Ger Gilroy: Can the French team reignite the spirit of 1998?

The Off the Ball presenter looks at how Euro 2016 can calm a nervous host nation

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Picture by: Thibault Camus / AP/Press Association Images

The drive from Paris to Versailles takes you past the Parc Des Princes, home of PSG and on out into the lush countryside.

It’s all concrete and architectural erratics of urban sprawl, until you suddenly realise there’s fields and forests but one thing is curiously missing. There are almost no tangible signs that the football is on apart from a few ads here and there. They’re not into their bunting in Paris. Too uncool.

On Thursday night’s Off the Ball we had long time friend of the show Xavier Rivoire tell us about the difficult moment France finds itself in right now. There is high unemployment, the cost of living is too much for most people, there’s mass industrial unrest, the far right are on the rise and tensions are high.

The view from the Arc de Triomphe looking along the Champs Elysees, hours after France won the 1998 World Cup. (AP Photo/Gael Cornier)

Can the football calm the country, even momentarily? He hoped so. Perhaps in the midst of all that trouble is the reason that Paris has yet to fully embrace the tournament, after all if the team flops and you’re not emotionally invested then what’s lost? Indifference is a strong defence.

For France the hope must be that the tournament starts quickly with a win tonight against Romania and that some of their young players write their name into the consciousness of the rest of the football world. Everyone, even the cosmopolitan Parisians, love a bandwagon.  

They do of course have a memory in the city of what it was like in 1998 when they won the World Cup. Xavier’s description of the spirit of the revolution being channelled by the children and grand children of the revolution in 1998 was something that suggested a meaningful moment had occurred. A point of no return. We’ll see if they can tap into it this month.