Winning against les bloody French has always given the English a warm glow. We’ve always had issues with the neighbours but those buggers across the Channel have always been our national ‘derby’ team. The Germans have been particularly annoying in recent history but in reality they are a lot like us (apart from the arrogance, first on the sun-lounger mentality and sense of humour). But anyone’s who’s holidayed in the Dordogne and popped out in the morning to buy 3 baguettes, 5 croissants, some ham and cheese for breakfast and commented on the pleasant landscape and lovely weather without speaking in perfect French knows how sneering they are about we English and our slight mangling of their beautiful language. What’s so wrong with il ne pleut pas comme dans Angleterre? We love France and they hate us. Pourquoi mes amis?
Maybe it’s because…we’ve had some belting derby matches over the years and are on a bit of a roll. Here are my top 10 wins against les bleus:
1. Last night’s fantastic win in Stade de France against the RWC tournament’s home side and favourites. What a tackle by Joe Worsley, Wilko perhaps not as his lethal best but still able to deliver dagger blows at just the right time, the forwards just awesome. Magnifique.
2. 2012. No doubt it’s because I was involved in the BT backing but the Bid to stage the 2012 Olympics was just an amazing story. 5 major cities were on the short list – perhaps the greatest line-up ever – Paris, Moscow, New York, Madrid and London. Reality was London were no better than 3rd favourites for most of the time but bit by bit the case was made for London culminating in that achingly poignant speech from Coe in Singapore. The French team simply threw it away with their performance out there. They just looked like a bunch of white middle-aged men virtually insisting that the world should give them the biggest prize in sport. And the world said non! Paul and I were out there with the Bid team and what a night we had when Jacques Rogge pronounced that word London. Makes me tingle now. I lost my glasses, a camera, two rolls of irreplaceable film, my mobile phone and a hideous light blue jacket that I’d worn for about half an hour. It didn’t seem to matter especially after I’d been kissed by Ken Livingstone at the bar.
3. Agincourt. Have you ever read Shakespeare or watched it performed? Surely one of the greatest, most moving stretches of his work is the St Crispin’s day speech by Henry V before the battle of Agincourt during the 100 years war (now that was a war). Heavily outnumbered the English turned to their long bowmen to defeat the less-mobile but superior French forces. Henry’s speech, though I guess a fiction, is just fantastic. Shakespeare’s words still resonate today; ‘once more unto the breach’ ‘cry God for Harry, England and St George’ etc all still stir me. If you’ve got 5 minutes go google Lawrence Olivier’s performance from the film. If I was manager of an England side facing a French team, I’d just play this film before sending them onto the pitch. Only Shakespeare could capture that sense of team so eloquently…. ‘we band of brothers’.
4. Trafalgar. This was the turning point in the war against Napoleon and his attempt to dominate the Channel and invade England. Nelson teased the French and Spanish fleet from their Cadiz bolt-hole. He had 27 ships and 17,000 men lined up against the 33 ships and 30,000 of the French/Spanish force. But after inspiring his men with the famous signal that England expects every man to do his duty and through brilliant tactical leadership Nelson trounced their fleet capturing 22 of their ships and losing none. Of course he also got killed in the action but his fame was sealed for ever. And I still think Trafalgar Sq and Nelson’s column are the most perfect tribute to his deeds.
5. More rugby. England’s QF win against les Bleus in the 91 RWC in Parc des Princes. I remember it being a brutal affair with Mickey Skinner in the thick of it. But a very satisfying 19-10 victory.
6. Waterloo. The final match-up in the 26 year Napoleonic wars saw the Duke v le Boney. Actually the English ‘side’ was an amalgam of 22ooo English, German (yep), Prussian, Belgian and Dutch forces led by the Duke of Wellington of course versus the 25000 strong Grand Armee led by Napoleon. By all accounts it was a narrow victory and Napoleon was able to slip away but not for long of course. But we’ll take 1-0 any day.
7. Crecy. An early victory in the 100 years war. Yet again heavily-outnumbered the English forces trounced the French thanks to the long bowmen. The French cavalry forces, bogged down by heavy muddy conditions were cut to pieces by the half a million arrows from the English archers.
8. Johnny Halliday. The French answer to Elvis Presley v Sir Cliff Richard, the Peter Pan of English pop music. OK this one’s very close; they’re both adored by little old ladies and both of them are embarrassing wan*ers. Sir Cliff still vehemently denies being gay despite living with a man for many years. Actually I think he’s too in love with himself to be either gay or straight. Johnny just looks gay even if he’s rampantly heterosexual. Old turkeyneck just shades it because at least his records have regularly made the top 10 both here and around the world whereas no-one in the English speaking world has ever heard a JH record.
9. French poodle v the British bulldog. No contest.
10. This hurts a little but my final glorious head to head victory was Liverpool’s aggregate 3-2 win over St Etienne en route to them winning the European Cup in 77. 1-0 down from the away leg, Liverpool had one of those memorable European nights defeating a strongly-fancied St Etienne 3-1 at home with super-sub David Fairclough scoring the aggregate winner in the last few minutes. Since then of course Liverpool have been largely rubbish.
So there we have it, my favourite occasions when we’ve stuffed les coqs. Any I’ve missed? A little xenophobic I admit but it’s only fun to have one over the snobby neighbours, right. Vive la difference!