3:20 pm. We were wandering in the Old Harbour of Fréjus, a nice little town on the French Riviera. I had a French flag wrapped around my shoulders like a cloak and my brother was wearing a roaster-like hat. On our way to the one bar that finally let us in, we crossed the path of more French flags and supporters than I’ve ever seen, including a man whose hair was tied in blue-white-red. Most bars were closed by a big sign claiming they were fully booked; the World Cup final, for which the French team was considered a favorite, would start in a bit more than an hour.
That French people were hopeful is the least we could say. There were omens, you see. The one and only French victory in the Football World Cup had happened precisely 20 years ago; in 1998 and 2018 alike, Israel has won the Eurovision, we’ve been in the Group C, we were opposed to Croatia… We had to win. And added to this, our national team was cute, enthusiasm-fostering, and formed by a balance of older experienced players and young wisps. So were the supporters: some of them had hardly ever known any other World Cup, some others had obviously lived the 1998 one, but all of them were screaming and waving flags all the same.
It’s 10 pm now, and I’m writing seated on my flat’s loggia. Right outside, a man has just plunged in the normally out-of-bounds-by-night residency’s swimming pool, crying that ‘On est les champions’, ‘We are the champions’. We can still hear the cars’ klaxons on the other side of the town, and memories of this afternoon keep flooding in.
Not even the skin-burning sun of the South could have deterred the French fans to be there, gathered in the bars on that day. Of the two hours I spent seated in that bar, I’ll remember the Marseillaise that we sang altogether at the beginning of the game; the joy of the supporters, that would literally jump from their seats and yell at the screen every time a goal was scored or a foul committed to one of our players. Behind us, a painted man was howling in a megaphone, claiming that we were the French people and that we would win, enumerating the names of the players or singing parts of the national anthem.
1-0, 1-1, 2-1, 3-1, 4-1, 4-2. Every time we scored, we would see young men running to the bridge linking the two halves of the Old Harbour, climbing to its very top and jumping in the water, their fists raised and a French flag flying behind them like a superhero cloak. Five minutes before the Final whistle, someone in the bar stood up and cried, ‘In five minutes, we’re World Champions!’.
And indeed we were.
Next thing I knew, people were hugging people they didn’t know; my brother fell in my arms, yelling ‘We’re World Champions!’. Around us, everybody seemed exhausted as if they’d play the match themselves. Dozens of people were running to the bridge, clapping and singing the Marseillaise; the streets were now colored by blue, white and red smokes, and when people came back into the bar to watch the team being given awarded the FIFA World Cup, half of them were wet and happily wringing their clothes after jumping in the Mediterranean Sea fully dressed.
When we came back in town, surrounded by the continuing sound of the klaxons, it was to see people half-seated out of their cars, giving high fives to every passer-by in the streets, waving French flags and still singing. Euphoria, that’s how we can call it, and the young boy that nearly ran into me yelling that we were World Champions could not deny that.
So now we won, the day after our National Day. On the eve of that victory, the French skies were illuminated by fireworks. But what is to be expected, now? This victory smells like a midsummer night’s dream. As the Captain Hugo Lloris, also gamekeeper, very beautifully stated, this team and their victory have united the French people in joy and happiness, and it’s like this that we love to see our country. Tonight, France was a nation like I hope it could always been: proud, with its head held high, and positive in the sense that our identity was not built on the rejection of others, but on something great that we have achieved. Not only them, the players on the ground, but us, the French nation, in the sense of a body of people that hold together and stay together.
Even though that evening also contained its share of evil (hundreds of cars caught fire and many women were sexually harassed in the crowds), I do expect positive effects of this victory on France. Economically at first; this day probably made many bars’ turnover skyrocket, and football clubs will probably welcome more newcomers than they’ve ever dreamed of. French football players will have a new reference and an enduring trust on this Golden generation. The feminine football World Cup, that is taking place in France in 2019, will also, as far as I can imagine, be much more followed than it could have been without this triumph.
Deep inside myself, I hope that it will go beyond. I’m however afraid that in a week, these French flags that have flourished on the windows through the past weeks will disappear, even though there would be thousands of reasons to keep them, as there are thousands of reasons to be proud to be French. Here’s one: two weeks ago, I watched the France vs Argentina game surrounded by young people who’ve survived cancer. When time came to sing the Marseillaise, they stood up hand on the heart, and simply told me after that, by its universal social security that paid for everything to heal them, ‘France has saved their life’.
We could be even prouder if we now could see immigration as what brought us the player that scored our 4th goal in the final. Kylian Mbappé is the second player in history who ever scored a goal in a World Cup final before the age of 20; for weeks now people have been replacing the Fraternité in our motto by his name, to make it ‘Liberté Egalité Mbappé’ – and his Father is from Cameroon and his Mother from Algeria.
A few hours after this victory, that made France – and its President – smile broadly and yell of happiness, I can only hope that its effect will hold as long as possible. Now I can only thank – that’s gonna be terribly cheesy and non-original, I’m sorry – everyone who made this possible. Our wonderful team first, who two years after our country was deeply wounded by a terrorist attack on the National Day, embodied its beautiful values with a talent pushed to its unexpected. The Croatian team, too; we say, in France, that winning against no danger is triumphing with no glory; and even though I do not quite agree with the two goals you scored on that day, your game made us shiver and be proud of playing against such strong opponents. And eventually, in advance, I’ll say thanks to the French nation: our 23 players, their coaches and their staff have brought that Cup home, but the show must go one. It’s our role, now, to decide what we want to make of this victory.