire for revenge (but not all the way), so I was perhaps less inclined to wish for their defeat so devoutly this time around.

The day Brazil won in '02, we'd all been up since 5 am or so (due to the time delay in Jap/Orea) and had the rest of the day to party. Little Brazil St. (a.k.a. w. 46th between 6th and 5th Aves.) turned into a huge party. There were jugglers and music and lots of people drinking cachaça in those corny little carioca restaurants. There was also lots of Samba (and very pretty girls that I didn't have the courage to approach) dancing... To-day, I don't quite feel that 1998 is water under the bridge but let's say I didn't quite have that much of a chip on my shoulder, especially after hearing Ronaldo's kind words about the French side and seeing him play alongside Zidane at Real Madrid.

I am one of the lucky few who have had the opportunity to see Zidane play in the flesh, the man who restores pride to 31 year-olds everywhere (he'll turn 32 on the 23rd of this month, i.e. next wednesday). It was dull friendly between Real Madrid and AS Roma played to a nil-nil draw at Giants Stadium on August 8 of 2002. The 75k seat stadium was packed to capacity and everyone was in a rage that they'd paid so much for their one chance to see such a match, yet neither side wanted to risk hurting its players in a pointless tie for overseas fans. In the dying minutes, people started booing and throwing trash on field (which was totally disgusting itself: the grass was in a godforsaken shambles with a brown strip running the length of its western side — they hadn't yet installed their controversial FieldTurf).

But everyone held their breath and a trillion camera flashes went off when Zidane touched the ball. Teammate Roberto Carlos sent him an incredible 50-yard left-footed cross that arced through the air. Everyone gasped. Amazingly, it went wide. Not even Ronaldo has the technical brilliance to make you tremble at the sight of his moves the way Zidane does. When most players execute a quality play, you're left thinking, "Oh. Well, I might have done that too, if I'd been training since I was 3 and tried really hard." Zidane leaves you wondering how it is humanly possible for a player to be so intelligent, so nimble.

No comments: