New to France, migrants cheer on World Cup victory

New to France, migrants cheer on World Cup victory

© France 24 | A resident at the Albin Peyron residence prepares to celebrate France’s World Cup victory on July 15, 2018.

The festive spirit after France won its second World Cup final in 20 years imbued every corner of the city, including a Salvation Army shelter in northeastern Paris, where several dozen migrants gathered to watch the match.

The residents are setting up chairs, making tea and coffee. A group of Afghan refugees have made a pot of cardamom tea and set out plates of fruit and nuts.

It’s 4pm and the match hasn’t started yet. But Ali, 22, is already decked out in a French flag and matching wristband. The young Afghan refugee crossed Paris from his host family in the centre of town to watch the match here in the Salvation Army residence hall’s cafeteria. He is meeting friends who live in the centre, fellow Afghans he met two years ago while living on the streets – “below the bridges” – at a train station in central Paris and in the infamous encampment at Porte de la Chapelle. He doesn’t know the team chants, but he made up his own melody: “Allez les Bleus! Go, Kanté! Go, Griezmann!” For him, there’s no question of which team he supports. “I love France and the French. France has been generous to me. People have been kind.”

Since getting his residence permit a few months ago, he has begun French lessons in the hopes of working in the hotel industry.

“In France, you can do it,” adds Youssef, a 25-year-old from Darfur, Sudan. “You can dream in France. If you’re the best, you can be on the team. That’s not true everywhere.” He is referring to the 17 French players who are sons of immigrants. “Mbappé’s dad is from Cameroon and his mother is Algerian.” In the shelter, it’s a detail that counts.

The residents have gathered in the lobby for many of the World Cup matches, but the crowds have been larger for some. Brazil, Argentina and the African teams drew the most fans.

“Since their elimination, the French team is representing Africa,” jokes Youssef.

Many of the residents chose to watch the final on the Champs-Élysées and other public spaces in Paris. But by the start of the match, roughly 50 of the hall’s 400 residents had gathered in the lobby for cake, tea and coffee.

“Lots of people stay here because they don’t have transportation cards or they are worried because they don’t have all their papers,” said Youssef.

Youssef came to France by way of Libya and Italy. Exhausted from sixth months in a Libyan prison, he chose to rest for a few months in Italy before moving on to his chosen destination, France. But while there he was finger-printed, so he is at particularly high risk of being sent back to Italy under the Dublin Convention, which stipulates that migrants should be returned to the country where they first entered the European Union.

‘Today we’ll win even if we bleed!’

Fellow Sudanese and Eritrean migrants have camped out in the front row in front of the television. “Pavard is looking slow!”, “What’s Giroud doing? He hasn’t scored!”, “We have to win!” screams Osman, a 26-year-old from Eritrea. “Today we’ll win even if we bleed!”

Every attempt, even the sloppy long shots of the first few minutes, elicits cheers. Everyone is on their feet for the first goal.

After a Croatian attempt, Osman jumps up, his head in his hands in that most iconic of football gestures. Moussa refuses to translate his friends’ exclamations. “He’s insulting the Croatians. He takes things too seriously.”

Another refugee, Habib, drinks cardamom tea from a glass emblazoned with the Afghan flag. He and his friends have gathered around a platter of nuts and dried fruit from Afghanistan. They too are rooting for France.

Two of Croatia’s players, Dejan Lovren and Luka Modric, are refugees of the Bosnian and Yugoslavian wars, respectively. But the common experience hasn’t swayed Habib. “We are all refugees from somewhere, but we live here. We’re for the place where we live.”

The noise level in the cafeteria mounts as the game progresses. When Antoine Griezmann scores a penalty bringing France 2-1 up, the first row of spectators turns over their table in excitement. But the lead doesn’t seem to reassure anyone. Samuel Umtiti goes out after a collision and the room grumbles in sympathy. Every face is fixed on the screens.

At half time, Osman runs upstairs to put on his Barcelona shirt.

In the second half after Pogba and Mbappé score in quick succession, the room goes wild – up and dancing, hugging, turning over their seats.

A group of women on one side of the room start up a chant of, “Thank you, Pogba! Thank you, Mbappé!”

Bakayoko, 29, yells so loudly she needs to dash upstairs for her inhaler. The second of three wives to an abusive husband, she fled the Ivory Coast for France less than a year ago.

“No one has a flag? I need a flag for France,” she shouts.

‘Mbappé and Umtiti are my children’

Fellow Ivorian Nikima stays loyal to French captain and goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, even after his dithering makes for an embarrassing second goal from Croatia. “Lloris is my heart, I love goalies.”

It may be because by then, the room had decided France had won.

“Four goals in the final! That’s crazy,” says Florence, Nikima and Bakayoko’s friend from Cameroon. “Mbappé and Umtiti are my children,” she says, reminding everyone that the two players are of Cameroonian descent.

“I’m glad Cameroon has produced something beautiful. We are contributing to French progress. I owe a lot to France. She saved me, she cured me, and here, I am free.”

She’s eager to call her husband who lives with their toddler son in Cameroon. “Everyone is celebrating over there,” she says. “If they win, I’m going to the Champs-Élysées!”

