Allez Les Rouges

I’ve seen Jaws too many times to have swimming with dolphins on my bucket list. I know, they are supposed to be placid creatures but knowing my luck, I’d get the only rabid one. Travelling abroad to watch Munster Rugby was on my bucket list for way too long. And so I found myself driving into Perpignan last December to attend Munster’s Heineken Cup fixture against the local team. Not a vicious fish or seaborne mammal in sight but plenty of perplexing road signs which kept returning me to the same, albeit wrong, roundabout. Finding my hotel was the first test of my nerves, cardiac muscle and French language skills of that weekend.

I gave myself a couple of hour’s head-start on my sister and her troop of seasoned supporter friends. I wanted to discover the attractions of Perpignan at my ease but found that the artisan shops and cafes on the meandering rues and boulevards sufficiently met my tourist needs. That’s womanspeak for shopping and drinking coffee and there was no way the Cathedral or sights such as the Palace of the Kings of Mallorca could compete with those past-times.

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Perpignan city centre is compact as residential areas and industrial estates form much of the sprawl on a map. It is built on two rivers, the Têt and the Basse, which converge in the eastern suburbs. Knowing that the city centre is divided into north and south by the canal-like River Basse was to prove important later.

 

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Above: RIVER BASSE

My sister’s group had been assured by a combination of websites and hotel staff that bus number 2 would lead us northbound to Stade Aimé Giral, although one lone voice was advised to take the number 4. I began to get worried when the bus drove southbound over the River Basse. Finding ourselves in a non-descript residential area far from the stadium was proof that, when armed with incorrect information, democracy will never work…or that a regional conspiracy was abound to lead Munster fans astray. We returned to the city centre where a passenger with a match ticket advised us to follow him. “Le stade est quinze minutes à pied”, he assured us. Worryingly, kick-off was also in quinze minutes but the group was spared the walk by the appearance of the elusive number 4 bus.

It was well into the small hours of the morning when collective pulses returned to normal, such was the intensity of the match. Decisions repeatedly went against Munster but justice was dispensed in the eightieth minute via JJ Hanrahan’s try giving Munster a one-point victory and giving the supporters’ cardiac muscle a much-needed rest. To celebrate, I felt like hopping onboard the number 2 bus and singing the words allez les rouges to the chorus tune of The Fields of Athenry.

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Lonely Planet and Rough Guides describe Perpignan as “rough around the edges” and “grubby” respectively. I wouldn’t entirely disagree. With the exception of a holiday on the Côte d’Azur, I always depart France feeling inexplicably underwhelmed. On the contrary, it was a pleasure to experience the camaraderie of the Munster fans on tour and once again proved my point that sports tourism has cultural, social and economic benefits.

© Hazel Joy 2014

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