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May 14, 2014
Sao Paolo, 19 November 1969: Pelé scores a penalty for Santos against Vasco da Gama. His one thousandth goal. The match is stopped, the bells are ringing. If one believes the list enclosed in his autobiography, it could actually have been goal No. 1002. Who cares? Celebration was easier with a penalty anyway.
Mendoza, 11 June 1978: Rob Rensenbrink scores the 1000th goal of the World Cup history (a penalty, the first goal of 2-3 defeat against Scotland).
Saint-Denis, 12 July 1998: Emmanuel Petit chose the World Cup final to score the thousandth goal of the French national team, the third goal against Brazil.
Middlesbrough, 29 October 2005: Cristiano Ronaldo scores a worthless header for Manchester United in injury time, concluding 1-4 defeat – and at the same time scoring the 1000th goal for United in the English top league.
Belfast, 6 September 2006: Xavi Hernandez opens the score with the 1000th goal of the Spanish national team in a Euro qualifier against Northern Ireland (who eventually won 3-2 thanks to a hattrick by David Healy!).
All these goals were obviously followed by others. Football never stops and, to quote once again Sepp Herberger, ‘after the match is before the match’.
When Didier Braun, however, published his 1000th and last ‘Lucarne’ (‘Top corner’) in L’Equipe some months ago, he made it very clear that it would be his last one. This came as bad news to all those who had grown addicted to this little journalistic jewel hidden somewhere on the football pages of the great sports daily. Didier’s ‘top corner’ shot was not only the article one read first, it was also the one you loved to go over a second time. And enjoyed reading it aloud to your wife in the evening. Due to the fact that its author slavishly respected the self-imposed limit of 1,000 characters (and only very exceptionally granted himself an extra of max. 5%), each single word had to be chosen with care and tested on its absolute necessity.
‘La lucarne’ – this is generally where Michel Platini’s free kicks finished. Didier’s short texts were very similar: based on great technical skills, skillfully curled around the wall of triviality, and before you know it, it’s another unstoppable punchline.
There are always plenty of tears in the stadium when a legend of the club plays his last game before retirement. But who celebrates the retirement of those who make reading about football such a pleasure? Let this blogpost be a tribute to one of the best of his profession.
Didier has not always been at L’Equipe. After a short ‘transfer’ to a short-lived competitor in the 1980s he worked for several years for the French Football Federation in the national training centre of Clairefontaine. Which made him a football journalist who not only had earned a master’s degree in history, but had also accumulated technical expertise on the highest level. Which allowed him turn, after have joined L’Equipe again, to draft detailed analyses of playing systems, technical and tactical innovation, variations and interpretations. After having read his explanations, one had the impression of having gained a better understanding.
After the 2006 World Cup he was not very keen anymore ‘to hang around in stadium aisles and spend my time waiting for a handful of quotes’ and returned to the office as editor. The project of the daily 1,000-character colum came up in 2008. The idea was to seize a fresh piece of current football news, but to cast a different look at it from a critical, often amused distance, and to relativise the ‘buzz’ by putting things into historical perspective. The first ‘Lucarne’ was published on 12 August 2008. Its title was ‘ephemeral’, which was what it was expected to be. But finally, as Didier wrote 999 columns later, football, ‘which is at the same time game, spectacle, industry, mirror of its epoch, is so rich with facts, gestures, passions, peculiarities, entertaining variations, that is provides the chronicler with a multitude of topics, allowing him finally to reach a thousand texts without much pain’.
Both in the ‘Lucarnes’ and his blog on ‘Another history of football‘, he often managed to point out, very much tongue-in-cheek, that all these football scandals, public indignations, money issues, extraordinary performances and evidences of decline, are nothing but an ‘eternal repetitition’. Nothing new under the floodlights! He always never got tired of reminding his readers that, however much they may be tempted by nostalgia, it was no use regretting the ‘golden age’ of football, simply because there never was one.
Next season, we will have to cope with his absence. Not easy. And for himself? Well, the doors of L’Equipe’s archives, this unbelievable treasure trove of the history of sport, will always remain open to him. And there are still so many black-and-white photos of players and games and goals that only an encyclopedic football memory will be able to identify and date. Good to know there’s one around!