Dear French lads in Nime,
I know not all of us is not a defence. But I also know you listened to my husband when he spoke to you last time about this. I hope you remember my husband this morning. I know you won't remember his name either, it was a long time ago. But I hope you remember he was British as you wade through the litany of news emerging from your sister town Marseilles this morning.
Firstly, I want to say I am sorry. Sorry that you expected this of us. Sorry that you knew that this would be coming. Sorry that you probably were not in Marseille at all yesterday because you had more sense than to trust. You should be able to trust. You should be able to go to your bigger town next door and watch football because I can. I have that privilege. We appear to be determined to take that away from you.
My husband ended up in that bar playing darts with you through a series of coincidences that you couldn't make up. We had booked my first ever holiday in bits. I'd always package holiday bought before. It was only my third proper holiday outside of the U.K. I was nervous - had I booked everything correctly, had I planned everything properly. It turned out to be one of the best holidays we've ever had because of the kindness and friendliness and patience of the southern French people. We had stood on the edge of a massive Cirque, our mouths open in wonder. We'd walked past the coliseum in Nimes and through its columns and down its steps and marvelled at the engineering and the magnificence of the feat. We'd seen the flyers for bull fighting and discussed it - not something we wanted to see but understood the cultural important of it nevertheless.
We'd stood on the ramparts of Carcassone cité and watched three thunderstorms approach from three different directions before arriving back in our hotel, having got lost in the empty old streets mazes, drowned and laughing and soaked to the skin. My school girl French had gone from 'wee' to 'way' for Oui - southern French subtly different from Northern, something school never even mentioned.
We drove back to Nime to catch our flight home. We went to the hotel we thought we'd booked on hotel.com to find no booking. Thankfully the hotel had a room anyway. I felt a bit uncomfortable as the hotel had bars on our downstairs rooms windows and I was feeling exhausted so I stayed in bed reading while A, my husband, went off to find a bar and have a drink.
That's where he found you lot. Or rather, where eventually you found him.
He'd spotted the darts board, you see. And as a way to pass the time in a distant bar where no one else was paying him the blindest bit of notice, he knew no one and spoke little of the language, the darts board seemed a good move. Occupying. So he proceeded to start a game of round the clock with himself.
You lot turned up. Normal French bunch of lads, somewhere in their 30's, just like A. Halting English asked if he wanted to play. He agreed. And so, in a small little Nime bar, something magical happened that he still remembers, and so do I.
You were all terribly honest. Maybe that's why we remember it. You told us how your only experience of English people were football 'fans'. That those experiences had put you off our nationality for life. That you now avoided places and matches where English fans would be and that the mess we could cause and the language and attitude and chaos were a nightmare. You explained that my husband was the first English person they'd spoken to face to face for years. And you also explained that he wasn't what they were expecting at all. A didn't say, but I suspect for him to agree to play with you in a strange bar, that you seemed very similar to him. He doesn't watch football. He doesn't play football. He's an American Football fan and used to play as a kid. Being as how it basically appears to be chess on legs to me, that's appropriate. He told you this but you didn't judge l, not like perhaps some English lads would. Instead you told him that he'd changed your minds about English people, that they were realising that not all English people were like the ones they'd experienced directly through football.
A explained about all his friends who were real football fans who went to football matches, drank beer, ate pies, and then left, drunkenly but peacefully. He explained that there were different ways to be an English football fan - despite not being one himself. He felt responsible and I think a little shocked and upset at what you perceived our entire country to be, from those disproportionate meetings you'd experienced.
This morning, I want to say, I'm sorry. Once again we have taken Marseille away from you, with the help of some of your own countrymen and some Russians too by all accounts. In the same way you will say the Ultras don't represent you, please know these English men don't represent us either. We are, in general, a country quite a lot like my husband, football fan or no. Kind, thoughtful, darts or pool or some other pub game playing and would always buy you a round of drinks, just like my husband did.
I hope you remember him. I want you to know he came back to the hotel that night and told me all this and I was mortified - as mortified and horrified as I am this morning. If he were writing this too he would add his 'Je suis désolé' to mine.
As for us? We're coming back to France this year. Again. We sort of fell in love with your country and you a little. I hope you can see past our accents as you always do, patiently endure my attempts to speak your language badly as you always do, and we have a wonderful holiday as we always do.
A mortified Brit