Joy at the Velodrome
In the middle of our stay in Marseille we decided to check out the Orange Velodrome, where the city’s football team, Olympique de Marseille (OM), plays. Neither of us are huge sports fans, but we’ve both experienced the fan excitement and melee of crowds during the World Cup in various parts of the world. If we couldn’t get to a match, we would at least check out the venue and see what it was all about.
The Orange Velodrome facilitates public tours for a fee. For about 20 Euro, visitors walk through a well-documented visual and audio history of the team, leadership, and physical space that is the velodrome. One part of the tour includes walking through the press room where the owners, coaching staff, and players give interviews and participate in press conferences. Upon walking into the press room, we were amused to find a class of middle-school aged boys, all sitting at the long press table, while their teacher spoke with one at a time. She acted the part of the media; asking questions while each boy took turns pretending to be his favorite player. Despite the fact we don't understand much French, one boy spoke with such passion and enthusiasm that we both remarked it wouldn’t be surprising to see him as a player in a few years.
When I was a kid, I was a huge basketball fan. My hero was a college player named Wayne Tinkle, at the University of Montana. He was a coach at a summer sports camp I attended one summer at the university. During the year, he played center for the Grizzlies, coached by Stew Morrill. I thought Tinkle walked on water. I tried to learn all his moves because being tall too, I also played center. I listened to every game on AM radio and was ecstatic when I had the opportunity to go to home games.
Watching these boys and listening to them talk excitedly about their favorite players reminded me of the excitement of sports and having a hero. As they stared wide-eyed at the locker room with the player’s names on the uniform cubbies, it felt good to reminisce about that kind of exhilaration—a feeling I don’t experience as much as an adult. Their pleasure also reminded me of my son at that age—a time when boys are less closed off, and eager to show their adoration of a role model with less fear of reprisal.
When we walked into the stadium, Rob and I both sucked in our breath. It’s a formidable structure and without all the fans, seems (what I imagine to be) even more spectacular. The boys were beside themselves, running around the dugout and sprinting up the steps to the highest points of seating.
It was thrilling.
At one point, the gathered the boys around for a picture. Before they said cheese, they sang one of the OM chants, led by their lively teacher who clearly loves those kids and her job. I don’t know, maybe it’s coming out of the pandemic where in-person interaction has been minimal, or maybe it’s that I don’t often observe the joy and energy of middle school kids—but when they chanted, knowing all the words by heart and shouting at the top of their lungs, I was moved. So much so, that I asked the teacher if they would mind doing it again so I could take a video. Before she could answer, they all screamed yes, they wanted to do that.
That day, we got to enjoy those boys having the best field trip of their lives to the Orange Velodrome where their home team, OM, plays and inspires their dreams. I think their joie de vivre was right on par with a stadium full of fans. Happy tears leaked out as I took the video. I’ve watched it a hundred times since that day.
There’s a lot in life to feel downtrodden about; what a gift—to have something to shout for.
Aux Armes! Aux Armes!
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I write on cultural heritage, travel, food, forced migration, and other things that might be worth a few words.