Friday, 29 October 2010

Ready for another mighty battle tomorrow...

Anyone who knows me is aware that since coming to live in southern France in 2003 I have been absolutely bewitched by the sheer magic and speed of Toulouserugby; becoming a supporter of Stade Toulousain has added a new dimension to life.

I’ve seen them play against many teams now over the years and no matter who the opposition is, or what the outcome, win or lose the day is always a great sporting occasion.

But the match against Perpignan on Saturday last 23rd October raised the bar, and while we Toulouse supporters left the ground jubilant, elated, euphoric, we were also absolutely and utterly exhausted. It had been one of the most electrifying Saturday afternoons ever.

In general, the French do not travel great distances to matches. Even if the opposition is reasonably represented, most of the noise comes from the roar of theToulouse crowd.

That changed last week when we arrived at the ground to see numerous buses fromPerpignan, whose occupants packed the bar and snack stands. Red and yellow clad enthusiastic, flag-waving Catalans wearing outsize red sombreros and carrying enormous drums were everywhere. They even had a group of (curiously American looking) cheerleaders, complete with red minis, striped socks and gold pom-poms.

The feeling in the air suggested this match would be a bit special. It certainly was.Perpignan quickly took the lead to gasps from us Toulousains; the din of the Catalan drums and the chants of the Perpignan supporters seemed to fill the stadium. Because there is no segregation of supporters, at one point red and yellow colours appeared to be everywhere.

Usually, Toulouse supporters - who are fiercely loyal, knowledgeable, and ear-splittingly loud in their appreciation - are in full cry from the kick-off. We seemed to be gathering our wits, but the problem was, the match was moving on as we did so.

Surely we couldn’t let these chicken coloured Catalans come over and drown out the mighty “Rouge & Noir”?

Then, at some point, about halfway through the first half, it was as if some message was magically transmitted to every Toulouse supporter in the ground.

The noise of our massive drums and bugles kicked in. The vigorous chanting and singing began, and it did not cease until the final whistle. The under 12’s, who have their own free corner, ‘le petit cop’, added their voices and started many Mexican waves. A sea of red and black flags waved continuously.

We leaped to our feet, yelling, on so many occasions as the play became faster and faster, that the usual French politeness of ‘oh pardon’ was completely forgotten.

The object was to get behind our team and drive them on to victory. The tries from Kelleher and Servat had strangers almost hugging each other, an astounding sight.

Yet again, Toulouse proved what an incredible squad they are. Probably the most decorated club in the world, they are awesome to watch. The power of the squad is alarming for most opponents. Perpignan are no slouches, even getting a last minute try, but Toulouse just kept at it, snatching every opportunity, some of the players taking some really punishing knocks as they did. The team played magically; we screamed manically and it all came together with a terrific win and some of the most wonderfully, uplifting play we could ever hope to see.

I say all this to make the Omens good for tomorrow, Saturday 30th, when, in Stade Ernest Wallon, Toulouse face the might and the magic of Toulon. And we can hardly wait for the 16.15 kick off; it promises to be another brilliant afternoon.