PARIS—Coming back from the metro after the PSG match, I passed a fruit merchant on rue Cler. Baskets of long, skinny strawberries sat in front. Gariguettes, said the sign on the board. I Homework I have some of those French Gariguettes, I thought. They looked so juicy and fresh that I stopped walking as soon as I saw them.
I brought my basket to the checkout, and the clerk told me he liked the way I wore my baseball cap, which was backwards. Thank you, I say, turning to show him my new PSG cap. “I just got back from the game!”
“Wow, you must see the hiss!” he said. ” It was crazy ! PSG fans are so spoiled. They have no history, they have nothing, and they think they can act like that!
I had no intention of writing about my first time going to a European football game until the clerk made me realize how strange and important the game really was. Those PSG fans really sat there and laughed at Messi and Neymar, even when Neymar scored the second goal!
I don’t know much about European football, but I have already visited Camp Nou during my visit to Barcelona. Even though I wasn’t there in season for a game, it was still cool to see all their trophies and the tributes to Lionel Messi, and I decided that the next time I go to Europe, I would try to attend a match of a big club.
My friend Julia is on an internship in Paris at the moment, so I decided to go visit her this month with my friend Sarah. It turns out that PSG were playing Bordeaux at home while we were there. We bought tickets in the Tribune de Boulogne, which is directly opposite the Tribune d’Auteuil, where PSG’s staunchest supporters sit, and just below the upper section for the visiting team.
Friday nights at the ZigZag Cafe in the seventh district, one of Julia’s Parisian friends gave me an update on the PSG team that I would see on Sunday. While she rolled her own cigarette at the dinner table (she’ll quit when she turns 25), she said her brothers were big fans. She hadn’t been to a game for a few years, but she knew PSG had been underperforming lately and had just lost a huge game. All I knew was that Messi left Barcelona for Paris last summer, and she said yes, that’s the problem. A big star is there and they lost again! But between Friday and Sunday, I forgot to look at which game they lost and why it mattered. I Googled PSG’s record, and it showed them top of Ligue 1, with Bordeaux bottom. What is the problem? I was thinking. They are in first place!
My friends and I got off the train at Porte d’Auteuil and walked a few blocks to the stadium, the Parc des Princes, which I thought was a really miserable place. It reminded me of Northwestern’s main library: a massive concrete horror straight out of the late ’60s. stadium path. We could have entered a museum. No one tried to sell me counterfeit merchandise (which I would have been so easy to buy), and there were no bucket beaters or even a real buzz among the fans walking around.
We missed all of the player intros because we got the wrong input, but as we weaved our way through residential Paris, we heard what sounded like boos. We thought only Bordeaux players were featured.
Once we finally found the right entrance, we sat down and freaked out about our view. We were so close to the Bordeaux goal! And to our right on the upper level, the Bordeaux Ultras sang and clapped loudly. They transitioned from song to song seamlessly and even performed some very complicated choreography that involved turning around to turn away from the pitch. Every time we looked up they had a different accessory. Blue flags, white flags, streamers, scarves. The Ultras director was perched on the upper deck railing, one leg dangling behind him.
Once we tore our attention away from the Bordeaux crowd, we noticed something very strange. The Auteuil tribune, where the PSG supporters are, was also mysteriously silent. They easily outnumbered the Bordeaux Ultras, but tried half as hard to cheer and sing. My friends and I know next to nothing about this team, but we could spot Messi and Neymar right away, and the fans whistled and laughed every time either player touched the ball. What’s going on? Why are they all so mean? These are the stars!
PSG’s Kylian Mbappe scored first and everyone jumped and screamed. I slapped the hand of the man sitting next to me. He seemed like a real football connoisseur, but I was afraid he was French and wouldn’t bother to answer my annoying questions about PSG. “It’s my first game!” I told him, testing the waters to see if it could be a new pal or not.
“That’s great! Are you from the States?” He said in a very clear British accent.
Alistair and I became friends quickly, mostly because he also loves American football and identifies as a Packers fan because he has a friend who lives in Milwaukee. He had even been to the Milwaukee suburb of Wauwatosa before (which is a hilarious word to hear with a British accent!). Why are they booing Messi and Neymar? We asked our new football-savvy friend.
Alistair generously explained to us that PSG lost to Real Madrid last week. A match that “they were in a position to win”, until Karim Benzema scored three goals in 16 minutes. I then learned that PSG had never won the Champions League. They were semi-finalists last year and runners-up in 2020, added superstar Messi for this season to take them through, and nearly won the game against Real Madrid, before allowing a comeback that knocked them out of the game. round of 16.
Now, it only made sense that everyone looked so somber outside the stadium. Just before half time, I noticed a big black banner in the PSG Ultras section that said “MANAGEMENT RESIGN” (meaning something about management resigning). Then all the fans in the supporters’ section got up and left. “Where are they going?” I asked Alistair, who has been living in Paris since the summer, but was also attending his first PSG game. “Oh, it’s kind of a protest,” he said, rolling his eyes. “They are not happy with the way the team is run.”
The three sections where the Ultras sit have red, white and blue seats that form the design of PSG’s Eiffel Tower. They remained empty for the rest of the game, and the only supporters who really made noise were those of Bordeaux. Neymar scored in the 52nd minute, and I cheered because that’s what I paid to see. But everywhere else in the stadium, he got booed! And while I was trying to process this in real time, with the help of my friend Alistair, the Ultras de Bordeaux launched a new chant, which Alistair translated to us as “Paris, fuck you!”
The whole section in front of us got up and flipped the fucking European arm wave AND also flipped the bird to the Bordeaux crowd. These people were crazy! It made sense, at least, when aimed at the opponent.