Clement Tomaszewski is a veteran of eight FIFA World Cup™ competitions
A France fan, he has been to 274 Bleus matches
He has travelled over 300,000km and been to four continents
Every football fan has their own special FIFA World Cup™ memories and diehard France supporter Clement Tomaszewski has more than most.
The 72-year-old is regarded in his country as one of the most fanatical of Bleus followers, which is not surprising when you consider that he has seen his national team in action no fewer than 274 times, a figure that amounts to nearly a third of the 840 matches Les Tricolores have played in their history. It is a passion that has taken him to 44 countries and eight World Cup competitions.
His love affair with football began in 1980 when a friend took him to the Stade du Rey to see a Nice match. They quickly became good friends with the players, as Clement told FIFA.com: “In May 1982 there was this frail little kid called Daniel Bravo. He’d made the World Cup training squad for Spain 1982 but then he got injured. He was devastated. We said to him: ‘Listen Daniel, if you can’t go to Spain then we’ll go for you’.”
And that is exactly what they did, heading to Bilbao to see France take on England in their opening match. “There was a really great atmosphere with all the England fans,” recalled 'Clement of Antibes', to give the French super fan his nickname. “They sang the Marseillaise better than me. That’s when I got the bug, in that amazing atmosphere.”
Clement has seen France at every world finals since then, with the exception of Italy 1990. Though Les Bleus failed to qualify for the tournament, it did not stop him from going. “As strange as it may seem it was one of the tournaments I enjoyed most,” he said. “Living in Antibes, it was quicker for me to get to Genoa than Marseille. So I planned a week’s camping with the family and caught two matches in the city: Costa Rica v Sweden and Scotland v Sweden. Those were the happiest memories, being with my family.”
As he went on to explain, Clement came close to recording a historic treble with his loved ones: “My son was with me to see France play Brazil on 12 July 1998. Then at the EURO 2000 final my wife was with me. And I was convinced we were going to win the Germany 2006 Final, which I went to with my daughter. We didn’t.”
Clement of Antibes has followed Les Bleus through thick and thin and done whatever it takes to see them: “I’m scared of flying but passion is stronger than fear. And then there’s the fact that I don’t speak any foreign languages. When you’re at the World Cup though, everyone speaks the same language. The fans are there to cheer their team on and to party. They’re not looking for trouble. They respect each other.”
Despite the language barrier, he has made countless friends along the way: “I was even a witness at the wedding of a German guy I met in Stuttgart.”
Out of all Clement’s many cherished World Cup memories, the one that stands out the most is the semi-final at France 1998. “It was the first time I took my cockerel Balthazar to the stadium,” he explained. “How we suffered! Davor Suker scored and my son and I said we were going to miss out on another World Cup Final. Then along came Lilian Thuram. It was the most exciting of the 274 matches.”
There have been plenty of other emotional high points for Clement, one of which came on 29 February 2012. “It was my birthday,” he said, taking up the story. “I was at the France hotel and Henri Emile [France’s director of football at the time] got Hugo Lloris to call me over in the lobby. He was the captain and he gave me a shirt signed by the whole team and all the France staff. It was amazing.”
Another memorable date is 6 December 2013, when the Final Draw for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil was made. “The Maracana was always a dream of mine from the moment I got into football,” said Clement. “And I got my chance when France were drawn to play Ecuador there. I was jumping up and down on my dining room table like a mountain goat when I heard the news.”
Nor can he forget 28 February 2016, the date on which the FIFA Museum opened: “There are 24 little display cabinets on the first floor with 24 global personalities who have made their mark on the game. And one of them is Clement of Antibes, with his wooden replica World Cup, signed by 13 of the players who won the Trophy in 1998. And sitting next to me on either side are Albert Camus and Bob Dylan. It’s amazing that I’m there. I’m just a supporter after all. I’m not Zidane.”
Will the day come when he has had enough of following his team around? “I’ve worked out that I’ve done more than 300,000 kilometres, which is quite a few times around the planet [nearly 7.5 to be exact],” he said before adding: “The thing is, I’ve never been to Qatar, so that’s another country for me to visit. I might go to a couple of games. As long as I’m still walking, why shouldn’t I?”