Happy Away Days - The Home Leg (Not Just Pastis & Pernod!)
Well people say that when you are ahead of the game it's time to retire. Here is my second and final (never say never?) programme article and for very good reason.
In the Bridgend programme a few weeks ago I mentioned how we all enjoy our trips away watching the Whites & Ospreys. Tonight we welcome some special friends from France to St Helens. (if the plane arrives in Heathrow on time and there are no delays on the M4!). Serge Ricou, Bruno Gabin & John (The Geordie) Baker. John is pictured in the back row 4th from the left. Apologies for not having decent pictures of the other two but those of you - and I know there may be a few partons and supporters - who have been to Cafe Pascal on previous trips may recognise them.
The first time we encountered Montferrand (ASM, Clermont-Ferrand, Clermont-Auvergne etc etc) was in October 2002. After a couple of nights sampling the local fayre, six "Whites" supporters stumbled across a sign advertising Toulouse v London Irish 2.30pm. Well with plenty of time to kill before a 6.30pm Whites kick off it seemed a good idea (at the time!!!!). It started off very quiet. No drinking games, no singing, not many people milling about in the square outside the cathedral. Just six young(ish) men sitting in a bar watching "The Exiles" putting up a decent show against a very strong Toulouse side. A voice from the other end of the bar welcomed us. A Geordie gentleman - working as an interpreter - with his local French friend. After a good chat and drink, in walked the owner of the bar.
Serge used to play lock for Montferrand (maybe they had another different name then) and when he realised we were Whites supporters we were treated to a drink or several "on the house". That is when for some people the day went slightly fuzzy as different concoctions of alcoholic beverages, some never seen before or since were put in front of us to sample (in one mouthful...followed by a funny face and and a variety of noises). In the background he played music by Max Boyce, Morriston Orpheus (I think), and both National Anthems. Bruno or Bruuuuunnnoooooooooo as he is known along with John encouraged us to go back to the bar after the game. A promise of more alcohol and a tour of the local watering holes was motivation enough.
By the time we got back to Cafe Pascal there was standing room only. Whether this was due to hearing about six Swansea supporters with fine voices or a normal Saturday night is still unknown. What is certain though is that we were welcomed back by about 100-150 local people who all wanted to talk to us, shake our hands and even buy us a drink! (Swansea lost 47-12).
We have been back there twice more whilst watching the Ospreys and the same result has occurred both on and off the field. On the field, it is an 80 minute distraction, ending in defeat for our team. Off the field it is a warm welcome, cold beer, dodgy spirits (not just Pastis & Pernod), great company, much singing, laughter and commeraderie! Let the French trips continue and also hope that we play Clermont in the Heineken Cup again soon. If you see the guys, shake their hands and please make them feel welcome!
So to tonight's game. Pontypool and Swansea are having similar seasons. Both with 7 league wins and a draw this season and wishing they were higher up the league that they currently are. As far as the home side are concerned, lets hope for a morale boosing win before the tough Quarter-Final in Ebbw Vale next Saturday.
Enjoy the game!! C'Mon Whites!
below:- After the Pontypool match, Serge Ricou with former Wales and Swansea captain Richard Moriarty, being presented with a ball signed by the Swansea team. (Photo 'Dragon Tales Rugby').