Euro 2016 final - The Paris party France didn't want counters story of national unity

The Paris party France didn't want counters story of national unity

11/07/2016 at 14:09Updated 11/07/2016 at 14:44

Tom Adams was on Champs-Elysees as Portugal fans celebrated their Euro 2016 victory, and young Parisians made a statement too.

Eighteen years ago, Zinedine Zidane’s face was projected onto the l’Arc de Triomphe as France partied deep into the night. The son of Algerian immigrants, scorer of two goals in the 1998 World Cup final, was the symbol of French success.

After the Euro 2016 final, though, under the shadow of that very same landmark, something else was being projected by young people wrapped in the flags of Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco: a sense of identity very distinct from the simple construction of unified Frenchness which was seen to be the story of '98.

An estimated 600,000 Portuguese people are believed to live in Paris and so even when the city lost last night thanks to Eder’s goal in extra-time, it won as well. L’Equipe had printed a special final preview edition in Portuguese as well as French on Sunday morning. After a historic night in their sporting history, this huge community had come out to celebrate and Portugal flags fluttered everywhere. “Portugal... campeoes!” was the cry.

The mood was largely celebratory early on in the night - even amongst some France fans, who were chanting "allez Les Bleus" in recognition of their team's efforts. It was notable, though, that many of those taking to the streets were clad in flags of France’s former colonies and seemed to be taking enjoyment from their defeat. It seemed to be young French people who were wrapped in the flags of Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco, setting off flares and cheering at the top of their lungs, chanting the names of those North African countries.

People go around  l'Arc de Triomphe on a truck

People go around l'Arc de Triomphe on a truckReuters

Around l’Arc de Triomphe, cars with Algerian flags were doing laps around the great French landmark, which once bore Zidane's face, in apparent delight. One small truck seemed to be carrying around 15 delirious people, all shouting and cheering. It was rowdy, yes, possibly even dangerous with motorbikes weaving through crowds of people at speed. But boisterous celebrations can be expected in the wake of a huge sporting event. The police watched on unmoved.

But then things turned as Portugal's party was hijacked. As one group of fans jumped up and down in the air with their hands reaching into the sky in delight, their chants had to be cut short. The crowd quickly scattered when a group of adjoining French police, clad in body armour, were suddenly hit with bottles thrown from the crowd.

Later, riot police entered the crowd, snaking in towards l’Arc de Triomphe and splitting groups of Portuguese fans and locals who were in high spirits. Suddenly, items were being hurled and scores of people were running away from the epicentre of trouble. One group of police had to take refuge in the depths of a metro station after coming under attack. One officer had his helmet off, sweating, and a concerned look on his face.

Tear gas was dispersed above ground as a stand-off continued. Fireworks exploded on the streets. In a city hit by terror attacks it is no small thing to set off a big bang unannounced: with every instance during the night there were flinches from the crowd. It did not help that someone was parading around in an Osama Bin Laden mask.

In such a chaotic environment it was impossible to ascertain which individuals were responsible for the trouble, but it appeared to be groups of young Parisians - the Portuguese, mostly, just wanted to party.

There is much truth to that. The way Marseille’s Stade Velodrome responded to France’s semi-final win over Germany was one of the emotional highlights of the tournament. The French team’s progress had meant something important to millions of people and Hugo Lloris said on Friday the players could “feel the happiness” from the public and something has been repaired in the relationship between the two groups.

But the party France didn’t want told another story too.

Tom Adams