MAINTENANCE – Author of the book “At the heart of the great downgrading, the lost pride of Peugeot-Sochaux”, the journalist Jean-Baptiste Forray sees in the criticisms broadcast at the 2022 World Cup the sign of the fracture between the “somewhere” and the ” anywhere” (people everywhere).
Journalist at La Gazette des Communes, Jean-Baptiste Forray is the author of the book-investigation At the heart of the great downgrading, the lost pride of Peugeot-Sochaux (2022, ed. of Cerf).
LE FIGARO. – The World Cup that is starting is one of the most contested in history. Behind the criticisms of the organizational conditions, should we see a broader fed up with “foot business” in its most successful form?
Jean-Baptiste FORRAY. – Obviously. This World Cup will cost 187 billion euros, compared to 1.3 billion for France in 1998. Between the cost of places and the high-tech, air-conditioned stadiums, which for some will be dismantled in a few months, this event generated a unprecedented uprising.
The contrast is strong between Qatar and the two previous organizers, Russia and Brazil, which have a real football tradition and a different political history. This country, in a way embodies the classification of the British essayist David Goodhart, they are “anywhere” in terms of football; as opposed to “somewhere”, supporters rooted in a territory.
In recent years, French football has been the subject of numerous reforms, such as the upcoming transition from a Ligue 1 from 20 to 18 clubs… Should we see a desire to reserve the elite for a lot of clubs more “privileged”?
Yes, this is the trend at work for a few years. But there are some fairly strong poles of resistance to this development, embodied by the supporters. This is the reason why the authorities try at all costs to circumvent them.
Beyond the question of the passage of a Ligue 1 from 20 to 18 clubs, the major event of the last fifteen years in the French championship remains the takeover of PSG, which can in a certain way apply to a Disneyland football . The price of places has exploded, like the cost of living in the capital. In his book The dispossessed, the essayist Christophe Guilluy tells that in a growing number of arrondissements of Paris, the working classes have been expelled, as they were expelled from the Parc des Princes. All this without the socialist town hall finding fault. Today, you go to the Parc des Princes like you go to a round of golf in Saint-Cloud or to a Rolling Stones concert in a premium box. It has become a globalized spectacle.
PSG is not the only example of this gentrification. David Peace, in his novel Red or dead, retraces the story of Bill Shankly, Liverpool’s legendary coach from 1959 to 1974, a former miner, a socialist at heart, who said: “Football is not a matter of life or death, it is much more than that”. Football was in a way the secular religion of the proletariat. In Liverpool, ticket prices have increased by 1100% between the 1990s and today. As in Paris, an entire population was put out of the game.
The World Cup revives in many people the nostalgia for popular football. Or at least, the front foot.
In 1997, during a European Cup quarter-final, Liverpool children Robbie Fowler and Steve McManaman showed off a t-shirt in support of their city’s striking dockworkers. FIFA sanctioned them, claiming that it would not tolerate any political demonstrations. On the other hand, it adapts very well to “foot business”.
Is this decline of popular football in France part of a broader political framework?
Yes, and it is part of a larger territorial divide between “somewhere” and “anywhere”. The charm of French football, as elsewhere, is that the pennant teams from small towns can hold their own in the big leagues. It is the potential victory of the sub-prefectures over the metropolises, like RC Lens, champion of France 1998, which is experiencing a resurgence this season.
From this point of view, the World Cup revives in many people the nostalgia for popular football. Or at least the front foot. A form of childhood paradise lost with these magnificent losers and these crazy human epics, like that of the Greens in 1976.
How does the case of FC Sochaux illustrate this evolution of football?
I wrote my bookAt the heart of the great downgrading, the lost pride of Peugeot-Sochaux after hearing a statement from the director of partnerships and sponsorship of Peugeot interviewed from a VIP box at Roland-Garros on the partnership between the lion brand and the famous tennis tournament, in 2019. When a journalist from Europe 1 asked him what was going to happen to FC Sochaux-Montbéliard, she gave him the following answer: “Football is a sport that doesn’t go too well with our values. It conveys popular values, whereas we are trying to move upmarket”.
This declaration goes beyond the framework of football and illustrates the abandonment of the popular classes by the globalized elites. Sochaux supporters, historically linked to Peugeot, are thus treated as a negligible quantity. These words suggest that the fans probably smell too much oil for the Parisian decision makers of the Peugeot group. Moreover, the brand dropped the club in 2014.
Is not the criticism of “foot business” as old as the history of football?
I think yes. If we take the example of Sochaux, it was a club formerly run by the Peugeot family, an old Protestant family which had not at all the mistrust that Catholics could have vis-à-vis money. FC Sochaux has been at the forefront of the professionalization of football in France. As early as the 1930s, players began to be paid for their sporting activity. The club was made up of a plethora of internationals. It was a bit like the PSG of the time. But the sums were obviously not the same and the players were more like the hard core of supporters in their attitude. We could still chat with them after practice.
When the great Sochaux team qualified for the semi-finals of the 1981 European Cup, the team looked like the employees of Peugeot, the workers of the “Peuge”. There was in its midst the Yugoslav Salih Tsitso Durkalic, like the Yugoslav diaspora who worked in the factory workshops. The increase in wages was created from the distance. Today, players are also surrounded by an army of communicators and lawyers specializing in tax optimization or in the Kingdom. We are far from the “prolos” of football and this sport as a vector of integration.
SEE ALSO – Peugeot-Sochaux: the story of French industrial decline