The Writers' Game ⋆ An Old International

The Writers’ Game

Just before the EURO 2016 gets underway for real, the French Sports Writers Association hosted the German national writers’ team in Paris as a warm up for EURO 2016. The match was a game of German organisation vs. French improvisation.

There are stories that are simply unbelievable. Playing for your country is one of those. Being 37 years of age, that dream or that wish to play an international game has long gone, if it existed at all. The more I was elated when I received a call up into the German writer’s national team in early June. The Germans were invited by the French Association des Ecrivains Sportifs, the French sports writers association. It was part of a cultural exchange ahead of the big tournament which started last week. It was embedded in several events which took place at the Goethe-Institut in Paris, which were also the organizers of the game and the ensuing evening event.

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The Stadium

The game took place in a ground that is well known in French sports history: Stade Yves du Manoir in Colombes, c. 20km outside Paris. The ground was built for the 1924 Olympic Games and later hosted games of the 1938 World Cup, Italy vs Hungary was plyaed as were many French Cup finals. Racing Club de Paris have won the double in 1936 with their English coach George Kimpton; the first time a Parisian side won both competitions, long before Zlatan & Co. came to dominate the French top division. The stadium back then had a capacity of 60000; today it holds a mere quarter: 14000 can watch Racing Metro 92, a TOP 14 Rugby side play. As recently as March 1969 more than 63000 came to watch Ajax play Benfica in this very ground. The days of grand football are long gone: Racing now play in the lower regions of the French football pyramide.

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The Match

The match itself was a typical affair between Germany and France: The Germans overran their opponents and took an early 2-0 lead and the French slowly got back into the game and got their goal after 70 minutes. At this point, the game could have ended 2-2 as Germany became somewhat nervous and the French smelled blood. The German defence held and there were many happy faces at the final whistle. My contribution were about 40 minutes before i limped off with a calf injury. Nonetheless, It was an experience that I will cherish and which has made my son incredibly proud. You think the story of Jamie Vardy is incredible being discovered playing in League Two only a few years ago before being signed by Leicester and who has lately won the Premier League and will represent England at the Euro 2016 in June. However, playing Sunday League and having not played 11-a-side at all for three years and then being called up for the national team is quite something that not even Vardy has managed.

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The Third Half

When writers play football it is quite natural that a discussion about football and literature will follow suit. This happened at the Goethe-Institut near the Eiffeltower. The debate focused on the question whether or not Benzema has not been selected for racial reasons as the player himself claims or because he currently has criminal cases pending. Of course, the latter is the reason yet the topic of racism in football was nonetheless discussed by two writers from each team. A very interesting debate developed about which literary form is the most appropriate for football: drama, fiction, poetry or even opera? For each of these genres you could easily found examples aplenty which possibly explains why there are so few really good fictional accounts about football. It highlighted however, that football is part of culture and that writing about football does not stop people from playing and playing quite well actually.

My thanks goes to Frank Willmann, the coach of the German team for inviting me to play and the Goethe Institut Paris for their courtesy of using some of their images.

all photos: © Goethe-Institut/Philippe Lelluch

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