By Judy Carmack Bross
While 68,000 fans filled Qatar’s World Cup Stadium Wednesday, fans for France took over the Alliance Francaise Chicago for the semi-final game against Morocco shouting “Allez Les Bleu” as they watched the game on three large screens.
Members of the Women’s Board left their book club meeting early, young members of the Professional Group waved flags, soccer fans visiting Chicago appeared, having learned about the venue, and even Yannick Tagand, Consul general of France in Chicago and Berangere, Consul general adjointe, came to cheer. Soccer player Habib Moudachirou showed his 1982 Adidas French soccer jersey, and another fan, making his first visit to the spacious site at Dearborn and Chicago Avenue remarked: “very welcoming, and they served great cheese.”
Katherine Carey, The Alliance’s Development and Operations Manager, who worked with Conery Hoffman, Director of Special Programs, to plan the event, filled us in about the importance of soccer in France. Carey, a huge soccer fan, urged the Alliance to be on the ball to celebrate the World Cup.
Katherine Carey of the Alliance Francaise
“My husband, who is French, and I lived in France for six years and I learned how much soccer matters in all parts of French societally and culturally as well as in geo-political history. We are so proud of the multi-cultural team, from many socio-economic backgrounds. In many countries, such as France, soccer is a uniting force. In Europe, it is significant that of all of the European soccer teams, France is by far the most multicultural and multiracial.
“Soccer is accessible to all. Soccer is played all over France, even in the poorest neighborhoods, and for those moments, all that is important is the game. So many of us remember the World Cup win of 1998 and then 20 years later, winning the World Cup in 2018 and today seeing some of the same players on the field.
“One of the most important reasons why soccer is so significant to French people is that it tells the story of immigration in France. For example, from the wave of Polish immigrants in the early 20th century, and later Italians, Algerians and other African countries, these generations of immigrants produced some of the best French soccer players: Kopa (Polish heritage, player of the 1950’s), Platini (Italian heritage, 1980’s), Zidane (Algerian heritage, 2000s), and the current French superstar Kylian Mbappé (his mother is from Algeria and his father is from Cameroon). In contemporary history, many of the stars of the French soccer team are French-born citizens and products of immigration.
“This sense of cultural unity was epitomized in a slogan when France won the World Cup in 1998 with Zidane, “Black, blanc, beur” (black, white, arab), a pun referring to the colors of the French flag, “bleu, blanc, rouge,” that highlighted the diverse multiracial heritage of the French team. And again in 2018, with “Liberté, egalité, Mbappé.” (A play on the French motto, replacing “Franternité” with the name of the star player.”
A few weeks ago the Alliance featured a contemporary documentary film about street soccer, “Ballon sur bitume,” or “Concrete Soccer,” released in 2016. In this documentary film, people from poorer neighborhoods of French cities describe how and why soccer is so significant in their lives and how they find a sense of freedom through soccer,” Carey said. “We have in our Alliance Médiathèque Une histoire de France en crampons, loosely translated as “A history of France in its cleats,” and which is essentially a history of France through its soccer team. Since 1904 and the first match of the French team, the history of the country and its football team have intersected.”
Conery Hoffman told us how the Alliance Francaise developed this focus on sports:
“In the fall of 2020, we identified that sport is something that we had not explored here at the Alliance so with the support of our President of the Board of Directors, David Horn, and our Executive Director Mary Ellen Connellen, I was charged with developing this new arm of programming. The idea to incorporate sports was a precursor to the initiative of featuring the World Cup events, though the World Cup was the perfect opportunity to begin this new and exciting initiative. Many new faces joined us at the Alliance for France vs Australia, and France vs Morocco viewing parties, and for the earlier viewing of “Ballon sur Bifortume”.
“We would like to thank Brett August and David Reithoffer from Chicago Sister Cities, Morgan Roy, board member of the Australian Chamber of Commerce, and David Zaslavsky, our Alliance board liaison on this program. We couldn’t have accomplished some of our programming without their generosity and support. Thank you also to Bérangère Travard, Consule générale adjointe, Consulat général de France à Chicago, and Emma Buckham, Deputy Consul-General, Australian Consulate-General Chicago.”
|French community member Mathieu Lignel||
Stephano Smars, Trade Commissioner for Belgium and his team
A soccer visiting from Vancouver who found the event online told me that she felt that “Morocco and France were balanced and that the game could have gone either way,” she said. “Morocco did indeed make history, becoming the first African and first Arab nation to make it to the semi-finals at the World Cup.”
Members of the Alliance Francaise WomanBoard Book club.
To the left of the gentleman, Isabelle David. To the right: Isabelle de la Vauvre
Today’s final game will match Argentina’s Lionel Messi arguably the finest player of all time, against Kylian Mbappé, his heir apparent, and France, aiming to become the first nation in half a century to retain the most coveted prize in sports. Alliance fans were there to see France become the first nation in more than two decades to qualify for consecutive finals.
Carey, who today is driving from the Paris airport to the French Alps on Sunday after landing in Paris, told us: “My husband and I will be looking for a small pub along the way where we can watch the game.”
To learn more about the Alliance Francaise Chicago, visit: af-chicago.org