[Blog] May the best team win!
London, 13 June 2014
With the World Cup beginning in style yesterday and France and England preparing for their first matches (England take on Italy on Saturday whilst France meet Honduras on Sunday), I’d like to take the opportunity to share my thoughts on our two countries’ shared passion for the beautiful game.
In France and in the UK, we’re mad about football. According to Sport England, almost 2 million adults play football every week, and after 7.5 million viewers tuned in to watch England’s friendly against Honduras last weekend, we can expect millions more to be glued to their screens this Saturday night. For some England supporters, watching at home or in the pub won’t quite cut it - 3,000 of the most die-hard fans are expected at the Arena Amazônia in the heart of the Brazilian jungle for England’s first match. The numbers are similarly impressive in France, with the French Football Federation counting nearly 2 million members – more than any other sport – and over 7 million French football lovers turning on their televisions to watch Les Bleus take on Jamaica in last Sunday’s friendly.
In the spirit of the Entente Cordiale, our two countries have always been tactical rivals and strategic friends at heart. And the football pitch has been no exception. Whilst England may have come out top in our only two World Cup head-to-heads, like England we are definitely playing for victory this time round!
Far from generating ill-feeling, football has long been an important part of the close friendship between France and the UK. Footballers are some of our best ambassadors – I think it is fair to say that Zinedine Zidane, Thierry Henry, and of course Arsène Wenger, are better known here than I am! I trust that my friend and colleague Sir Peter Ricketts, the British ambassador in Paris, won’t be offended if I say that the same is true of Wayne Rooney, David Beckham and Ryan Giggs in France!
Today, many of the stars of the English Premier League are French, and an astounding 10 out of the 23 members of the French national squad competing in Brazil play for English clubs. France’s Ligue 1 has also seen some truly great British footballers, and it was an honour when one of England’s greatest ever stars, David Beckham, played his last ever professional match on the turf of Paris St-Germain.
You’ll expect nothing less from a French ambassador than to conclude that this incredible level of exchange is a metaphor for Europe. Where else do we see such cross-fertilization? Is this not the very essence of the free movement of people? The transformative power of Europe is such that when Giroud scores for Arsenal, he scores for both France and England. In the World Cup however, there is no European team as of yet; so if France and England meet, que le meilleur gagne! We will wait for the final whistle before fraternizing again – down at the pub, or a French café in South Kensington.
Bernard Emié, French Ambassador to the UK