Villaplane and Laurent: French football’s first hero and villain

The very first FIFA World Cup held in Uruguay, was opened by a match between France and Mexico on an icy winter’s day in Montevideo in front of 4,500 fans. France went on to win the game 4-1, making history as they became the first side to win a World Cup match. Right winger Lucien Laurent also placed himself in the record books by scoring the first World Cup goal in the 19th minute of the match. The French team that Laurent was a part of was captained by the talented centre-back, Alexandre Villaplane.

Villaplane (one from the top right), Laurent (one from the bottom right)

Although, Laurent and Villaplane shared a talent for football, and the French national kit, that is where their similarities end. Laurent has recently been labelled as a ‘pioneer’ by French newspaper Le Soir, whilst Villaplane is largely seen as a national disgrace for his part in the collaboration with the Nazis. How could two men who seemingly shared an unquenchable love for football have ended up on such varying paths?

Lucien Laurent was born in the Parisian suburb of Saint-Maur-des-Foussés in 1907. Between the age of 14 and 23 he played for the semi-professional club Cercle Athlétique de Paris (CAP). It may seem surprising that a semi-professional footballer was able to break into France’s World Cup squad when the current team is made up of footballing superstars, but there was not as much enthusiasm over football or the World Cup at that time. Laurent said it himself in a 1998 interview with The Independent, claiming that, “soccer was in its infancy.” Footballer’s were not even paid at the time in France, and Laurent had to take two months leave from his job as a Peugeot factory worker to participate in the World Cup.

If Laurent may be considered to not have the talent to participate in the current French football team, the same cannot be said for his teammate Alexandre Villaplane. He was born in the then French Algiers (capital of Algeria) in 1905, and he eventually moved to France at 16. He was first scouted by Scotsman, Victor Gibson who signed him for FC Sète. He excelled and his career went from strength to strength, with a move to Nimes in the French first division, as well as a selection in the North African XI to face France’s B team in 1925. Just one year later he had won his first French cap. Now, Villaplane was seen as one of the brightest prospects in French football, he was renowned as one of the best headers of the ball in the country, and he possessed intelligence on the ball and crisp passing out from the back. These traits enticed Racing Club Paris president Jean-Bernard Levy to sign Villaplane in an attempt to overpower their city rivals- Red Star. It was whilst he was playing at Racing Club Paris that he was called up to the 1930 French World Cup squad as captain of the side, it is here where he would meet Lucien Laurent.

Although France were knocked out of the group stages after losing their final two group games, the French team had made history by representing their country at the first ever World Cup, a day Vilaplane called “the happiest of his life”. However, this happiness was to be short lived, with France soon to be split apart by World War Two.

Two years after the 1930 World Cup, Laurent moved to Club Francais, as he hopped around various French teams throughout the following years. He went on to play once more for CAP, FC Mulhouse, Sochaux and Rennes before the war. His performances earnt him another call up to the French squad for the 1934 World Cup in Italy. Laurent was unfortunately not able to experience the excitement and pride of another World Cup however, as he was ruled out through injury. Laurent’s misfortune was soon to grow wider.

Nazi Germany invaded France through the Ardennes forest in May 1940. France, in response offered a weak defence and the country fell to the Germans in June 1940. Around 1.8 million French prisoners of war were captured by the Germans, who were then transported to Stalag prison camps, although most were soon sent to German labour camps to aid the Nazi war effort. Laurent was one of those 1.8 million, and he was held in a camp in Saxony, Germany, where he remained for three years. Eventually, Laurent was released on medical grounds, but upon his return he discovered his possessions had been stolen by the Germans, including his 1930 World Cup jersey. Ever the optimist though, Laurent stated in 1998 that, “all my memories were there… established in a corner of my old head. No one can steal those from me.’’

Like Laurent, Villaplane did not play at the 1934 World Cup. This decision was not down to his misfortune however, but rather, the downwards spiral that Villaplane’s career had taken after the turn of the decade.

The warning signs were already apparent prior to the 1930 World Cup. Although football in France was not to be made professional until 1932, clubs were able to take imaginative measures to pay their players well, such as employing them for other jobs that they did not perform and paying them handsomely for it. With his increased fame and money at Racing Club Paris. Villaplane was often spotted at the casino, or the horseraces, as well as Parisian cabarets and bars. It seemed that Villaplane had turned a corner at his new club Antibes in 1932. They finished top of the Southern French division before beating SC Fives Lille in the national final. However, it soon emerged that the match was fixed. Antibes were stripped of their title and the team’s manager was banned. Villaplane is believed to be involved, but he escaped the same fate as Antibes’ manager. He was told though, to look elsewhere for a club.

