Sor­row gives way to joy

Foot­ball suc­cess plays part of French post-ter­ror re­gen­er­a­tion

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE - JOHN LECEISTER

BY BLOW­ING them­selves up at France’s na­tional sta­dium, sui­cide bombers cre­ated a link, in­deli­bly marked in blood, be­tween foot­ball and ex­trem­ist ter­ror – things that, in nor­mal cir­cum­stances, are worlds apart.

Since that night in Novem­ber, it has been im­pos­si­ble to think of one with­out the other at the vast arena where France’s na­tional team was play­ing Ger­many and where, to­mor­row night, it will play Portugal in the Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship fi­nal.

That un­wanted bond now also gives foot­ball, the French team and the Stade de France im­por­tant roles in the long healing process France is still only part of the way through.

Re­gard­less of whether Les Bleus win or lose against Cristiano Ron­aldo’s team, host­ing and cel­e­brat­ing the cham­pi­onship game will be one more step back to­ward the care­free life France is fa­mous for, even if the reality was never as pic­ture-post­card per­fect.

The scale of the hor­ror on Novem­ber 13, the 130 dead and hun­dreds in­jured, ren­dered fri­vol­i­ties like foot­ball com­pletely ir­rel­e­vant. It is no ex­ag­ger­a­tion to say it seemed France might never be happy again. The emo­tions were of the rawest kind: fear, fury, con­fu­sion, and sur­vivors’ guilt.

On the air­waves, first aiders spoke of bat­tle­field wounds. The pres­i­dent spoke of war and de­clared a state of emer­gency.

Sol­diers, heav­ily armed and in cam­ou­flage gear that in any other con­text would have been com­i­cal be­cause they stick out like sore thumbs against the lime­stone back­drop of ur­ban Paris, pa­trolled the streets, a sight both re­as­sur­ing and wor­ry­ing be­cause it sug­gested France had been per­ma­nently changed, which it was.

Sol­diers still pa­trol. It’s fright­en­ing how quickly one gets used to hav­ing them around.

For the se­cond time in the year, kids came back from school with notes to in­form their par­ents they’d be ob­serv­ing a mo­ment of si­lence, as they did af­ter the at­tack on the Charlie Hebdo satir­i­cal mag­a­zine in Jan­uary.

As flow­ers, can­dles and cards stacked up out­side the Bat­a­clan con­cert hall where ca­su­al­ties were most con­cen­trated, peo­ple also went in ones, twos and small groups to the 80 000-seat sta­dium in Paris’ north­ern out­skirts which, be­fore three bombers tar­geted it, was as­so­ci­ated most strongly with happy mem­o­ries of France’s great­est sport­ing tri­umph, when Zine­dine Zi­dane scored twice to down mighty Brazil in the 1998 World Cup fi­nal.

The vis­i­tors wanted an­swers but got only more ques­tions be­cause there is no ex­plain­ing the un­ex­plain­able. Some took pho­tos of the flecks of bombers’ flesh on walls and tar­mac be­fore mu­nic­i­pal clean­ers power-hosed them down the sew­ers. The souvenir snap­pers’ mo­ti­va­tions weren’t nec­es­sar­ily voyeuris­tic or macabre. They were merely map­ping the new fault lines the at­tacks opened in France’s hist- ory and fu­ture.

Foot­ball, of course, can­not wash away France’s trauma nor does it pre­tend to. But it is true to say be­cause it is a pow­er­ful pos­i­tive col­lec­tive ex­pe­ri­ence, win­ning at foot­ball can have unique restora­tive pow­ers for a so­ci­ety that has just shared a pow­er­ful col­lec­tive but neg­a­tive ex­pe­ri­ence.

Host­ing the 24- na­tion Euro champs and Les Bleus’ ad­vance through six games to the tro­phy match has put dis­tance be­tween then and now. Win­ning, es­pe­cially a 2-0 semi­fi­nal vic­tory against world cham­pi­ons Ger­many, re­stored a sen­sa­tion of power and na­tional pride for a coun­try that in Novem­ber seemed vul­ner­a­ble and weak, one which de­spite its nu­clear arse­nal and per­ma­nent seat in the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil could be hurt so griev­ously by shad­owy en­e­mies both within and based far away in Is­lamic State-con­trolled ter­ri­tory.

Per­haps best of all, and be­cause foot­ball is a sport that so cel­e­brates and en­cour­ages th­ese things, the tour­na­ment and the team’s suc­cess has opened the gates for mass French silli­ness; al­lowed them to

Foot­ball has

Fans cel­e­brate the French vic­tory over Ger­many in the semi­fi­nal of the Euro champs.

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