Colin Randall treads difficult domestic territory, braves the disapproval of a French wife and two half-French daughters and, setting himself up as judge, jury and La Cour de Cassation, finds two of the above guilty as charged …
Not every Englishman is a BNP thug who steams through French railway carriages singing: “If it wasn’t for the English, you’d be Krauts.”
We don’t all subscribe to the “lovely country, shame about the people” jibe – though I actually heard it recently on the lips of my French barber (a necessarily short encounter). Some of us even marry ’em, Frenchwomen that is not the barbers.
But what are we to make of the behaviour of three Frenchmen, clues to whose identities appear in the headline? Two are easy to guess; the third is largely unknown in England unless you support Sunderland and therefore feel that Jean-Louis Triaud, president of the Girondins de Bordeaux football club, is a cross between arrogant oaf and prize clown.
It is lovely to record, as a postscript to Saturday, that Arsenal 1 Sunderland 0 was also Sunderland 2 or 3 Bordeaux 0.
As followers of Salut! Sunderland‘s gentle tease, the Bordeaux-baiting column, will already know, France’s reigning Ligue 1 champions – the club Triaud and his manager Laurent Blanc say is so big that it sells its stars only to other big clubs, a description that excludes Sunderland – were beaten 1-0 at home by the sixth placed but deeply unfashionable Valenciennes on the same day that we saw off Arsenal.
Bordeaux’s “big club” stadium holds 34,000 people. So doubtless, you think, the queues to get in stretched for miles, with many, many people turned away. Not quite: this welcome defeat was witnessed by another shamefully low Bordeaux crowd of 27,000. At small club Sunderland, the Arsenal game drew very nearly 45,000.
Triaud has wriggled a lot since his earliest insults about Sunderland AFC when we were interested in signing Chamakh from Bordeaux. After claiming he didn’t even know where we were in the Premier League (in itself understandable: maybe he checks only the results of Ligue 1’s English equivalent, also known as League One), he adopted a different tack.
As Jared Lynn related in A Love Supreme, Triaud chose to cite the “torrid, depressing” time Lilian Laslandes had at Sunderland after being bought as a replacement – laughable as that sounds – for Niall Quinn. What part of his time was most depressing, M Triaud? The football or the court case? Actually Laslandes was a good player; he was served badly by a system that involved Sunderland players thinking he was the same height and type of target man as Niall. In another era, he might have thrived.
But none of that excuses Triaud’s ludicrous statements. Oh, and who did big club Bordeaux bring on when Chamakh went off against mighty Valenciennes? Step forward one David Bellion, fondly remembered at Sunderland for his ability to sprint the length of the pitch before planting the ball in the Wear.
With not the slightest desire to offend Bordeaux fans, or to decry their team’s impressive late spurt to win the French title last season and do well so far in the Champions League, Salut! Sunderland must put aside its fondness for France and express the hope that the Girondins have embarked on a long run of dismal results. A grovelling apology from Triaud, co-signed by Blanc, would make us change our minds.
Arsène has already caused such a change. Part of Salut! Sunderland (there is a difference of opinion here) holds him in great esteem, admires the football his teams play and finds his expression of the English language exquisite. The change of heart threatens to put all that in the past tense.
As Louise Taylor so elegantly put it in The Guardian, Wenger’s post-match response to a question about SAFC’s progress – to suggest that Sunderland could be judged only alongside teams “at their own level” – was “supremely patronising”. But at least he had half a point: we have led against all top four clubs, beaten two of them and very nearly beaten a third, but we still need to prove – at a poor old Wigan away this weekend – that we can do it against lesser clubs. Only when we do can we truly hope to break into the elite.
But Arsene went further: “Sunderland were aggressive but you expect that. I think that they tried to stop us from playing, sometimes on the fringes of the rule, but that’s part of the game.”
The inability to take defeat with a hint of grace, or to recognise that his team may have been out-thought on the day and beaten fairly and squarely, is a deeply unattractive trait. Arsene is in danger is losing the respect we – or I – had for him.
As for Thierry, we’ve pretty much had our say. He has been slaughtered, not only in Ireland and around the world but also, more surprisingly, in France.
But in this tale of various cities, I would acquit Henry of the charge of arrogance. He cheated last week, belatedly expressed regret and publicly favoured a replay (which, rightly in my view, is unlikely to happen). Others have cheated as blatantly, sometimes when playing for M Wenger (it defies belief that Robert Pires should be among those wringing their hands at such disrespect for the spirit of the sport), without suffering anything approaching the pillorying of Henry.
I can forgive him this blemish on his career. It doesn’t make it right. But I prefer to remember Thierry Henry for the excellence he brought to the Premier and the few moments of sheer excitement I felt before wild rumours of Keano signing him for Sunderland were dismissed as fanciful.
There is a facebook site called “I hate Thierry Henry” and it has gathered thousands of members. I’d still join one declaring the opposite emotion (with a ps deploring his matchsaving exploits against the Republic of Ireland).