Despite the tone of recent pieces, there IS still something good to say about French football. Needless to say, there’s a strong Sunderland connection here …
Salut! Sunderland has hit upon an obvious choice of team to support in the French top-flight Ligue 1 that kicks off a week on Saturday. It did no harm to Paraguay in the World Cup, backed by this site in honour of their Sunderland players (Paulo da Sila and Cristian Riveros) and red and white stripes. And now we hope our cheerful allegiance to the Olympique Gymnaste club de Nice will bring even more sunshine to the Mediterranean coast than it already enjoys.
Think back to a cold Saturday afternoon in Sunderland. Dec 4 1999. Not a bit like the Cote d’Azur.
Chelsea are the visitors and, having tonked us 4-0 on the opening day of the season, are doubtless expecting an easy romp to three away points.
Step forward, first of all, Eric Roy. Everyone who ever said the cultured French midfielder was maybe a bit slow for the Premier had to be quick to notice him skipping through the Chelsea defence in the first minute to slot a sublime low ball through to Niall Quinn, whose tap-in began the 4-1 rout of west London’s arrogant superstars.
Phillips (two and nearly three) and Niall (two), all except SuperKev’s attempt to clinch the hat-trick coming in the most pulsating, heartwarming first halves Sunderland fans under the age of about 125 are likely to have witnessed.
And where is Eric now? Along the coast from me, in Nice, where he is credited with having performed miracles to keep them up last season, taking over with 11 games to go and the club in freefall. They lost only once – to the champions, Marseille – and finished 15th. Now they are preparing to start the new season with most observers expecting another struggle.
L’Equipe, previewing Nice’s opener, a winnable home tie against Valenciennes, quote Eric as saying he has warned his players the achievements towards the end of last season count for nothing now. He knows he is almost certain to lose Loic Remy, a proven goalscorer set to sign for Liverpool or Spurs, and that he needs two players to strengthen his own side. I assume he does not see David Bellion, a former Nice player still somehow picking up a wage packet at Bordeaux, is not one of his targets.
But Eric carries our best wishes, as he embarks on his first full season in charge, for a successful season in which we fervently hope Nice manage to cause immense annoyance to the likes of Marseille, Lyon, PSG and above all Bordeaux.
And just in case he’s forgotten, here’s the chant he once heard from fans at and away from the Stadium of Light (correct the detail if I have it wrong):
Ooh aah, say ooh aah, c’est Eric Roy.. y’naa