“No longer going to Bollaert at all, it creates a vacuum … Even a little shock.” But hey, it’s better for the good of everyone, I think! “ Thirty-three years since Fred, a 41-year-old house painter, went to all RC Lens games played in his legendary English stadium. For a few weeks, the enclosure has remained silent, deprived of the songs and the fervor of its usual 25,000 spectators. The pandemic depopulated the stadiums as it emptied the streets.
“It remains incidental, considers Matthew, 40 years old. Football is a passion but it remains a hobby. Currently, it is not necessary for everyday life. “ Member of the Red Tigers, the largest ultra group of Lens supporters, the teacher says that he is much more concerned about the imminent resumption of school than that of the professional championships desired by the governing bodies. (read opposite).
How to end the season brutally stopped by the health crisis? How to prepare the next one? Should the show continue at all costs, with or without an audience? On March 9, the Sang et Or played against Orleans the first professional match behind closed doors imposed by the pandemic in France. Even on a Monday evening, even in Ligue 2, at least 20,000 spectators were expected at Bollaert. If the ardent celebration of the goal of the northern victory by the announcer Cyril Jamet made the turn of the television broadcasts, his voice especially resounded in a sad silence.
“In an ideal world, I would like the season to end with 30,000 people at the stadium but it is not in anyone’s hands”, sighs Matthew. The Professional Football League imagines several hypotheses, including that of a resumption of the championships on June 17 and the start of the next season in late August. “They are drawing plans on the comet but nobody knows”, annoyed Arthur, 38, of the Red Tigers. For Matthew, we must not deny “ the rights of club employees, referees, players, ball pickers … And if you can’t be less than one or two meters away, how do you manage to mark someone who may be sick? ”
While club leaders quarrel in the press, 46 sections of ultras oppose, in a collective forum, an early recovery. “It is urgent to wait, write these groups, sometimes rival in the stands but united in the crisis. It is not conceivable that football will resume prematurely. It is not possible that it will resume in camera. It will resume in due course when the health and social conditions are met. ”
Pierre Révillon, one of the officials of the Red Tigers and president of the National Association of Supporters (ANS), does not envisage either “A resumption of the championship without supporters”: “C It’s like playing a play without spectators. It’s completely stupid. We are players in football just like players and managers. It goes against our mentality and our vision of football. ”
The stands are empty but supporters remain active throughout France. In Lens, the Red Tigers launched, from the start of confinement, a call for donations to equip a microcrèche mounted urgently by Lensois caregivers to keep their children, deprived of school and nannies, within the confines of the ‘hospital. In a few days, the ultras collect changing tables, umbrella beds, or playpens. “New high chairs and bottle warmers even arrived in services that were already lacking before the Covid crisis”, would like to thank Pauline, 31, educator of young children at the hospital. It designates Jérémy, a member like her of the Tigers, who came to probe the needs of caregivers. For seventeen years, he has coordinated Children’s Christmas, a toy distribution operation for young hospital patients.
“Ultrasounds mobilized for hospital staff, you are our pride”, we read on a banner hanging in front of the main entrance. We can guess Jeremy’s smile, under his surgical mask: “In the first week, the guy who takes care of messages with us said he was going to do something. Considering all the tape he put on, I can tell you that she’s going to stay there for a while! “ It has already been a month since the declaration welcomed the caregivers.
“The Tigers were among the first to set up a fundraiser for the hospital,” notes Norman Noisette, 42, president of the Lens United Federation. The network brings together thirty associations of Lensois supporters and 3,000 members across France. “We immediately added to their initiative by opening a kitty online” to support the momentum of solidarity. More than 8,000 euros have already been collected. The money was used to donate tablets to patients and nursing home residents isolated from their loved ones. At the same time, Lens United participated in the launch of an overcoat workshop for the hospitals of Lens, Béthune and Hénin-Beaumont. “We plan to deliver 18,000 each week,” Norman Noisette hopes. These fan associations, very locally anchored, mobilize beyond their members. This is the case for the joint auction of jerseys organized by Lens United and the club for the benefit of hospitals and the Pasteur Institute to finance research against the Covid: “We received several calls from people who wanted to give us jerseys of players recovered during a match.”
On its website, the ANS lists at least forty similar solidarity actions in progress, including the impressive prize pool of Socios toile club bastiais. The Corsicans collected 63,253 euros to help three hospitals on the island finance, in particular, resuscitation beds and respirators. “It is not the groups that are using the health crisis to make themselves visible. It’s rather the crisis that makes actions visible, Matthew analysis. There is such a lack of material that, thanks to these groups, everyday life becomes less hard for patients and staff. ”
What the teacher misses most is not so much the meetings, but rather “The pre-match, the comrades, drink a pint, chat, the post-match, escort the tarpaulin …” Going to the stadium is a celebration. “It allows you to get out of everyday life”, slips Hans Decroos, supporter of Racing for twenty-two years. This Thursday, he delivers the weekly food drive launched by the Tigers in his supermarket. “We have customers who make a small cart, deprive themselves and still give a packet of cakes, observe this follower of Bollaert. For the crèche, some customers could have sold their equipment on the Internet but they preferred to give it away. ” Support for the image of popular football claimed by many Lensois supporters, in a fragile economic area. “Here, some people sacrifice themselves to go to the stadium, Hans continues. In Lens, we don’t really like football business. “ We prefer solidarity football, fueled by the hope of finding the elite in front of a celebrating stadium, five years after relegation to L2. “If there is no climb, there is no climb … breathes Matthew. We will go and get it in the field like every year, with blood, sweat and tears. ”
Sheerazad Chekaik-Chaila Photo Stéphane Dubromel. Hans Lucas