You know, after giving the matter much thought, when it comes to sporting involvement I’m tempted to conclude that most of the difference in attitude between French and English boils down to a question of passion. As a general rule the flames of strong emotion leave the English cold. Is this part of their Victorian heritage? To what extent is it due to the Puritan factor? Can it be the result of a philosophy of education which placed strong emphasis on the systematic inculcation of phlegmatic restraint? Or could it simply be attributed to the sobering effects of a damp climate?
Credibility would seem to be lent to this thesis by the fact that an English judge would certainly not hesitate to sentence a compatriot to life imprisonment in the unlikely event that he emptied a gun on his wife and her lover after finding them in bed together. The French, on the other hand, warm much more to the idea that the fires of intense feeling may destroy rational behaviour. As a result, le crime passionnel would be much more liable to provide a plausible argument for extenuating circumstances, and hence be treated with far greater leniency than a crime of this nature perpetrated in cold blood.
Similarly, in the world of sport, an Englishman tends to show a much greater inclination to accept adversity with the same undemonstrative equanimity as he would show on discovering his spouse in bed with the window-cleaner. As a result he’s inclined to take the relatively dispassionate view that the opposition could actually prove itself equal or even superior. And so, when his team has the misfortune to lose, though some disappointment is naturally felt, that is usually the end of that. The Frenchman, on the other hand, takes a more committed stance – so much so that the Englishman in me cannot help but think that competitive sport for the Gallic is based on a fundamental principle which states that the triumph of the French sporting person or team is inscribed as much in the immutable order of things as the rising of the sun in the east each day. When harsh reality proves the opposite and they have the misfortune to lose, considerable imaginative prowess is shown in invoking reasons which might lead one to believe that defeat was due more to unfavourable circumstance than their own intrinsic inferiority. So frequently is this view encountered, especially in the media, that my own Englishman, has had no difficulty in compiling the following examples of some of the explanations used to absolve the non-performance of his French alter’s sporting countrymen:
‘For some reason we played badly.’
This penetrating analysis was advanced by a French international rugby player to explain defeat at the hands of the hereditary enemy at a Six Nations’ Tournament rugby match. Perhaps the reason he seems to have had so much difficulty in finding was simply the fact that the English played better. Oddly enough, when victory is on the French side it has yet to be heard suggested that the opposition played badly.
‘They were more realistic than us.’
The word ‘realism,’ or rather the lack of it, often crops up to explain French defeat, and my Englishman is not 100% sure what is really meant – perhaps that the opposition got their heads down, took their chances, and generally adapted their game to the conditions they were actually operating in: unplayable pitch, foul weather, hostile opposition supporters, incompetent referee, etc. In an ideal world, of course, where opponents are determined to let the French win, and playing conditions couldn’t be better (pitch like a bowling green, holiday weather, opposition supporters and referee entirely devoted to their cause) there can be only one winner.
‘The pitch was so uneven it stopped us taking advantage of our superior technique.’
The French B Soccer Team Manager offering his explanation as to why his prodigies managed only a disappointing away draw against a lowly African team by doing his best to convince us that bumps can be great levellers.
‘He was the victim of a boxing accident.’
A French T.V. commentator attempting to get us to swallow the fact that a French boxer being knocked out in the first round of a World Championship contest after two minutes flat was due more to the disastrous effects of his chin finding itself in the wrong place at the wrong time than the effectiveness of his opponent’s left hook.
‘They didn’t win. We lost.’
Yet another attempt to retrieve a semblance of superiority from
humiliating defeat. Curiously, when victory is French, we have yet to hear ‘We didn’t win. They lost.’
‘His game was just stifled by the incredible heat.’
One journalist’s explanation as to why a French tennis champion lost a five-set marathon during the Australian Open against a lesser ranked opponent. Things must have been much cooler on the other side of the net.
‘Everything was against us.’
The weather and/or pitch conditions, physical and/or mental state of the French player(s), the referee, the opposing team and/or their supporters, fate, etc. can all unite to cause a catastrophic accident of nature.
‘We were unnerved by the deafening silence.’
So accustomed are French rugby players and footballers to converting tries or taking penalty kicks to an ear-shattering accompaniment of hooting, howling, whistling, drum-beating and horn-blowing on the part of opposing supporters that these have become a sine qua non for their successful accomplishment. This the perfidiously hypocritical English have long since understood and, consequently, providing the very opposite type of environment, i.e. where a pin can be heard to drop, is a nigh-on infallible way of putting off the most accurate of Gallic kickers.
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