For young, multiracial France, the team is a source of joy but few now think of it as a healing force
I have been watching the World Cup in France, mainly in the bars and cafes of the lower end of the 14th arrondissement in Paris. This is a mixed neighbourhood that is partly gentrified but also home to council estates with a large immigrant population and the usual low-level social tensions – drugs, gangs, run-ins with the police. So far, however, watching the game has been relatively trouble-free. Each step by the French team towards victory has been followed by good-humoured delirium – flares are set alight, kids walk on the roofs of cars, there is much tooting of horns and showering of beer. The culmination of all these mini-parties came after the team’s victory over Belgium on Tuesday when, as if in response to some secret signal, hundreds and then thousands of fans converged on the Champs-Élysées.
Watching all of this on the news, what was most striking about the fans was not their racial mix, although numerous ethnicities were represented, but how young they were. This is the new generation of millennials for whom the last great French victory in the World Cup is an event from history. A cartoon in Le Parisien said it all: “You’ve got to stop telling us stories from the last century,” young fans tell a portly, middle-aged white male (not unlike myself). The message is clear: this is our World Cup and this is our own triumph to celebrate.