The French tendency to moan pisses me off most times I encounter it. But yesterday at the Stade de France to see the French national team take on the European champions Spain I have to admit I kind of admired it. The result of the match was something of a foregone conclusion and once Spain had gone two nil up at halftime there was never any doubt how the evening was going to end. Indeed Spain were so thoroughly in control they could afford to make six substitutions in the second half and still walk all over the poor Bleus. In such a drama free environment the only real excitement of the evening was in seeing the French fans turn against their own team like a SeaWorld killer whale. Their captain, Thierry Henry, who put in a very mediocre performance (among other things it was his error that gifted the Spanish their first goal) was whistled pretty much every time he touched the ball and when he was finally substituted to make way for the carthorse, Sidney Govou, was booed off the pitch. The lion's share of the abuse though was reserved for the national embarrassment that is Raymond Domenech. At one moment an image of the French trainer flashed up on the big screens hung above each goal mouth. It was only there for a couple of seconds but that was enough to have the stadium erupt in jeers and chants of "Domenech démission" which only increased in intensity as the evening wore on to its inevitable end. Leaving aside the gladiatorial pleasure of watching strangers suffer under the floodlights I think the two things I appreciated in this spectacle were:
1. I agreed with the criticisms. Domenech is an appalling trainer who should have gone a long time ago, and Henry no longer has the necessary moral authority to be captain. If John Terry can be stripped of the England captaincy for sleeping with a team-mate's girlfriend, an affair that has nothing to do with football, then why should Henry be allowed to keep the captain's arm-band after his flagrant spot of cheating against Ireland in the World Cup play-offs?
2. Football fans, for all the bad press they get, are a docile bunch who put up with a lot of crap a lot of the time. There were 80.000 people in the stadium last night. A sizeable minority were supporting Spain and there must have been a few neutrals as well but still 50 thousand or so were there to watch France. They had all paid between 20 and 100 euros to be there. That works out at something like two and a half million euros. As I said football fans tend to be a loyal, long-suffering bunch but if, with that level of investment, your team regularly puts in performances like France did last night then it is only right for the worm to turn.