The trip to Haute Saone to trace the origins of Jules Rimet (see pages 73-75 as well) provided more than just a brief moment of history connecting the past and the present. FIFA magazine discovered another, still-living link between this part of the country and the upcoming France 98 competition.
To the vast disappointment of local football lovers, the east of France will not be hosting any World Cup matches this summer. This is a region that loves its football - Alsace, Lorraine (where Michel Platini comes from), Franche-Comté. But why the sudden interest in this pretty but smallish wooded region close to the Swiss border? The answer is simple; it is historically linked to the World Cup through two of its sons, who made their mark on the competition in their own different ways:
- Jules Rimet was the first President of FIFA (1921 - 1954) and the cup bearing his name was the major trophy in the game for many years.
- Lucien Laurent, the first goal scorer in the French "bleu-blanc-rouge" colours - 13 July 1930 - in the inaugural World Cup in Uruguay.
Jules Rimet was a humanitarian and diplomat, born on 24 October 1873 in the charming village of Theuley-les-Lavoncourt in the department of Haute Saone, in the shadows of the Vosges mountains which are so dear to President Jacques Georges (honorary member of FIFA, honorary President of FFF and of UEFA).
The commune of Theuley-les-Lavoncourt and the mayor, Charles Larcher, have taken advantage of this moment to commemorate the achievements of the village's most famous son by erecting a memorial in his honour in the town centre.
As for Lucien Laurent, he is still in robust good health at 90 and having witnessed that first World Cup 68 years ago, today's competition must seem almost alien to him - like events on another planet.
Why would he think that? Well, back in 1930, his pioneering achievement passed almost unnoticed, but in 1998, with his home country the hosts of FIFA's most prestigious competition, this kindly and grandfatherly figure has become a media star, sought by the press and TV, well beyond the borders of France. His memories of that first World Cup are still sharp and lucid:
The trip to South America?
"We were 15 days on the ship "CONTE VERDE" getting out there. We embarked from Villefranche-sur-Mer in company of the Belgians and the Yugoslavians. We did our basic exercises down below and our training on deck. The coach never spoke about tactics at all..."
And that goal?
We were playing Mexico and it was snowing, since it was winter in the southern hemisphere. One of my team mates centred the ball and I followed its path carefully, taking it on the volley with my right foot. Everyone was pleased but we didn't all roll around on the ground - nobody realised that history was being made. A quick handshake and we got on the with game. And no bonus either; we were all amateurs in those days, right to the end."
What do you think about the modern game?
"It has developed enormously in terms of fitness, technique and tactics. But today there is too much negativity and cynical play. We used to bump into each other, not much more than that, there was no real tackling. We had respect for our opponents and for the referee. In the modern game there are no wingers: it's the fullbacks who penetrate down the flanks as they say, but they can't replace a good winger."