Adventures in Ligue 1

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Colin Crawford is a museum worker with a well cultivated taste for the arcane and unusual. Buy him a cup of tea and he’ll talk about anything to do with soccer.

In the first of a new series, Colin begins an adventure that we can’t wait to follow along with. Join him as he explores the world of Ligue 1, trying desperately to avoid the shadow of Paris Saint Germain…

The video game The Beginner’s Guide was made by Davey Wreden and released in late 2015. It takes the form of you, the player, being led on a narrated tour through dozens of small games created by an unseen protagonist, a developer named Coda. It initially positions itself as a meditation on creativity and what, if anything, can be divined about an author through their creations. As you play, however, it becomes clear that the more interesting discussion being posed is about consumption.

With the advent of the internet and the ready availability of cultural and capital products, we are all able to pick and choose our interests in a way that was simply not possible in previous decades. Not a big fan of the shows at your local gallery? Jump on the internet and check out what’s happening in New York. Can’t find the right pair of sneakers in the stores downtown? No bother, get them sent from Japan. Live in North America and want to follow soccer? You’re not limited to MLS anymore. Now you can pick a team in “the best league in the world.”[1]

I confess to not being immune to this affliction. I reject Nike and instead choose the humbler and more Merseyside-centric Reebok, I’d rather listen to a band rising up from the Soweto townships than Father John Misty, and I choose to play an obscure video game about the nature of identity than another round of Call of Duty multiplayer.

I am, in short, a contrarian.

All of which brings us to Ligue 1. French domestic football has very rarely caught the imagination of the average soccer fan. AS Saint-Etienne conspired with Liverpool to produce one of the most electric ties  in European football during their heyday in the late 70’s.

Olympique de Marseilles won the first Champion’s League competition in 1993, but were relegated to Ligue 2 and banned from European competition the following season following the revelation of financial irregularities and referee bribes. Olympique Lyonnais won seven Ligue 1 titles in a row between 2002 and 2008 but were never able to turn that into success in the continental competitions.

Then Paris Saint-Germain happened. It was always a tricky club to like, the cool factor of being the only big club in an international cultural centre was wiped away by its short history and the right-wing affiliations of many of its hardcore fans. They did win a Cup Winner’s Cup in 1996, but league performances would best be characterized as disappointing.

In 2011 the club would be bought by Qatar Sports Investments, launching them into the financial stratosphere. This let them bring in players like Edinson Cavani, David Luiz, and, of course, Zlatan Ibrahimovic. They paid ridiculous fees and even more absurd wages. The Ligue 1 championship became a formality and they’ve won it in the past four seasons. The real goal became the Champions League[2]; four quarter-final exits in a row is likely not the return on investment that QSI likely envisioned, but they’ve become one of the biggest commercial brands in football.

All of the above thrusts Paris Saint-Germain into the top five of disliked [3] clubs and means I will do my level best to not talk about them in the upcoming series. The idea is to take a closer look at French football, choosing not to scale the PSG monolith, but instead searching for stories in the tattered remains of the clubs that have crashed into it.

Each week I’ll prepare a short primer on a club and then do my best to watch them play. This is obviously at the whims of the broadcasting companies, but I think most teams would be viewable once or twice in a season. I’ll go through the league alphabetically. as that’s a good a system as any. We’ll be looking out for beautiful stadiums, crackling atmosphere, sublime football , sartorial excellence and the next player your mid-table Premier League team will buy.

I’m looking forward to this as there’s always been a hint of Francophilia in my veins; I liked Amelie, I own several stripy sweaters and my favourite skater is Lucas Puig. Feel free to leave comments regarding your team, particular players, or whatever else you think might be prevalent to the conversation and join us in a couple of weeks time as we take a look at Angers SCO.

[1]     Ostensibly the Premier League, but this is a big, ugly debate for another time.

[2]    One of the blandest and least imaginative things to aim for. Personally, I find the competition moribund.

[3]     If you must know, the others are Chelsea, Manchester United, Real Madrid, and Barcelona. Arsenal hover nearby solely because of their fans. Don’t @ me.

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1 reply »

  1. i’ll have to wait as per alphabetical trail but looking forward to hearing your thoughts on my old town toulouse. nowadays i chant TFC in another stadium.

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