Another neighbour butts in. “Do you think they’ll give everyone residence papers if they win?” But Florence can’t be brought down. She has just gotten her residency card. Now she has only one dream: to bring her son to France.

“When I was a kid, I wasn’t a bad player. So why not? Maybe my son can be the next Mbappé.”

With France 4-2 up with 15 minutes left, the ladies – dancing and singing – decided to call it a win and go get changed before heading out to celebrate.

By the final whistle, they are gathered in the lobby, dressed in red, white and blue, sporting flags and face paint, and ready to join the throngs of Parisians pouring out into the streets.


4 thoughts on “New to France, migrants cheer on World Cup victory

  1. In 1998, the French national football team won the World Cup. At the time they were hailed for their multiculturalism, and how they represented a new France, where the population was assimilated and uniformly French. Besides the national pride that swelled in France, there was significant focus on the ethnic makeup of the national team, which including several members who were not ethnically French. The squad is shown below (Also, the parent article is a interesting case on nationalism)1:

    [kml_flashembed movie=”” width=”428″ height=”300″ wmode=”transparent” /]

    Zinedine Zidane, for example, is a of Algerian (Kabyle) descent; despite growing up in his birthplace of Marseille in Southern France, Zidane was viewed as a “foreigner” by much of the French population. However, after his memorable performance in the 1998 final, people began to view the football team as a sign of a cultural revolution about foreigners and immigrants in France:

    And the icon of this revolution was the team’s center-midfielder Zinedine Zidane, hero of the championship match with two header goals against a supposedly unstoppable Brazilian side. Called “the flagbearer of a plural France” … Footage of him kissing the World Cup trophy and crying while singing the Marseillaise (the French national hymn), replayed for days on end afterward by the state media, sealed him permanently as a French national hero. These images served as the postcolonial equivalent of the black soldier saluting the French flag…a potent postimperial myth of France’s multiracial unity, glory, and destiny.2

    In this sense, it seems clear that Zidane is representative of immigration in France and became a sign of successful assimilation into French society due to his heroic status. However, it is difficult to separate the image of who Zidane is on a soccer field with who Zidane is as a person; on a soccer field, there is undoubtedly cooperation among all of the French players, united by a common goal and culture of winning. Off of the soccer field, it is difficult to really tell if there is such a common culture among French citizens. Further information about Zidane and his impact can be seen in an post about Zidane and the 1998 World Cup. Zidane himself is far from outspoken, leaving questions about race to teammates such as the outspoken Lilian Thuram.

    Thuram gained fame for his performance in the match against Croatia in the 1998 World Cup. After France had conceded a goal, Thuram scored an equalizer and then a go-ahead goal, combining to give France the victory and Lilian Thuram the only two international goals of his career. The highlights of that game can be seen here (with French commentary)3:


  2. Mikhail Ivanov, still in love with the game
    Answered Jul 24 2017 · Author has 79 answers and 82.3k answer views
    They are citizens – as their parents are citizens etc
    Unfortunately, most of the 1-st/2-nd generation citizens live worse that 3+ generation
    Sport is one of the most affordable and democratic social elevators, especially when you don’t have money to visit private school/college and don’t have xbox to waste your time there.
    It is not only French story. All west/central Europian countries have the same situation. German, Netherlands, Belgium.


  3. Due to French strong presence in many francophone African countries, this has made immigration to France so easy for many African players.

    Although some players are born by immigrant parents and made the core of the French team when compared to the Mitchell platini 1988 Euro cup wining side.


  4. The french players are not immigrants!!! They are “French”.

    Perhaps their parents/Grandparents were immigrants. It is just a by-product of creating a wealthy nation and being “good” to the other citizens of the world. France is one of the nations that takes you in if you are adapting to their values (not necessarily belief).

    By the way, Even the German team has some players who are eligible to play for other countries. So does England, Portugal and Spain and lots of other countries.

    5.3k Views · View Upvoters
    Belányi József
    Belányi József, former Senior copywriter at JWT
    Updated 11d ago · Author has 129 answers and 53.2k answer views
    If you could guess which country gives the most players to the World Cup, what would you say?

    49+1 individuals have France as their place of birth (Thomas Lemar was born in Guadeloupe that is technically France). From Argentina’s Higuaín through Portugal’s Anthony Lopes to one-third of Tunisia’s team and so on. So who are the immigrants now?

    1.4k Views · View Upvoters
    Ian Smith
    Ian Smith, Host of the football and football podcast.
    Answered Jul 27 2017
    Because they are the best players that hold FRA designation according to FIFA—roughly equivalent to holding a French passport.

    You could ask “why are the best players so often immigrants in France?” and I would respond that physical talents are comparatively easy to find at a young age *and* that France has a national program to identify that talent, without consideration for anything other than “can they play for France?”

    2.3k Views · View Upvoters
    Mark Kappe
    Mark Kappe, Played high school and college soccer. Coached at high school level.
    Answered Jul 24 2017 · Author has 2k answers and 719.4k answer views
    Could it be because FRANCE is full of immigrants?

    Every national team is looking to put the best 11 possible on the field.

    1.4k Views · View Upvoters
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