The French and their Football

Soccer is such a vital part in the lives of the French, they couldn't live without it. Over the decades, France has raised some of the most fantastic players. Michel Platini, Eric Cantona, and Zinedine Zidane are only a few to mention.

It all starts in the small local clubs scattered all over the country. There isn't a single town without a football club, however amateur. These clubs have teams composed of people from all age groups, who play to release tension, do a bit of exercise, and, most of all, to have lots of fun. Children learn to kick the ball from an early age. School grounds offer lots of space for them to do so, and football clubs accept children as young as 3 or 4 years old. But unlike in the US, women's soccer is less popular in France, so young girls usually pick other team sports instead, such as volleyball, hockey, or basketball.

As the kids grow up belonging to a soccer club, things become more interesting: There are tournaments in which to take part, mini-league tables, the first medals and cups, and the first taste of victory. Training becomes more structured, and football club scouts start scouring the fields for the future generation of footballers. Only a few make it, but many more will just go on playing football as a hobby for many, many years.

People are very loyal to their local team. Matches always bring masses to the stadium, and the football economy is a very prosperous one. When the French team plays, people go crazy. They get their shirts and their scarfs and gather to watch the match on TV or sometimes on big screens in town halls (especially when the World Cup is on every 4 years). Quite often, it's a good way of seeing "old faces" play, because a lot of top class footballers are actually exported to other countries (UK, Spain, Italy). A football match is one great big party. People are happy. They scream, sing and dance. But all in a very passive way, fights around football are really rare in France. When the World Cup was staged in France in 1998, the atmosphere was completely surreal. Especially as France won. Millions of people watched the final on their TV. And, far into the night, people blew their horns, threw fireworks and sang to celebrate.

Even though football is the national sport in France, the country has a whole variety of team sports. It is lucky enough to have a varied climate that allows training for sports that span from athletics to skiing. France takes part in both summer and winter Olympic games as well as world cups, and wins a lot of trophies thanks to its excellent elite teams. Have you heard of French teams winning cups in other sports? Which ones?