It’s a return to a world that anyone younger than 10 years old hasn’t experienced. A world that the older generation will see once again, probably a little quicker than they’d dared hope. The world of big cities, a heavenly body of noise, light and songs, coming back like a commotion with its delightful uproar that we had somewhat forgotten. We did visit Paris, Lyon and Marseille, but via the secret doorways of Red Star, Paris FC, Lyon Duchère and Marseille Consolat. We had to slip into the shadows of the suburbs in order to return to the monuments of French football and their new identities. In the past, we simply went to the Vélodrome and Gerland. From now on, we’ll be going to the Orange Vélodrome and the Groupama Stadium. The only assurance we can have at this point is that we’re coming back to a world that has changed, quickly and greatly.
Who are we in this re-styled, hyper-publicised universe, we who have just trodden the tortuous path of a France that is invisible to the eyes of the cameras? We wanted to see Monaco and Bordeaux again. Like in the Jacques Brel song, we saw Vesoul. But we also saw Steinseltz, Yzeure and Chambly. We’re coming back, rich with stories of hard work and travels. On the journey towards the light, Racing had the humility needed for long, slow conquests. Our chairman, Marc Keller, likes to retrace our path as one from the foot of a mountain to its summit. An ascension during which every step required patience, solidarity and, the word must be repeated here, humility.
And that’s what Racing has become, to answer the question above: a big family that has united in light of its murky battles, re-emerging from its doubts. At the gates of Ligue 1, Racing are handing in their records of an adventure that was thought through at all times, where any moments of madness were on the pitch and not in the boardroom. Racing are a big family of institutions, shareholders, partners, a long line of technical staff and players who helped the club back up, and an incredibly loyal fanbase who, like Arsenal’s fans in the 2013-14 FA Cup final, have waited nearly ten years to have something to shout about again.
This family already knows everything about the challenges to come. Some of the best players on the planet await us. A little bit of the European elite will be sprinkled onto our plate. They’ll have their league, and we’ll have ours: the league of teams fighting to stay up, as repeated by Thierry Laurey, who is already prepared to crack open the champagne if we finish 17th. Staying up: it’s the only objective, and it is an immense one. We’ll need to stay strong when the waters get choppy, and claw points whenever and wherever we can. This world is ruthless. In the shadows of giants, though, there’s room for those who have learnt from recent battles. Those, old and new, who will see Racing for what it is: an honest, hard-working apprentice, starting its new life in the big time. It starts on Saturday, at Lyon, for whom the Champions League is on the horizon. Just another mountain for us to climb.
Jean-Marc Butterlin was ‘Chef des Sports’ at the newspaper L’Alsace and ‘Grand Reporter’ at the newspaper L’Equipe. He is a member of the Racing Club de Strasbourg Alsace Association’s Board of Directors.