Je suis un rochelais
It was a fine early summer evening in 2013 and we were walking down the Merrion Road towards the RDS which was the venue for the European Challenge Cup Final.
The Challenge Cup is a consolation prize competition for teams that were not in contention for the Champions Cup, the final of which would be played at Lansdowne Road the next day.
For supporters of Leinster, a team that had been European Champions for three of the previous four years, to be walking to the RDS to watch them play that evening seemed an anti-climactic conclusion to the season. Apart from the winners, few people even notice who won the Challenge Cup.
We were bid a good evening by a man walking the other way. We stopped to talk (one of the wonderful things about rugby is the innumerable opportunities it creates for conversations with strangers).
The man was French, from the west coast port of La Rochelle. He supported his local club, but playing in the second division of French rugby, they had no opportunity to participate in either of the European competitions.
Nevertheless, he hoped that one day La Rochelle would play at such a level, and in the meantime he would come to the European finals each year, wherever they might take place. He travelled alone, but did not mind, he enjoyed rugby for the sake of it, and always found people with whom to talk.
I always envied that rochelais. I thought that perhaps, one day, when I retired, I might follow his example. To go to watch a European Cup final simply for the sake of watching rugby seemed a very attractive aspiration.
Walking home from school, the thought occurred that there was no reason to delay until retirement to fulfil such a long-held ambition. There was no-one who would notice whether I was sat in the armchair of my flat or standing in some far distant stadium.
I put down my bag and took out my phone. The final is to be in Marseille on Saturday, 28th May. I looked at various flights, but decided I really needed my desktop to plan this undertaking in a proper way.
Making a large mug of tea when I got back to the flat, I spent two hours planning the weekend.
Departing on a 6 a.m flight on the Saturday morning, I arrive in Lyon at 9 a.m. Then I take a lunchtime TGV from Lyon to Marseille to arrive in Marseille at 3.45, where a tram ride will take me to the stadium for the 5.45 kick off. I shall then stay the night in a B&B hotel in Marseille before taking a TGV back to Lyon for an afternoon flight back to Dublin.
I have no idea who will be in the final, but it does not matter. I have spent my summer holiday budget on a single night away, but what will be more memorable, a major sporting occasion or a week putting in days somewhere by myself?
Stade Rochelais are still in the competition. Perhaps if they reach the final, as they did last season, I shall pass a smiling rochelais walking down the road.
Such poetry in the words, a lurker in so far as I read and do not comment, yet i read everytine you post… Thank you xxx
Along with Vince, you must be my other reader.
and another reader
I was interested to see you did your doctoral research with Warwick. I set out to do mine with them, but by the time I got around to preparing a research proposal, my intended supervisor was deemed too old to take on new doctoral candidates so I registered last autumn with Bishop Grosseteste University/Leicester University.