This came in the form of Antibes’ southern neighbour, OGC Nice, who were willing to take a gamble on a player who could propel the club to the top of French football. The gamble did not pay off. Villaplane was consistently late for training and paid little interest in the team, despite being the captain. Unsurprisingly, Nice were relegated and Villaplane was released.

His final flicker of hope in football came through the man who introduced the football world to Alexandre Villaplane- Victor Gibson, who was now the manager of Bordeaux club, Hispano-Bastidienne. Even Gibson could not get the best out of Villaplane who rarely turned up to training, he was once more released, after just three months. His footballing career was over.

Villaplane’s unwavering relationship with controversy was only beginning, however. In 1935 he was convicted for fixing horse races in both Paris and the Cote d’Azur.

5 years later, Marshal Petain had signed an Armistice agreement between France and Germany- giving way to a time of collaboration and resistance in the country. Villaplane was firmly on the side of collaboration. He aimed to profit from the war for his own self-gain. Villaplane quickly became enwrapped in the Parisian black market and frequently attempted to racketeer the increasingly threatened Parisian Jewish population. His second conviction followed soon after, as he was imprisoned for possession of stolen goods in 1940. French football journalist, Phillippe Auclair, has recently said that it was in prison where notorious French collaborator, Henry Lafont first approached Villaplane. Lafont, along with the former head of the French police, Pierre Bonny, became a potent mix at the head of the French Gestapo. These men made their way to the top through murder, deceit and coercion- a path that Villaplane was soon to follow.

Villaplane started his journey in the French Gestapo as Bonny’s personal chauffeur, but his role changed drastically in 1944. The Brigade Nord-Africaine (BNA) was formed as a sister group to both the German and French Gestapo, in areas where the Resistance was proving to be a stern test for the Nazis. Villaplane was given the SS grade of Untersturmführer, and he wore a Nazi uniform- it was only 15 years prior that he had worn the French national jersey. Whilst it is impossible to find the number of people that Villaplane killed himself, he still bears the responsibility for his part in the atrocious Nazi war crimes. The most infamous incident that Villaplane was involved in occurred at Oradour-sur-Glane, where he ordered the execution of 52 people.

The extremity of Villaplane and the BNA’s crime were stated by Villaplane’s prosecutor at his trial, following the Liberation of France:

‘‘A witness told us how he saw with his own eyes these mercenaries take jewels from the still-twitching and bloodstained bodies of their victims. Villaplane was in the midst of all this, calm and smiling.’’

Even when the situation in France had altered and the French Resistance and the Allies were on the cusp of victory over the Nazis and French collaborators, Villaplane was still seeking to profit from the chaotic climate. A witness at his trial described him arriving in a French village declaring:

‘‘They [the Germans] are going to kill you. But I will try to save you at the risk of my own life. I’ve already saved many people. Fifty-four, to be precise. You will be the 55th. If you give me 400,000 francs.”

Villaplane’s greed and destruction knew no limits, it became so inflated that it eventually led to his death. On December 26th, 1944, Villaplane, along with Lafont and Bonny were shot dead by firing squad.

In the midst of Villaplane’s collaboration, his former teammate, Lucien Laurent had returned from his prisoner of war camp, and discovered that his most prized possessions were stolen. However, it was Laurent who was to have the last laugh. He attended the 1998 World Cup final in Paris between France and Brazil, witnessing arguably the greatest ever performance from the French national team, as they ran out 3-0 winners. In fact, Laurent was the only member of the first French World Cup team who lived to see his country lift the trophy.

The stories of Villaplane and Laurent tell us about French football in its infancy and the birth of the World Cup. What is more important to recognise though is their actions off the field. The greed and malevolence that took hold of Villaplane’s life greatly outweighed his footballing ability, no matter how talented he was. Whilst Laurent may not have possessed Villaplane’s incisive passing or aerial ability, he is admired by French football lovers even today. The status of becoming a footballing hero for years to come rests on far more than just the footballing prowess of a player.

Boavista FC: How the ‘textile workers’ fashioned the most recent Portuguese underdog story and their more recent decline

The 1999/2000 season in the Primeira Liga finished in a similar fashion to all the previous campaigns. Sporting Lisbon won the league, four points ahead of Porto, and eight points clear of Benfica. It seemed evident that for the next season the top of the league would paint a similar picture- only differing if the top three were to juggle positions. This had been the case for so long in Portugal- the last a team outside of the ‘Big Three’ won the league was back in 1946 when CF Belenenses were champions. This was soon to change, however.

