The invitation and its consequences
Here is how our little story begins: preceding the Euro 2008 qualifying game between France and Italy, Lilian Thuram French record holder for international caps and Patrick Vieira, team captain, personally invited 70 people to come watch the game at the Stade de France. This did not fly in government circles. The French Minister of Sports, the well-named Jean-François Lamour, berated... the French Football Federation, asking its officials to make sure that “a game involving France would not be instrumentalized”, while acknowledging that “players were free to invite whomever they felt like.”The French team, though, “deserves better than a new controversy at each game”, he added. A contradiction in terms? Doesn’t matter; when you’re a politician what you say matters much less than how you say it. Lamour knows that the invitation is at the center of this debate; the two players paid from their own pockets for those tickets (as manager Raymond Domenech later confirmed, not without humor .), and did not use the Federation’s money as some have suggested. This wasn’t the first time they had guests at a game, as one would expect. This clearly wasn’t the issue. Lamour is worried that football, an innocent sport devoid of any political undertones as we all know, might be contaminated by the conniving intentions of some, well characterized by this sneaky invitation. Lamour is just doing his job: he shows his love for French sports by protecting its purity. Those guests are really getting scary, in the process; what are the black children of the Republic up to this time? Have they invited such thugs as those that once booed the national anthem, as Lamour seems to suggest? 
Not really. Thuram and Vieira’s 70 guests were some of Cachan’s squatters, illegal aliens, homeless persons, niggers, what have you. We probably would never have heard about this had they not recently been bulldozed out of the empty university buildings they had been occupying for the past few years in the Paris suburb of Cachan. As often, the nigger is only a bother in that he is visible. The Cachan squat existed only for its neighbors until French police moved in on it to do what they do best, namely beating up women and children, after waiting propitiously until half of the people there had left for work. The intervention, in the great French tradition of solidarity and grandeur, also revealed that a good number of the squatters were in France legally, their real problem being the impossibility to find decent lodging. No matter. Some of them are illegal, therefore they all are a political problem. You know, the threat of immigration and all that. So now, our players invite kids to a football game, what’s next? Paris under siege? Thank God, right-wing politician Philippe de Villiers is here to make sure that republican morals are safe.
The aristocrats come to save the Republic
Philippe de Villiers red with rage at the insult, had these words to criticize the players: “It is always curious to see millionaires give lessons to society. Footballers are made to play football.”  It is always quite curious to hear French aristocrats give lessons to the Republic. Aristocrats are made to be beheaded. Oops, got carried away here. Without lingering any longer on de Villiers’s odd comment (because it is common knowledge that, contrary to athletes, French politicians-Le Pen first and foremost-are so devoted to France’s ideals that they live with the bare minimum), we could wonder why the aristocrat had nothing to say about the recent and quite sordid exhibition of pop stars Johnny Halliday(aging French rock star) and Doc Gyneco (hip hop crooner) by presidential hopeful Nicolas Sarkozy. We could, but we aren’t that dumb. We would have appreciated comments from the Ministry of Culture, for example, who could have lamented mixing politics and music, but apparently, while Thuram and Vieira have a right to invite whomever they please, Sarkozy has even more of a right. I can already read the articles from future historians, analyzing Sarkozy’s electoral results to the tune of these famous supporters. We could also emphasize the fact that the Cachan bust was meticulously prepared as a media event for the benefit of the good people of France; Minister of the Interior Sarkozy meant this as a show of force and resolve against the plague of illegal immigration, and when the cops came knocking they were almost outnumbered by TV crews and cameras, who’d shown up unannounced. We could even guess that hoping to kill two birds with one stone, Sarkozy is not completely innocent of the mediatization of the football game invitations, and that he more than appreciated de Villiers’s flurries. The aristocrat is always so eager to please. For if Thuram can be discredited, who is going to take his spot? The FC Barcelona defender has proven to be one of the most articulate political commentators of the time, whether it be on the subject of everyday French racism or Sarkozian guile. Now, after France routed Italy, we could almost forget the controversy that almost wasn’t. Once again, the French tricolore flag sees its honor defended by colored players. But it won’t last, and as we speak, the Cachan squatters are rotting in a gymnasium. In a few months, in a few years, what will be left of the invitation, a simple and focused gesture drowned in a sea of hypocrisy?
We might remember them with sadness, those years when every time he opened his mouth, be it to try and avoid saying anything, Lilian Thuram asserted himself as one of the healthiest and most subtle political commentators in the land, so much so that our so-called left wing parties (yes they exist) all agreed in lauding such an anecdotal gesture as an invitation to a football game, in order to channel as much of Thuram’s poise as they could. We will have a faded smile for one of the classiest defenders France has ever known, who took his position in the High Council for Integration a little more seriously than anybody had expected from a millionaire football player, black to boot. Once the dust settles, we will have to recognize that the symbolic value of this gesture is far from being innocent, positioning itself as it does in a logical line from Thuram’s other interventions during the World Cup . 70 squatters shrouded in the French flag, here’s a very meaningful image. It is also a declaration of solidarity from players whom, while they are millionaires, have not forgotten where they came from. There is some irony in hearing Sarkozy, mayor of the very affluent Parisian suburb of Neuilly, or de Villiers the aristocrat criticizing anybody on the subject of personal wealth. Of course, their obvious goal is to ruin Thuram’s credibility, but they do a better job, in my mind, of exposing their own flaws, but I admit I am partial on the subject. Thuram and Vieira’s invitation seems a left-wing equivalent of Sarkozy’s invitation to Halliday and Gyneco; it isn’t, for the simple reason that where the Interior Minister goes very low to scrape whatever support he can for the coming elections, the football players use their own notoriety as pedestal for a powerful image, more than speeches. Thuram has been consistent in saying he did not mean anything by this but to provide people with 90 minutes of joy. We can leave it at that, or we can go a little further.
The image of the squatters in the Stade de France is a variation on that we had been given to see over and over again in the French team during the World Cup. If I dared, I would go so far as to compare it with the famous example used by Roland Barthes in his Mythologies: the Paris-Match cover of a young African boy in a uniform, saluting an invisible French flag. Barthes analyzed it as the sign of the myth of the good deeds of French colonization. Where Barthes saw the erasing of the historical for the mythical, the hijacking of this image reintroduces time and history in order to subvert the myth. The image of the squatters at the Stade de France, which we can make out beyond Thuram and his passionate renditions of the national anthem, is produced by the niggers of France, who dictate its meaning. It is the image of the patronizing French Empire subverted with black humor. Of course it doesn’t please everybody. Exposing their “mistake’ was supposed to silence them, and here they are transformed into the charismatic champions of a humanistic cause. We will see this image again, no doubt about it, and again as long as it is not properly addressed, trust Lilian for that. In this image, nationalistic French myths are taken over by the very people they have exploited most, those natives who were brought to think that Marianne would welcome them with open arms. France is also the Cachan squatters, up at 5 a.m. to go work their asses off while their families were being clubbed by the police. It’s been true for a while. You can see the dots; once again they were shown in the Stade de France, You can connect them or not. But you will have been warned.
As the song goes , “Freedom, beloved freedom, fight alongside your defenders.”
And alongside your midfielders, why not. Since we have to choose a camp.