The French version of Exeter City?
Suffice to say, when I signed up for my degree in modern languages, I did not consider for one minute that missing weekends watching City would unduly bother me. But it has- in my exile from England; I`ve had to resort to listening to City`s progress on the radio, a largely unsatisfying experience.
With City out of the Cup, this particular weekend was free so I ventured across the city to watch Paris FC. It is fair to say Paris is not blessed with a wealth of footballing excellence; while London boasts thirteen League teams, including five in the top flight. Parisians only formed their first professional football club, unbelievably, in 1970.
While the name Paris FC might conjure up an image of grandiose importance, they are in fact the (much) smaller cousins of Paris Saint-Germain, having separated in 1972, and are now a mid-table third division team. Great, I thought, a chance to check out our French counterparts. What would their St James` Park be like? Did they have an English version of Bertie (who maybe ran a fish & chip shop in the neighbourhood)?
They play their games at the Stade Charléty, an impressive and aesthetically pleasing athletics stadium that is the occasional home of Stade Français Rugby. It is not unlike the Don Valley but has a nice, curving roof and acres of legroom; I could have extended my legs fully without troubling the person in front, had there been one. So with a stadium that would befit any team, I was expecting the capital`s second team to be well supported. Paris Saint-Germain didn`t have a game that week either, so maybe their absence would help bolster the numbers? The quality can`t be that bad, I thought, as their opponents had come all the way from Fréjus in the south, a 16-hour round trip that makes our trip to Hartlepool seem like a short drive. And I have to report that the quality wasn`t all that bad.
So how many watched the game? Well, the French leagues apparently don`t do official attendances but you can take my word for it, it did not exceed 300 (yes, three-hundred), including a good few car-loads from Fréjus, so credit where credit`s due. They shivered along with the other 250 or so poor souls and I really did pity them and question their sanity.
It made me wonder why I support City. Because from the outsider`s view, my helpless dedication to Exeter appears farcical and for those who are not partial to the same life`s calling, it is impossible to empathise with. Why else would I travel across the country to watch my team lose 3-0 in the pouring rain, and then do the same the following week? But this was different; there`s a sense of identity and belonging at City, and standing on the Big Bank is a massively shared experience. There was nothing communal about watching this game, apart from the fact that we were all frozen to the bone by 20 minutes in.
So how does watching third-division football compare? Well Paris had their moaners, their toe-nailers and a few hardy singers, but in every other way it was a world away from what I know and love, and I find it hard to believe that in a city like Paris, football doesn`t command greater attention.
The game finished 1-1, in case you`re wondering, although I`m ashamed to say I left after 80 minutes, it was just too cold. Although I know had I been watching Exeter I`d have stayed until the bitter(ly cold) end.