Don's Diary

July 3, 1998

Monday

Apprehensive. Our library at Sunderland University is hosting a major conference, and a day of feverish activity awaits. Hover nervously as assorted VIPs roam. At one point there are more members of the House of Lords in the library than students. Given the vogue for "working peers", wonder if I can hand them a scanner and ask them to help out with our annual stock check. Later watch England lose, remembering that it was 13 years ago that I presented David Seaman with the Birmingham City Junior Supporters Club player of the year trophy. Reflect ruefully that this was probably a more significant event in my life than his.

Tuesday

Desperately try to clear my desk. No time to lose - tomorrow morning I go to Paris to research my contribution to a forthcoming book about the 1998 World Cup: football and France being keen research interests of mine. My chapter will focus on French media coverage: a tall order, since the tournament is billed as "the biggest media event of the 20th century". My colleagues are unsympathetic, believing my research involves watching television and reading L'Equipe all day. Seek recommendations about French football fanzines but am met with bemusement - France remains almost untouched by the fanzine phenomenon. The best I have uncovered is written by a student from Preston reading French at Durham. Do I really need to go to France?

Wednesday

Arrive safely at my sister's Montmartre flat and wander out to soak up the World Cup atmosphere, intrigued by reports that most French people are treating the tournament with studied indifference. Find nothing but fervour in the crammed bar in which I see France beat Denmark and enjoy President Chirac's post-match analysis, given straight from the Stade Gerland in Lyons. Hear of a cafe in Marseilles where the patron turns down the television and delivers his own commentary, in rap.

Thursday

Busy morning setting up interviews and pursuing vague offers of tickets, then more television viewing. In keeping with the French tradition of centralisation, all pictures are beamed to the world by a central consortium of French television companies, TVRS '98. With 37 billion viewers worldwide, the emphasis has been on getting things right, rather than on being adventurous. Realise television football pundits are the same the world over, literally in this case, as David Ginola and Chris Waddle pop up on both sides of the Channel. As always, pundits are chosen for who they are rather than what they know, and thus, a delightfully incongruous Beatrice Dalle reports glamorously from outside the Stade de France. On another channel intellectual and football fanatic Bernard Pivot launches a petition to "save the winger". Interview a French former professional footballer, now reporting for Paris Match, who laments the decline of much of the beautifully written sports coverage in L'Equipe.

Friday

Deliver a training session to a group of library staff from the Pompidou Centre, who are developing their inquiry techniques and English language skills. We discuss good and bad customer care, and award a prize to the British Library for its warning that it will be shut all day for its official opening. Conversation invariably turns to the World Cup. We discuss "alternative" media coverage of the finals on the World Wide Web. A number of anti-World Cup sites enable "Internautes anti-footeux" to download a picture of the official mascot, Footix the cockerel, speared on a roasting spit. Even the enthusiasts are revolting; earlier I passed a sports bookshop where the owner has symbolically "buried" all his football books in a protest against corruption in football. Later watch England beat Colombia in Le Fle che D'or. If the French are succumbing to football fever it is on their own terms, since the bar hosts a "happening" in which a naked man and woman exhibited in crisp-filled transparent tubes are progressively revealed by customer snacking.

Saturday

Spend the day struggling with my own attempts at "bi-mediality" - listening to radio commentary while at the same time ploughing through a pile of French newspapers. The French press adore Japanese fans, who bring their own bin bags to matches to clear up rubbish after them. In contrast, La UpUche du Midi provides a guide to spotting England fans: shaven head, tattoos, Nazi salute, and a propensity to urinate anywhere. Wonder if my Irish parentage will enable me to change nationality.

Later I learn that the happy atmosphere of the World Cup has been polluted. Footix has complained in the press that not only is his costume suffocating him, he has also not been allowed to make an official appearance at any of the matches. Hope he has not surfed the net lately.

Lucy McKeever

Deputy site librarian at Sunderland University and a contributor to France and the World Cup: the national impact of a world sporting event to be published by Cass.

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