TWELVE years after watching Derry City hold his beloved Paris St Germain to a scoreless draw in the UEFA Cup at Brandywell Stadium, French football coach Gilles Dary has returned to the scene with his Foyle Cup squad.
In 2006 Gilles was one of a small band of PSG supporters who travelled to cheer on their team which boosted Portuguese striker, Pauleta, as part of the ‘Irish Clan’ section of the French club’s fanbase.
The Parisiens went on to progress to the Group Stages after a 2-0 win at the Parc des Princes in the French capital as Gilles and his compatriots provided refreshments and a welcome party for some of the travelling fans from Derry.
“I am a supporter of Paris St Germain and I went to Derry 12 years ago to see the game against Derry City,” he explained. “There was a group of us called the ‘Irish Clan’. We were friends with the Celtic supporters and the guys from Derry and that’s why we were at the match.
“We then welcomed all the people from Derry who came for the return game,” recalled Gilles. “We offered them beer and drinks etc. It was not opponents but friends coming home.”
It was an experience Gilles has fond memories of and last year he got the chance to return to the city with his U13 youth team, Les Dragons de la Vaucouleurs to take part in their first Foyle Cup tournament.
They returned for this week’s tournament as the sole representatives from World Cup winning nation, France as they proudly carried the French tricolour through the streets of Derry, chanting ‘Allez les Bleus!’ and singing ‘La Marseillaise’ at Tuesday’s parade which marked the start of the 2018 O’Neills sponsored event.
The Dragons have certainly brought their own vibrant colour and energy to the week-long festival of football and their bond with the maiden city is growing stronger.
Indeed, the Dragons have now formed a group named the ‘French Foyle Friends’ which is aimed at showcasing Derry and Donegal to the people of France.
“It’s a very good experience last year but this year is much better,” said Gilles. “This is the way football should be - a mix of people and mix of culture.
“Even people who can’t talk the language with their tongues they can talk with their feet. It’s also good for both Irish and French teams to see a different way to play the game.
“This year we formed an association called ‘French Foyle Friends’ which is an association of all the people who came here last year plus a lot of other people so we can showcase Derry and Donegal to the people of France. So it’s much more than football.”
Gilles and his fellow coaches have plans to host their own mini tournament in France next year and he hopes some of the Derry teams can take up an invite.
“We want to do a small tournament to invite some Irish and Northern Irish teams next year in France. We have to plan it but maybe next summer we can make this happen.”
on Cloud Nine
As Didier Dechamps and the heroic French national team celebrated a second World Cup success for the nation with victory over Croatia in Russia last Sunday afternoon, the young French lads were quite literally in the clouds.
Indeed, the young Dragons were on board a flight to Ireland for their second Foyle Cup tournament, unaware of the historic events unfolding in Moscow or the wild celebrations in Paris.
It wasn’t until the pilot announced the result when the plane landed in Belfast that les Dragons de la Vaucouleurs and their coaches could begin their own celebrations.
“We were on the plane during the final so didn’t see it,” explained Gilles. “We just found out France were champions of the world when the pilot told us when we landed. Everyone was crying and shouting in celebration - it was fantastic.”
There’s been a remarkable transformation at Brandywell Stadium since Gilles’ first visit to the city for that memorable clash with European giants, PSG in the Uefa Cup third round qualifying.
And having jumped at the opportunity to play at the redeveloped venue for the Foyle Cup Coaches against a Clipper Crews XI challenge game last Wednesday, Gilles surprisingly insists he prefers the stadium prior to its renovation.
“Honestly I prefer the stadium as it was 12 years ago,” said the Frenchman. “The real grass and the old stands. I love real football and old stadiums. But the stadium is very nice and it was a pleasure to play on it.”
When asked if he has possibly unearthed the next Kylian Mbappé or Paul Pogba in his young Dragons squad, Gilles explained it had been a big challenge for his team at the Foyle Cup as French kids at this age group normally play eight aside games.
The Dragons lost their opening game heavily to Craigavon City (7-1) before narrow defeats to Institute (2-1) and Inishowen Youth League (2-0).
“Results haven’t gone to plan but it’s a new experience for the French kids who normally play eight aside games.
“In France the kids at this age are playing eight against eight and not 11 against 11. So it’s a big change and also because you have real grass but it’s been good for their development.”
So as the Dragons de la Vaucouleurs say ‘au revoir’ to another Foyle Cup tournament, Gilles has promised to return next year and keep alive Derry’s French connection.