As he struggles to find pride in being an Irishman in Lyon, Matt Gregg looks at the international language of sport
It’s not been the best time to be Irish in France. The size of our bailout still smarts while not a lecture goes by without Ireland being used as an example of financial or political instability, but worst of all – Sean Cronin knocked it on.
Ireland could have had it all. Game day started with electric anticipation. The Italian debacle had been consigned to history and it was now time to face France, both in Lansdowne and Flanagan’s Bar of Vieux Lyon. Certainly the odds were stacked against us. For one, it appeared that despite being in Flanagan’s Bar, I was one of only two Irishmen present.
Very quickly, there was three minutes left. We’d turned the ball over 10 metres from the French line. Ireland were going to beat France and the gloating could begin. However, you know what happens next. And we were left with nothing but the bittersweet taste of a stoic defeat.
During the match, as we exchanged playful insults and pantomime jeers with the French around us, it struck home how great a connector sport is. Throughout my time in Lyon, sport has provided the best avenues to meet real life, actual French people.
The teaching environment in France really doesn’t lend itself to making new acquaintances. 300 odd people in lecture halls are as daunting as those back home and the tutorial layout is even worse. In France, tutorials are not so much a forum for discussion amongst peers, but a platform for tutors to bask in the sound of their own voice.
Thankfully, the gym in the Andre Alix residence is far less inhibiting. Because it’s subsidised by CROUS, it’s cheap with membership costing only €24 for the entire year. Perhaps less clean than UCD’s Crunch Fitness and owner certainly of fewer glossy motivational posters, it’s nevertheless got all the essentials: bench press, a squatting rack and a proprietor who devours an entire roast chicken after every session.
Ok, maybe that last one is an Andre Alix special. The man himself, Amadou, is perhaps the largest individual you’ll ever see and is comfortably three times as wide as yours truly. He clearly leads by example because there is not a scrawny lad in sight. Your average student serves in a bar or stacks shelves in a supermarket, but these big blokes work as bouncers. This can come in handy sometimes.
Just last Thursday we were heading to Boston, an American-style dance bar located near Hotel de Ville. However, when we arrived, our prospects did not look good. It was past midnight and there was a straggle of people trying in vain to gain entry. We were just about to head somewhere else when Karim, another gym member, waved me over through the crowd of onlooking Frenchmen and into the club. I felt about ten feet tall.
Suitably impressed, my French football friends insisted I head out to a venue called ‘The Cavern’ with them the next night. As a rather exclusive club, they were adamant I dress up for the occasion so by the time we reached the place I was quite nervous. It was like being 17 all over again, just hoping to get in. Dauntingly, here is no queue for the Cavern. Instead, just a closed door facing directly onto the street. If you didn’t know it was there it would be easy to walk straight on by.
A brief moment after we rang the doorbell a man opened the door, steps out and quickly shut it behind him. You could feel him casting his eyes over our party of four, trying to ascertain if we’re the right type of clientele. He starts interrogating us and I was almost sure his French sounded more like a Tipperary accent. “You’re not from Ireland, are you?” I ventured. Pleasantly surprised, he smiles and exclaims that he is indeed. After a quick discussion, we were in.
Brian, the doorman, proves to be a good-natured host and even lets us keep our coats in his office rather than pay the extortionate cloakroom charge. He only insisted on one thing – that I come down and train with Lugdunum CLG, Lyon’s premiere GAA club. The fact that I’ve never played in my life didn’t seem to deter his recruitment drive and, eventually, I agree to give it a lash.
Monday came and I headed down to my first-ever Gaelic football training. In France. Till then, I thought solos were played on guitars and the hop was an old school dance move. Amazing the things you learn on Erasmus.
Matt Gregg is a UCD student currently studying abroad for a year in Lyon.