"No," he said. "I'm not watching the match. I never watch France play football. The team disgusts me because they are not really French."
What did he mean, I asked (although I knew exactly what he meant). My neighbour mumbled something about not liking the team because they didn't sing the Marseillaise before matches (something that has not been true for more than a decade). What he really meant was that there were too many non-white faces in the line-up (seven out of 11). I pointed out that every single France player in the now infamous main de Dieu World Cup qualifying team was born in France and mostly in Greater Paris. He looked embarrassed, made a "so what" hand gesture and walked away.
That same night thousands of young people from the poorer suburbs of Greater Paris poured on to the Champs Elysées to celebrate the fact that their country had qualified for the World Cup finals in South Africa next summer. These were French kids, born in France, but they were not celebrating France's morally-challenged victory over Ireland. They were celebrating – boisterously, and at times violently – Algeria's victory over Egypt in Algiers.
As the evening went on, more than 12,000 Algerians poured on to the Champs Elysées, which was closed to traffic as youngsters danced on the roofs of cars, chanting "One, two, three, Vive l'Algérie", and throwing fireworks into the dank November night. "I can't believe it," I was told by Samia, a 20-year-old student. "I've never seen anything like it. It's not just about football. It has to be about something else."You have to remember that the same night France had cheated their way past Ireland to qualify. Yet the centre of Paris belonged to (violent) young French citizens who identified as Algerian.
About midnight it became clearer what that something else might be. Armed police had by now gathered around the Arc de Triomphe, trying to break up the crowds. They were met with taunts, stones and fireworks. The party soon degenerated into a riot and the cries of "Vive l'Algérie" were replaced by the familiar battle cry of "Nique la police" (**** the police). The police responded with teargas and baton charges.There were 60 arrests, and similar scenes in Lyon and Marseille. The violence carried on and by Friday morning the police reported that more than 200 cars had been burnt in the suburbs of Paris.
Couldn't happen here, of course :
"You can cry now miserable Egyptians! We proudly defeated and humiliated you and we have now qualified for the worl cup 2010 in South Africa. You are the most hated people in the Arab world! Worse than jews."
Mr Indie - a chap called John Lichfield - seems to have been mugged by reality :
Guardian ditto :
I have lived in France for almost 13 years. I adore France and I adore the French. I have to admit, however, that I have found the events of recent days – Sarko's crusade, Henry's handball, my neighbour's comments, the celebrations by French-born Algeria fans and the brutal response of the CRS – rather unsettling.
Eleven years ago, I was one of those who wrote admiringly of the Brown-White-Black France which won the World Cup. I, and many others, suggested that their victory might soften race relations in France; that other brown and black French kids might be encouraged to feel French; that white French kids would grow up with brown and black French heroes.Since then, we have learned better.
The sourness surrounding the Algerian victory seemed such a long way away from the famous "rainbow" French team of 1998 that beat Brazil in a glorious World Cup final at the Stade de France... This moment was hailed as the beginning of a new era in French cultural life. Eleven years later, that moment seems to belong to a very distant past. Indeed, the divisions in French society seemed to have hardened since then.
Laban doesn't think the lessons to be drawn are any different from last time :
So what, you may say. Why should we care about what happens in a far-away country of which we know little ?
Because their problems are ours. There's a terrible symmetry between the children and grandchildren of immigrants to France, much more radicalised, violent and discontented than their grandparents, and those to the UK.