Here’s my column from last week’s Leader. It forms part of the paper’s comprehensive pre-match coverage every Friday, featuring interviews, an in-depth look at the opposition and lots of statistical analysis. All content in the column (c) www.leaderlive.co.uk.
I flaunt it wantonly. When Emad Bouanane arrived at The Racecourse, I was able to use it to chat to him when his English was still under development, and did likewise with Lamine Sakho. However, I had cause to regret being such a braggart about my ability to throw a smattering of French around when the club asked me to read through a letter from Junior Ntamé’s previous French club to confirm he wasn’t still under contract to them or suspended! Good job I got that one right!
However, my real adventures in French started with the word “chapeau”, which is French for hat. It’s used as a compliment. To show respect for cyclist in the Tour de France, fans make a movement as if they were doffing an invisible hat to them and say “chapeau”.
Now, I thought this was a common thing across all French-speaking countries. Turns out I might be wrong. I found out the hard way: after a good performance by Mathias Pogba I decided to ingratiate myself with him by giving him a “chapeau”. I was waiting outside the changing rooms to do some interviews and when he emerged I stepped up and did the deed.
Perhaps my imagination had got the better of me, as I’d already imagined the reaction: he’d laugh with glee at finally meeting someone in North Wales who understood his culture, his interests, his world, and we’d skip off arm-in-arm, chatting about football, fine wine and life in general, amis for life.
Before long he’d be inviting me to spend the long Summer months on his brother’s yacht, leaping off the deck into the glittering waters of the Mediterranean, cavorting with supermodels and dining on fresh swordfish steaks. (As you will have gathered, I might have a slightly exaggerated view of the day-to-day lifestyle of the average Wrexham player.)
Instead, when I gave him the “chapeau” he looked a bit scared and scurried past me with his eyes down. What had I done? I thought I’d be starting a beautiful friendship; instead I’d terrified the poor bloke. On reflection, I can understand his reaction. If he wasn’t au fait with the “chapeau” custom, then he’d just stepped out into a corridor in an unfamiliar country and a stranger had stepped in front of him and shouted “Hat!” in his face!
I never got over the guilt, and assumed his move to Crewe was basically down to my faux pas, even though it happened eighteen months later. So imagine my relief when, after a post-match interview the other week with Joslain Mayebi, I screwed my courage to the sticking place and said “chapeau!” He seemed to love it, and reciprocated! Phew! I wonder if he’s got a brother playing in Serie A who owns a yacht?
Which leads me to the big question. If I give the “chapeau!” to Ntamé, will he sign a new contract in January?