Every week with RetroNews, the BNF press site, back to a sports story as told by the press of the time. This Saturday: Etienne Mattler, said “the sweeper”, captain of the French team and resistant.
“Pillar of French defense” : so the newspaper dated May 26, 1934, he presented Etienne Mattler on the eve of the first match of the French soccer team at the World Cup against Austria. Pillar, the term is well chosen. Mattler honors Austria 22-1 defeate selection to the French team, where he started four years earlier. We nicknamed this left back in size which inspired respect for his opponents (a good 1.80 meters, more than 80 kilos), the “sweeper”. That’s to say if his style matched his physique. In 1934, Mattler contested his second World Cup. He will play a third in 1938. Few are the French who have participated three times in the most prestigious of international competitions. In total, Mattler will compile, in ten years of blue career, 46 selections (including 14 as captain) which will constitute for a long time a record.
Originally from Belfort, Etienne Mattler has never, professionally speaking, pushed more to the East than Troyes, where he played at Estac between 1927 and 1929, according to the website of the French Federation. Other sources assure that he never ventured beyond Strasbourg, where he would have played these two seasons. Previously, he had held the defense of US Belfort between 1921 and 1927. But his club will remain forever FC Sochaux, where he played from 1929 to … 1947. So owned by Peugeot (where Mattler worked before becoming one of the first French professional footballers), the Doubist club was one of the leaders of the 1930s. With him, Mattler won two championships (1935, 1938) and the Coupe de France (1937). In 1935, Sochaux won in Paris against Racing in the Coupe de France. “I never doubted our victory, reacts the captain of the victors in the columns of the Excelsior February 4. No never ! Even when the Parisians led the rest, then in the second half when the brand had two goals to one in their favor, the idea of defeat never crossed our minds. “It was with a victory that Sochaux wanted to mark his first visit to Paris and, with a good exhibition, to thank the public of the capital for this warm sympathy that he has always shown us.”
March 26, 1935, Match devotes a full page to Mattler. Where we learn that he had to become a cyclist, much to the despair of his father. “This guy who was a complete athlete, who practiced with equal happiness the boxing, the slipper and the football, actually nourished a passionate love for the” little queen “, to the great despair of his father, moreover. His first bike, he bought 80 francs. But he told his father that he had been given it. In secret, he began to compete in a few races at the Belfort velodrome. A real class allowed him to compete against a few stars. […] And we were going to “push” him definitively into the bike, when he abandoned him forever under very sad circumstances. A fortnight before his departure for the regiment, in fact, his brother killed himself on a bicycle ”, says the newspaper. French cycling was going to lose a promising pistard, football to gain an intractable defender.
If he is tough on the field, if his technique is rough and his strategy rather simplistic – to clear the ball as far as possible – it is in life the reverse of what he shows on the field, writes Match. “His nature is fundamentally good, and I don’t know a boy who is friendlier, more frank, more affable, even sweeter than he is.” Qualities that probably do not jump in the eyes of opposing attackers. “He could hurt while playing. Of course ! But involuntarily. Because he is too strong for us to be able to feel a shock with him. “ The newspaper recalls a match in which Mattler was loaded in pitbull mode of a Swiss “Small, light and subtle […] who could not avoid the charges of his adversary. One of them was particularly powerful and poor Trello went to roll on the ground like a pebble in the bed of a river. Mattler ran to him and raised him: “Excuse me old man,” he said, “I hadn’t seen you.” […] Before the last game against Sweden, he said to me: “You cannot believe how sorry I am when I read in the press that I was brutal during a match.” The same continued: “It seems that these Swedes are strong … Vein! We will be able to play the game without being hissed if they can stand up.” “ The man was hard-pressed, it is said that he had played almost an entire match with the ankle ligaments torn off.
