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French Letter

French football and feminist disco

Jul 12

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Saturday, July 12, 2008  RssIcon

July 14 may well be the birthday of modern France, but modern French people prefer to celebrate July 12. Ten years ago today, the French football team won the World Cup, beating Brazil 3-0 in the final in Paris.

Robert Pires, Bixente Lizarazu and Zinedine Zidane celebrate with the World CupEven for non-football fans, this date now carries enormous emotional weight. The French side that night was a multicoloured mix of black, white and north African origins - an accurate cross-section of French society. Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of the extreme-right Front National, had bemoaned the excess of non-white players in the French squad - completely misjudging the mood of the moment. There were optimistic hopes that the exploits of Zizou and co. would slay the beast of French racism.

This optimism was cruelly shattered in 2002. In that year's presidential election, five million French people voted for Le Pen and put him into the second round run-off against Jacques Chirac. As for les bleus, their World Cup defence was a disaster and they came home from South Korea after the first round.

Tonight at the Stade de France, scene of that famous victory a decade ago, the 1998 squad will play against an international selection managed by Arsène Wenger and Hristo Stoitchkov.

For French people, one piece of music evokes those dizzy heights of le douze juillet. Yes, football fans here get all misty-eyed whenever they hear that old disco classic, "I Will Survive".

Why has a feminist anthem from the 1970s become the theme to France's 1998 World Cup win? Well, anyone who's ever attended a French international rugby match will have heard a brass band in the crowd, playing 'La Marseillaise' and other motivational tunes. During the 1998 World Cup in France, these sports-loving musicians took to playing the trumpet refrain from a 1995 cover of Gloria Gaynor's hit, by the Hermes House Band. The French trumpeteers would throw in a few "Olé!" flourishes and break into a can-can rhythm, all to entertain the crowds.

It caught on, and soon French fans were singing along in "la-la-la" style and repeating that one line all through the night. By the time Didier Deschamps lifted the trophy, that single line embodied the joy and celebration of a nation.

Even today, if you find yourself at a French party or campsite and you wish to break the ice, just start singing the trumpet break to "I Will Survive". Here's the Hermes House Band version that captured the imagination of all France:

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Aidan Curran, based in Paris, has been writing for CLUAS since 2004. More info about Aidan...

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