29 August 2013.
Today was a big day. For us, a group of 24 Malaysian students enrolling at IUTs in Nice and Sophia Antipolis, it was our last day at Alliance Française after four fantastic months meeting various kinds of people and making new friends, be it temporary or not, and of course, attending intensive French classes 20 hours a week. A small fête had been planned, just a simple occasion to say a few goodbyes and “pour se dire au revoir”. It would, quite inevitably, be a sentimental day.
For me, though, there was something else also of great importance. It was the return leg of UEFA Europa League Play-off, with local team OGC Nice hosting their Cyprian opponents Apollon Limassol at Stade du Ray and needing to overturn a two-goal deficit. This was their first involvement in any European competition in 37 years, and for this reason a mighty disillusionment was awaiting every Niçois if they failed to qualify for the group stage. This tie was even more special as we approached La Der’ du Ray, literally the last of Ray, to celebrate the last match ever to be played at the stadium this weekend as the curtain was being drawn on the people’s favourite home ground. After this, all home games will be played at the modern, newly-built and environmentally-friendly Allianz Riviera.
Four months at this small but quality French school will be something that I’ll never forget. A very treasured memory.
Along the way I met people of different nationalities whom I’m glad to have met. While the overseas trips that I had done with my family were a great eye-opener, it was nothing compared to living in a foreign country and making new friends of diverse origins. First of all there was this interesting French professor, Sten Roi, who taught us for two months. Unimaginably hilarious, he was also a great teacher and a really cool guy. And he showed no interest whatsoever in football, yet as a true Niçois he did acknowledge and maybe even appreciate my support for OGC Nice.
For the other couple of months, we, the Malaysian students, were regrouped together (into two groups) and enrolled in a preparation class in the afternoon for TCF, an obligatory examination required to enter into local universities. This time we got a twenty-something ( 😆 ) Florence as our professor, and it didn’t take us long to like her. If you’re nice, friendly, and sometimes funny, how could people hate you right? I still remember how genuinely surprised (in a pleasing way) I was when simply by noticing my fingers she managed to figure out that I played guitar, the first ever person to have done that since I started playing it two years ago. Too bad she is not even remotely interested in OGC Nice (and football in general) despite the fact that she too, like Sten, is a Niçoise. 😆 Not forgetting the wonderful workforce of AF, including the always cheerful and merry Garance. I extend to you guys a huge thanks. From the bottom of my heart. Really.
So to mark this special day (29 August), I had decided to recite a few simple guitar pieces to the whole class, essentially thanks to the personal request made by Florence, although jokingly, on our first day with her. Due to time constraint, however, I could only play three pieces: Francis Cabrel’s Je l’aime a mourir, Ludovico Einaudi‘s I Giorni and the Beatles’ Yesterday, all fingerstyle. I’d say it was a disaster as errors were aplenty, but the others thought otherwise. I don’t know. Comme vous voulez. Before parting, obviously, we took the imperative group photos as souvenirs.
First and foremost: see THIS, s’il vous plait.
Before bidding the final goodbye to AF, I chatted with one of the staff members, Jean-Philippe, who was really impressed by my enthusiasm for les Rouge et Noir. It felt weird, he told me, seeing a Malaysian who was very passionate about such a relatively obscure, local football club. None of the foreigners he had ever met at AF were like me. He was visibly proud, being a true Niçois (also French! :lol:) and all.
Next stop: Stade du Ray.
The night in Cyprus a week ago was catastrophic, and in two hours it might be the only thing that would matter. The damage had been done. Without any doubt now was the perfect time to fix it.
As I found my seat, my attention was drawn to a small group of fans unveiling a new banner that read: Vous nous avez fait rêver. Maintenant on veut voyager. “You made us dream. Now we want to travel.”. I could almost hear them saying “We can still do this.” through that banner. Optimism was key. While the stadium was being filled by the supporters, the visiting fans in blue were enjoying themselves. Loud and estatic, the Cypriots had every right to be. They were initially the underdogs. That day, however, the odds were more balanced.
At 20h00, the game kicked off. Four minutes later, Super Dario found the net, sending the home crowd into ruptures. It was a moment of sheer delirium. For once we really thought we were going to make it, and overturning a two-goal deficit seemed simple enough. Les Aiglons pushed and pushed for the all-important second goal to equalise the score in aggregate and at least force the contest into extra-time. Apollon did well in time-wasting, but we dominated the match and were by far the better side.
But everything was eventually in vain, as it proved to be the only goal of the game. As the game dragged into additional time, the spirit and fervor manifested by the supporters started to dissipate. It was time to face the bitter reality. We were just not good enough. The damage, as I said, had been done a week earlier for it was in Nicosia where everything went wrong. This short European journey left nothing more than une valise pleine de regrets. Full of regrets and broken dreams. For most of the Niçois, they waited 37 years for essentially nothing. For me, it was my first and only European night, and it was frustrating.
On my way back, near Place Masséna situated more than 3km away from the stadium, a bus braked and stopped while turning in front of me. Inside it was seated an old man by the window. He saw me wearing the team’s home kit, and he shook his head, giving me an utterly grief-stricken look that I found extremely depressing. That did hit me hard. Imagine how long he had waited for such an opportunity to play in a prestigious European competition to come by, and how ultimately cruel the end was.
We have to move on. Montpellier are visiting us this Sunday. Make it a memorable day for le Ray.
UEFA Europa League Play-off 2nd Leg.
OGC Nice 1-0 Apollon Limassol (Aggregate: 1-2), Nice eliminated from the competition.
More pics HERE.