The “sweeper” also knows how to be rascal, as he tells Match April 6, 1937: “You can imagine that after traveling the world for so long, anecdotes come to mind. I could fill a book with it. There is one I want to tell you about. I can do it today and you will see that it is almost a confession. This happened in 1935, during the match against Italy in Rome. Our opponents led by two goals to zero and continued to dominate. Llense could not parry another shot and the ball was going to go into the net, when coldly I stopped it with my hand and released immediately. The referee, a poorly placed Dutchman, saw nothing but fire. The Roman public made a dreadful din without obtaining any sanction. As for our team who could have been discouraged by this new goal, it was exhilarated and I believe it was thanks to my little trick that we were honorably defeated, by two to one. “
In his “Confessions” at Match, April 6, Mattler expressed his desire to thank the leaders of FC Sochaux by offering them the Coupe de France. It’s done a month later. And Etienne Mattler shows his joy by coaxing the trophy on a full page photo of Match May 11.
The Marseillaise from Naples
“Who is the ball player who most honors France and French football? Do not search. His name is on everyone’s lips. He comes under all feathers: Etienne Mattler, captain of FC Sochaux and the national team “, begins the day December 13, 1938, after an honorable defeat (0-1) for the French team in Naples against Italy. “He is not a cockroach, but he loves his homeland. He wants her to be strong, triumphant … What is wonderful about him is that he knows how to share his feelings with his comrades. He radiates guts, willpower and all the virtues of heart which are so important in an internations section. […] This one hundred percent Frenchman has forced the admiration of the Italians themselves by his moral qualities. “ Illustrated by a gesture including “No one spoke because they were ignored”. “As he was in a cafe with fellow students the evening of the meeting, he understood that Italians were paying their heads and laughing because the music had only played a few bars of the French national anthem in the afternoon. “Ah! Exclaims Mattler, you have not given us the Marseillaise. Well ! You’ll hear it … In a hostile atmosphere, Mattler stood up and straight like an I, looking up and round, he attacked the Marseillaise taken up in chorus by his team-mates … The Neapolitans are still amazed by so much audacity and male courage. “
Mobilized in 1939, then demobilized in the same year after the defeat of France, he joined the Resistance. This did not prevent him from competing in January 1942 between selections of players from the free zone and the occupied zone, as reported West Eclair.
Cited by the team in a long paper dedicated to Etienne Mattler en 2016, historian Marie-Antoine Vacelette clarified that he“Got involved very early, in February 1942, when an organized Resistance was set up in Belfort. Mattler made intelligence and he was in contact with the English secret services present in occupied France. In December 1943, he also recovered weapons which had been parachuted by the Allies. ”
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Denounced and arrested by the Gestapo in February 1944, he was detained for more than three months. Despite the torture, he does not admit his membership of the Resistance. “Pduring interrogations, to give himself courage and to taunt the Germans, he kept a tracksuit of the French team on him … “, told his daughter to the Team. Fearing a new arrest, he fled to Switzerland in May 1944, then returned to France in August and joined the Itime army of De Lattre de Tassigny, with which he participated in the liberation of his native region.
September 5, 1944, Humanity suggests that Etienne Mattler is dead. “A Sport-Libre activist [une organisation de sportifs résistants, ndlr] fallen approximately two months before the release had as a cellmate a common right which affirmed to him that Mattler had been shot by the Boches. […] “This terrible news is not, however, a certainty and we can only wait in anguish for a confirmation or a denial that would fill us with joy.”
Combat of the same day also evokes the death of the captain of the French team, without accrediting the information. The newspaper recalls that Alfred Nakache, “the Auschwitz swimmer” is also reported dead. A witness reportedly saw his grave in Silesia, where he was deported. “Some rumors already belie Mattler’s death”, specifies the newspaper, which continues: “Despite these claims, we hope that our two beautiful champions, the glories of French sport, are still alive.”
“Mattler is alive and well. After being interned for many weeks, he regained his freedom and fought, like marshal-des-logis, in the ranks of the army of De Lattre de Tassigny “, correct it Southwest patriot October 30, 1944. Alfred Nakache did not die in Silesia: he reappeared in Toulouse in the spring of 1945.
Continuation and end of the story. After the Liberation, Etienne Mattler found his dear FC Sochaux as coach-player but was thanked after the club’s descent in 1946. It was this year that he played his last professional match. He is then 40 years old. He kept a soccer cleat, as a player-player of a Lorraine amateur club for two years. He then opened a tobacco bar in Belfort, his hometown, and ended his life as the owner of a tobacco bar in Franche-Comté. He died on March 23, 1986, at the age of 80. A Belfort stadium bears his name.