The famous chequered Boavista badge

Boavista FC were founded in 1903 by British entrepreneurs and Portuguese textile workers (hence the chequered pattern). They have yo-yoed through Portugal football division, but they remained firmly in the Primeira Liga in the decades leading up to the turn of the millennia. Boavista’s success in the league did not come to fruition overnight. Their fortunes gradually improved thanks to chairman Valentim Loureiro, who was at the club between 1972 and 1995. Eventually his son, João succeeded him- it was here when the club’s golden hour had begun. João Loureiro appointed former FC Porto and Portugal midfielder, Jaime Pacheco as their manager in 1997, and soon the club’s league position ascended. They were the team that occupied the place below the ‘Big Three’ in 1999/2000. Despite their position in the league granting them entry into the UEFA Cup Qualifying Round, there was a mild sense of disappointment surrounding the club. The previous season Boavista had finished second to Porto, accumulating 71 points in the process- 16 more than they managed in the preceding campaign. Still, Boavista’s back-to-back finishes in the top four showed that they were a club on the up and ready to challenge for titles, although, it still seemed unlikely that they would ever get their hands on the coveted Primeira Liga title.

Pacheco’s team certainly had talent. Boavista’s goalkeeper, Ricardo, went on to make 79 appearances for Portugal. At the heart of their defence was Pedro Emmanuel and Litos, with the former going on to win the UEFA Cup and the Champions League. Boavista’s midfield was equally talented- the diamond jewel of it was Bolivian midfielder, Erwin Sanchez, dubbed as ‘Platini’ for most of his career- indicating the South American’s skilful and graceful style of play. At the base of the midfield was the Portuguese pair of Rui Bento and Petit- who provided an added industry to the team. The latter would go on to play 148 times for Benfica and 57 times for Portugal. The more eccentric players came in the forward positions, Duda, Silva and Martelinho, who offered pace and creativity going forward. Pacheco had created a wonderfully balanced team, filled with dynamism, ingenuity, and a resilience that made them incredibly difficult to beat, and clinical going forward.  

Despite this, the club at the time were still in the shadow of the ‘Big Three’ in Portugal. Midfield starlet Nuno Gomes was sold to Benfica, as was the proficient forward João Vieira Pinto. Meanwhile, young forward Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink was sold further ashore- to Leeds. It did not seem that the club was soon to break the power-fold that had been present for over 50 years in Portugal. The fact that many of their players were poached by other clubs was unsurpirisng given how well the Boavista team had been performing, and the lack of financial might that the club had to keep their star assets when bigger clubs came calling. In Portugal, Boavista were dwarfed by the ‘Top Three’ in terms of finances. These clubs could offer players greater salaries, as well as higher quality training facilities. The record transfer fee of Boavista by 2000 contextualises the lack of funds available. They spent €700,000 on Elpídio Silva. Benfica’s record transfer fee by 2000 was in excess of €6.7 million spent on Brazilian midifielder Roger. The gap between Boavista and the top teams in Portugal was profound- making their achievement even greater.

Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink playing for Boavista

So how did they do it? It started with a win, a convincing one, beating Beira-Mar 4-2. This was immediately followed up by an emphatic 4-0 drubbing of União de Leiria. A draw and defeat followed, but the club responded like champions beating Benfica 1-0. In what proved to be their crucial part of their season- Boavista went on a 15-match unbeaten run, crucially during this period they were able to beat the city neighbours, and closest challengers FC Porto, once more the scoreline read 1-0, thanks to a 31st minute goal from Martelinho. Following a defeat to Braga at the beginning of the year, the club once more responded by not losing in 12 and winning 10 of those games- accumulating 32 points from a possible 36. They had wrapped up the title with a game to spare, which no doubt allowed everyone associated with Boavista to breathe easy, as they faced second placed FC Porto on the final day of the season. Despite FC Porto thrashing Boavista 4-0, the league title was already secured and the shackles were off- the club had made history.

Boavista fans celebrating the 2001 Primeira Liga

There were several key parts that made the Boavista machine tick. The defence was solid and robust, and they conceded five goals fewer than any other side, and four of those goal came after the title was already secured. Going forward the team was also clinical, scoring 63 goals. The vast array of goalscorers that Boavista had typified the collective spirit and attitude of the team. No player scored more than 11 (Silva, Duda), but the whole was greater than the sum of its parts. The quality of hardwork and defiance definitely was not lost on Pacheco and the Boavista team. Capello later remarked that, ‘no other club in Europe runs as much.’

Boavista’s famous Primeira Liga win was the pinnacle of their success. Although, they did not immediately fall off the pace, the club started to regress in the following seasons. A respectable second place finish in the 2001/2002 season may have suggested that the club would become a staple at the top of the Portuguese league, as the club amassed 70 points, and conceded a mere 20 goals. Furthermore, their Champions League campaign put them in the limelight on the biggest European stage. Two draws against Liverpool, as well as victories over Dynamo Kiev and Borussia Dortmund enabled Boavista to progress from the Champions League first group stage. Despite failing to qualify from their second group stage, the Portuguese club put in a respectable performance, but fell short to Manchester United and Bayern Munich. Boavista did progress further in European competition in 2002/2003- this time in the UEFA Cup, but the club were knocked out of the semi-finals by a late Henrik Larsson goal, which prevent an all-Oporto final. This success was not shared on the domestic front, as Boavista slumped to 10th place.

