Scottish Daily Mail
Paris is always in our hearts
WHO doesn’t love Paris, that burgh of unrivalled variety, beauty and life? The wondrous food, the spectacular architecture, the stunning public spaces, the romantic history, culture aplenty to suit all tastes… and, for many of us, the sport.
From favourite venue for a Six Nations weekend to its starring role in two of Scottish football’s most memorable moments, the opening match of the 1998 World Cup and that night in the autumn of 2007 — when roughly two million of us appeared to have been squeezed into the Parc des Princes to see Faddy score his stunner — the City of Light has always been close to our hearts.
Right now, we are holding it closer still, sending our prayers and love to a people in the deepest state of mourning. And, of course, promising to stand shoulder to shoulder with them at this time of terrible grief.
If the comfort we might offer is scant, the least to be said is that sporting occasions will become a natural and obvious focal point for genuine expressions of heartfelt solidarity in the coming days.
There have already been banners, French flags, sympathetic words aplenty at the events which still took place on Saturday. There will be more.
If you haven’t already done so, you will all undoubtedly observe a minute’s silence the next time we gather to enjoy watching grown men and women play children’s games.
And, at some point this season, Glasgow Warriors will return to Paris to face Racing 92 in the European Champions Cup, fulfilling the fixture rightly postponed from its scheduled kick-off on Saturday.
When that match is played, there will be a lot of talk about Scottish supporters defiantly travelling to support the boys. Because staying away would represent a surrender to the forces of evil.
It’s easy enough to say such things, to promise that nothing will keep us away from any major sporting event — including Euro 2016, likely to be patronised by plenty of Scots despite our national team’s absence. It’s much harder to follow through when terror alerts appear constantly set at the highest level. After all, it is only a game.
As inconsequential as sport seems, remember that love of a good contest is something that sets us apart from the fundamentalists, whose priorities upon taking over territory often include the banning of universally-enjoyed games.
Throughout modern history, terrorists have targeted sporting events precisely because they know that, for all the trivial differences that divide rival fans, there is something about the shared experience — a sort of communion of hearts and minds — that binds us closer together.
If you doubt that this bond exists, consider the now-traditional laying of shirts and scarves at a stadium when a club loses someone dear. Now think about the regularity with which fans from ‘the enemy’ have turned up to add their own tribute amid the sea of home colours.
Travel to any corner of the civilised world, meanwhile, and six words of the local lingo will be enough to strike up a conversation about sport, complete with hand gestures and random shouts of names like ‘Dalglish’ and ‘Billy Bremner’.
Yes, the vast majority on this planet understand that, as a wise man once put it, our differences unite us. For those who believe that the ‘wrong’ thoughts should be punishable by death, such a philosophy must be terrifying.
And so, from Munich to Atlanta, from the murderous attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team that effectively forced Pakistan to play certain ‘home’ games thousands of miles away, to the armed assault on the Togo national football team in 2010, the killers know that they gain more than just publicity by striking at something we love.
There is a reason why the suicide bomber who struck on Friday night made straight for the friendly match between France and Germany. If he could get in there, if he could kill many with his initial blast and — as police believed was his intent — start a murderous stampede, then he would have made us all think twice about going to a stadium again.
Yet, human nature prompts us to vow never again to complain about the ‘daft’ security measures at the Stade de France (God bless them and their insistence on searching every nook and cranny of your bag, every single time) — and swear that the bad guys won’t be allowed to win. Even when it feels like they are.
As scary as the world may be sometimes, and as much distance may lie between public bravado and private realism in the face of genuinely terrifying threats, there’s something reassuring about that attitude.
Something inspiring about the willingness of so many to endure full body scans and fingertip searches, perhaps joking nervously with the security staff, while quietly praying everyone will be able to go home at the end of the game.
L’annee prochaine a Paris, then. Next year in Paris. After all, who in their right mind doesn’t love the place?