Parisian Walkways And The Magic Of France v Wales

I remember vividly my first France v Wales match in Paris, it was on 17 February 1979, three days after my nineteenth birthday.

With long jet black hair and a face full of acne I felt like I was heading to another planet.

Thirty eight years later as I prepare to head to the city of lights, the acne has gone, but sadly so has all the jet black hair.

In mid February 1979 the whole of Northern Europe was engulfed in sub-zero temperatures, and snow was on the ground as I headed to Heathrow to catch a Gulf Air flight to Paris.

In fact the match itself was in doubt earlier that week, due to a piece of the roof falling off at Parc Des Princes attributed to the Siberian weather that had hit the French capital.

These were the days when airport security was unnecessary and virtually non-existent, the great Wales prop Denzil Williams walked through the boarding gates swigging from a large bottle of brandy, and no one batted an eyelid.

Arriving at Charles de Gaulle airport was like entering another world, it was the first time I had seen a policeman with a gun, in fact the entire staff of the airport appeared to be armed, including the cleaners.

But, the biggest shock of my life was about to occur, my first visit to a French toilet.
Now I had never been outside the UK, and nothing had prepared for the experience of “using” a urinal, whilst a French woman sang and polished the one next to me.

I was from West Wales, where even making eye contact with someone in a lavatory was deemed to be depraved behaviour, and then to cap it all, there was another woman sat at the exit of the establishment, with a saucer full of francs to which I embarrassingly had to make a contribution.

All weekend Paris was engulfed in a freezing cold, misty blanket, which didn’t help my main problem, dog mess !

Now I have never seen, before or since, so much dog mess in one city, as I did in Paris that weekend, I never saw any of the sights as I was too busy looking down at the pavement, leaping around like Rafa Nadal to avoid slipping on either canine excretion or ice.

The epicentre of this problem was right outside the Port de Saint Cloud metro station, the nearest station to the Parc Des Princes, where France played in those days, as did the football team Paris St Germain.

The Parc Des Princes was like a bear-pit inside, but lacked in asthetic beauty and resembled NCP car park from the outside.

The atmosphere in the ground was very hostile, unlike the sanitized Stade de France of today. 

The Wales time were roundly booed when they entered the fray, but the French saved their ire for the Gendarmerie brass band who were heckled so loudly that it was impossible to hear a note they played.

Having a ticket was somewhat superfluous , as every row of ten seats contained at least twenty people in situ, I had a burly Basque farmer on my lap for most of the first half, and in fact it was so cold, I was glad of the warmth.

He had a leather satchel draped around his neck filled with home-made Pyrenean brandy, which made him look like a Gallic St Bernard.

The bearded, beret clad St Bernard insisted every time Wales, or France, were awarded a penalty,that we both take a swig from his attachment, in the interests of Cymric/Gallic relations I felt it only polite to comply.

Wales were coming to the end of their golden era in 1979, JPR Williams was still around, and captained the team, and a new young star was emerging at scrum half in the shape of Terry Holmes.

For the record France won 14-13, with the scores at half time level at 7-7
Jean Francois Gourdon scored two tries for France, and Aguirre kicked two penalties.
For Wales, Terry Holmes scored a try, and Steve Fenwick kicked three penalties.

The wonderment of that first trip has gone, but the magic of Paris and a French home rugby international is something I never tire in experiencing .


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