Boavista’s Duda battles for the ball with Liverpool’s Sami Hyypia

Whilst the club enjoyed some success on the pitch, they were struggling off it. Winning the Primeira Liga and competing in both the Champions League and the UEFA Cup meant that the club had to give out improved contracts and big bonuses. The poor financial situation was compounded by the need to construct the new club stadium (Estádio do Bessa XXI) in time for Euro 2004 which was to be held in Portugal. The Portuguese government failed to live up to the financial support that it had promised for the stadium, and the club plunged into debt.

In 2004 Pachecho was let go by the club, as they once more lurked in the mid-table of the Primeira Liga. But worse was yet to come. In 2008, via the ‘Golden Whistle Enquiry’, it had emerged that both FC Porto and Boavista FC were involved in the alleged bribery of referees in the 2003/04 season. In 2008 Boavista were relegated to the Liga de Honra (Second Division), due to the verdict that the club had ‘coerced’ match officials in three Liga games, versus Belnenses, Benfica and Académica. Former president João Loureiro was suspended for four years, and the club was fined €180,000.

A long five year spell, battling in both the Liga de Honra and the Segunda Divisão (Third Division) finally came to an end in 2014, when the Portuguese Professional Football League made the decision to promote Boavista back to the Primeira Liga following several judicial reviews, as the club leapt forward two divisions. Around the same time João Loureiro rejoined the club, and he helped to cut the debt from the ‘Golden Whistle Enquiry’ in half.

Boavista still sporting their balck and white cheques.

Under the guidance of former midfielder, Petit, Boavista finished a respectable 13th in the 2014/15 season, as the club looked to consolidate their Primeira Liga status. Since then performances have gradually improved as the club has gone on to finish 14th, 9th, 8th and 8th once more last season. And whilst the club are miles away from winning the Primeira Liga, fans will be grateful to experience the top Portuguese division once again. Meanwhile, it seems that the ‘Big Three’ are set for another spell of dominance- no club other than Sporting, Benfica and Porto have lifted the trophy since Boavista’s triumph at the start of the millennium.

England’s 2019 Cricket World Cup Team: A Lesson in Diversity

Following and enthralling rollercoaster of a match, England beat New Zealand (on the number of boundaries scored) to lift the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup and stamp their place in English folklore alongside the 1966 football team and 2003 rugby union team. There certainly has been no cricket game that can even be compared to that in recent memory, even more so when considered on the stage it was on- the biggest game in world cricket.

All this made the image of Eoin Morgan lifting the World Cup and even more sweet sight to savour for all. What this picture also tells though is the story of inclusion in the England cricket team, and without this inclusivity the World Cup dream would not be possible.

Eoin Morgan lifting the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup

The picture of England lifting the World Cup displays captain Eoin Morgan raising the trophy. Morgan was born in Dublin and even played for Ireland in the earlier stages of his international career. Behind Morgan is Jofra Archer, who similarly was not born in England, but Barbados. The 24-year old bowler who was able to hold his nerve in the super-over, took the World Cup by storm, taking 17 wickets throughout the tournament. The same can be said for other members of the team: Ben Stokes, who put in a match-winning 84 not out, was ironically born in New Zealand. Jason Roy who accumulated over 550 runs at the World Cup and Tom Curran were born in South Africa, whist Moeen Ali and spinner, Adil Rashid- who claimed 10 wickets are both the grandsons of Pakistani immigrants. Furthermore, the overseer of the 2019 World Cup project- England coach, Trevor Bayliss was born in Australia. The overall picture is one of inclusivity and diversity in the England squad. This diversity was recognised by Morgan after the final, ‘we had Allah with us as well…It actually epitomises our team. Quite diverse backgrounds and cultures.’  

Jofra Archer and Ben Stokes, from Bridgetown to Christchurch (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

England cricket has had issues with diverse background representing the country in its past though. Indian born Nasser Hussain was booed by English fans in 1999, when he took over the captaincy. Yet a similar, although less active form of exclusion can be seen 20 years on. In the Independent, Jonathan Liew quoted the BBC’s heralded cricket journalist Jonathan Agnew on his scepticism over Archer’s call-up to the World Cup squad, where he expresses concern over the subtle prejudices that remain in our society: ‘A huge call… Morale and camaraderie is a big part in team performance.’. Of course, it is now unfathomable that Archer’s selection could be called into question, thanks to his super-over heroics. But it is less certain whether this had been the case had Guptill made it back for two and won New Zealand the World Cup at Archer’s expense. Although one hopes the World Cup heroics by all those in the England squad teaches us a lesson on the value of diversity and inclusion .