Samba, But In Slo-Mo
July 13, 1998
Sachin An Intimate Potrait
August 24, 1998

Sideline Snapshots

Arab Les Hooligan

NESTLING in the Mediterranean, 30 per cent of Marseilles’ population is of Arabic descent—Algerian, Tunisian, Moroccan. The town has a strong right-wing component and it’s next to impossible for any black or brown-skinned soul to gain entry into any of the nightclubs in the town’s Vieux Port area. This substratum of resentment against the Arabs found some of the ‘indigenous’ Gallic population somewhat aligned with the English soccer hooligans, and against the Tunisians, in the orgy of violence that broke in the town around the time of England’s first round match with Tunisia.

One such person was Richard Michetti, owner of the Le Canebiere bar, which was right in the eye of the rioting. “Everybody has the wrong impression that the English started it off. It was the Arabs. It was a racial confrontation and had nothing to do with football. The Arabs didn’t want to stop fighting against the English because there were so many of them and the English were in a minority.” Around 50 English soccer fans were trapped in Michetti’s bar with a 300-strong Tunisian contingent baying for their blood outside the Le Canebiere. “It was the English who helped me down the shutters and save my property. I called the police 34 times. I have it on record. But they didn’t lift a finger to help me though they saw the whole thing from 50 yards. The police went very soft on the Arabs because they didn’t want to annoy them,” Michetti fumed.

He even went on air on TF1, the biggest television channel in France, much to the chagrin of Marseilles’ police chief. Interestingly, the Le Canebiere is one of the top 15 tobacco retail outlets in France and draws, on an average, 5,000 customers daily. But the rioting has left a bad taste in Michetti’s mouth: “I don’t want to stay someplace where the police cannot protect you. I am thinking of emigrating to Quebec next year.”

Oh! To Be In France

A RATHER interesting offshoot of the soccer violence was the sudden stress it put on the English reporters—all 700 of them following the World Cup. The Times, London, alone had around 25. At Marseilles, when seven English and five Tunisians were arrested for hooliganism, the journalists had to follow the court proceedings at the Palais de Justice in French. Apart from this pressure on their linguistic skills, most of the journalists were peeved with their editors for the cliched stories they were telling them to do. Said one: “My editor wants a story on Toulouse (where England played Romania) gearing up for English hooligans after the violence in Marseilles.”

There was much analysis of the English hooligans in bars and pizza cafes as well. Said John Duncan of The Guardian: “If a few of the English players had made an appearance during the rioting and appealed to them it would have made a difference.” The French police came in for much criticism for not allowing the British ‘spotter police’ to wear police armbands and control the hooligans. This made them susceptible to baton charges from the French. There were also charges from the French that the British intelligence wasn’t really sharing ‘vital’ information with them; the British shot back, saying that most of the ar rests were because of their ‘vital’ info on hooligans.

Tender Mercies

THE president of the All-India Football Federation, Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, had his brief moment of glory when Sepp Blatter was elected FIFA president two days before the start of the World Cup. Apparently, Blatter sidled up to Munshi saying, “Thank you for your support. You were the only president in Asia to support me openly. I will remember that.” Munshi did his bit even on the day of voting when Blatter’s rival, Swede Johanson, suggested that all three representatives of a country’s football federation should gather in the voting booth and decide on their candidate. Munshi, in a two-minute speech in the FIFA congress, said that since the football associations had decided who they would vote for even before landing in Paris, it wouldn’t be necessary to put them through this exercise. That veritably skittled Johanson’s move. Of course, Munshi was also member of the technical committee at Lens. But, though he boasted of his ‘close status’ with the FIFA bosses, Munshi was unable to plead for more tickets. As a result, many football fans couldn’t make the trip from India. While AIFF had requested for 1,800 tickets for the entire Cup the number that came was 186. That’s about 10 per cent of the requirement. That’s 1 billion people with 186 tickets.

Hamma Hamma

AMONG the concerts cancelled by the French was one by Manu Dibango of Soul Makaso fame. Scheduled in Marseilles, the French didn’t want to take chances with soccer hooligans. On the eve of the Holland-South Korea match, however, the restrictions were lifted and three Hip Hop groups performed on the beach after the desultory Spain-Paraguay group match which resulted in a draw. And surprise, surprise, the second group called itself the New Friends from ‘India’. Before you had time to adjust to this culture shock, five performers fired up the stage with a dance-acrobatic display set to Hamma Hamma. New Friends, which had followed a Dutch Hip Hop group whose high point was doing a head stand on the stage and spinning like a top, may have been weak on fancy, physical stuff but it more than made up for it by some good tunes. A backstage tete-a-tete revealed that the members were all Sri Lankan Tamils staying in Paris. Said their agent, P. Mazuet: “Isn’t it wonderful? An Indian Hip Hop group in France. It’s so unusual.” That it was.

The Indian Fest Trick

MONTPELLIER, one of the 10 soccer venues, had another attraction as well—a month-long Festival of India at the Printemps des Comediennes. On the day of the Italy Cameroon match, groups of fans attended the show before proceeding to the stadium. With tickets at 40 francs you could catch a glimpse of India—a few puppet shows, the Indian rope trick, Bharatanatyam and Kalaripayattu performances, Rajas-than folk singers, acrobatic displays and magic. The festival moved to Toulouse from Montpellier and is slated to return to Montpellier next year. The three dozen-odd artistes from India were, however, having problems adjusting to the French way of cooking subcontinental cuisine.

The show attracted an overload of kids, and visitors like 43-year-old Yves Passalacqba. Staying outside Montpellier, the tile-maker refused to turn up at the stadium for the Italy-Cameroon match. This, despite having a ticket. Asked why, he blurted out: “Indian festival much better. Football no good.” Another, Sophia Perez, 18, a biology student on a three-month holiday was busy sharpening her juggling skills to earn some money outside the stadium. “I hate soccer but the crowds are good for earning money.”

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