Europe

How the French came together for Euro 2016

France's supporters cheer at the fan zone in Bordeaux prior to the Euro 2016 football tournament final match between Portugal and France (10 July 2016) Image copyright AFP
Image caption France's sense of gloom lifted, if only for a month

France is recovering from its defeat by Portugal in the final of the European Championships in Paris. But despite the loss of the trophy, the host nation walked away from the National Stadium on Sunday with a more highly-prized achievement.

It is France, after all, so there was applause for the winner. Good manners count for a lot here. Scattered applause, to be sure, and understandably half-hearted, but the gesture was there, and many of those gathered in front of TV screens in the bars around the Bataclan on Sunday night were determined to be philosophical rather than bitter.

"Of course we wanted to win," said Floris, leaning against the railings of a nearby metro station as he absorbed the news. "We are very disappointed, everybody is sad…

"But we were all together tonight. All the country was together behind France, and that's the sort of thing we will never forget: even if we lose, we are together, we are French, we are happy to be French."

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The coming together of this country was a poignant moment for many, because this tournament was always about more than football for France.

It was about lifting the sense of gloom that has permeated the nation since the terror attacks last year; it was about healing the divisions running through the nation; and it was about proving that France could keep its people secure.

On that last point, the authorities here will be enjoying a moment of relief. In the run-up to the games, 100,000 security personnel were drafted in to provide protection, and public excitement here was muted amid fears of another attack.

But aside from some inter-fan violence in the early stages, few of the security fears around the Euros have materialised, and the Interior Minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, said on Monday morning that the tournament had been "a success" despite the high security threat.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Parisian supporters gathered in the fan zone near the Eiffel tower to watch the final
Image copyright AFP
Image caption In Lyon, there was disappointment that France did not secure the trophy

Neither have long-running strikes and protests affected games too badly, nor the floods, nor any of the other grim cycle of challenges that France has faced over the last 18 months.

But the terror attacks, economic crisis and worsening social division here have taken their toll, and it has sometimes felt as if everywhere the French looked, the picture seemed dark.

The traces of last year's attacks were woven through this competition too: the appearance of the president to watch the national team at the Stade de France brought back memories of the night they played there on 13 November, when suicide bombers blew themselves up outside.

The sister of France's star striker, Antoine Griezmann, survived the siege at the Bataclan that night.

The Bataclan itself, just down the street from where Floris and his friends were commiserating on Sunday night, is still boarded up. But all along this boulevard, the terraces were packed, the crowds refusing to give in to their fears.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Bars and cafes were packed for the match

"I was very happy that everything went well during this Euro," said Floris. "We were all outside, you know, we weren't at our homes. We go outside, watching the game, because we are free, we are French and we are happy to be here."

Striking comments from a losing fan, but then from where France stands, almost everything did go well during the Euros. They did not get the trophy, but they stayed safe.

The games, billed as a prime target for terrorism, showed that attacks weren't always inevitable, and that it wasn't only disaster that could bring the country together.

If only for a month, this tournament gave France permission to feel good again.

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