There’s a daily national newspaper in France called L’Équipe which devotes its entire coverage to sport, without room for a cryptic crossword or even some arbitrary breasts. Today I went downstairs for my morning allonge and noticed this publication on the bar with the headline “Ressuscités!” and a big picture of a man with his arms outstretched holding a punctured football in one of his hands. Ressuscités is French for ‘resurrected’ and when that word is used concerning a man with outstretched arms it’s usually in reference to Jesus – so implicitly we’re already considering the gravity of this front page headline and the religious connotations of its image, if subconsciously. Then it dawns on me, that isn’t a punctured football at all. The men in the picture are partaking in Handball.
Handball? On the front page? A slow news day in Sportingland surely! Or maybe Handball is really important here in France. Maybe the whole nation didn’t fall asleep watching West Brom v Everton last night like I did because they were all crowded around the telly and hooked on Handball like it was horse. Why? Because one presumes the French are good at it.
Fact is, a whole nation’s sporting agenda and how the media covers it is based on what said country can hold it’s own in, to the point where it often becomes duplicitous. It’s like when during the Olympics British publications put Dressage on the back pages; any visitors must be pissing themselves because there are only about three countries that even deign to take part. Highlighting Golds in equestrian events is essentially imperial propaganda, put there to make us feel great as a people even though most of us are too fucking common to even think about riding a horse ourselves. How can we take an event seriously when inbred royals are put forward and essentially regarded as athletes? What is this, the 15th century?
I’d like to say I’ve been a West Brom fan my whole life but it wouldn’t be true. I took an interest in the club when I was seven after we moved to Dudley. My mother’s fiancé was an Albion supporter despite being a Geordie (or maybe a Mackem) and by rote I became a Baggies fan too. We moved back to Cornwall some time later and I had to change allegiances to Liverpool or face being kicked in by Whiffer, a kid at primary school, but by then my head had been turned by pop music and the possibilities of hair and girls anyway. In that order. I was quite a confused child. Anyway, it was during my early 20’s that I became obsessed with football and it only seemed right I revert back to my former patronage having only converted to save my own skin from one of Whiffer’s kickings. I have been to some games on and off over the seasons, including a play-off final that Albion lost, but I always feel like a fraud sat among all the sheet metal workers from Smethwick who’d live and die for the club and who would have gladly taken a kicking from Whiffer and no doubt bled blue and white.
Most seasons I buy membership with the prospect of going to games in mind (but rarely actually going to any games). The last couple of seasons I haven’t bothered; last year I was too skint and this year I was skint and in Paris.
That all said I still do consider myself a supporter, if not a very committed one. The recent controversy concerning Le Chesnay local boy Nicolas Anelka’s ‘quenelle’ celebration has depressed me though. A good friend of mine who’s been a card-carrying Liverpool fan his whole life felt he’d had enough of football in 2012 because of the Luis Suarez racism row, and I feel I’m in a similar situation now thanks to the former French international (capped 69 times no less).
Let’s be clear, this blog is hardly J’accuse, but I feel aggrieved the club didn’t take any action and I’ve wanted to write something about it for a while. How can I support a club that fully backs a player making an anti-Semitic gesture, an inverted fascist salute? My hunch – like sponsor Zoopla’s hunch – is that West Brom should have suspended the player pending the FA’s inquiry rather than keep playing him. The verdict is announced tomorrow, and I hope the club says ‘thanks for your two goals, now au revoir sunshine’. I should have probably delayed my judgement until then, but given that Nicolas himself said it was performed in solidarity with Dieudonné M’bala M’bala, his friend the “comedian” and well-known anti-Semite, I really can only anticipate one verdict.
The Baggies earned themselves a valuable point last night against a decent Everton side, but right now I’m finding it difficult to care whether they stay up or go down. So disillusioned am I that I might even give Handball a go.Follow @jeres