Win a fantastique book on French greats!
Brothers in Arms is a self-published book by David Beresford, a self-confessed Francophile who grew up idolising the great France teams of the 1980s. Beresford tracked down his heroes and wrote about their lives – you can read a review of his book here.
Beresford has kindly provided six copies for a competition and further down this article is an opportunity to win one. Each prize copy will be signed by both the author and All Blacks legend Sean Fitzpatrick, who wrote the foreword to the book. It’s a super prize.
First, to whet your appetite, here is an edited extract from the book of Beresford’s meeting with former France wing Laurent Pardo, part of the 1981 Grand Slam-winning team…
Laurent wasn’t part of my original selection but everyone recommended that I meet him, writes David Beresford. I don’t like to think that I bowed to player power, as Laurent certainly made it on merit, but I did extend the squad from 20 to 32 players to avoid some difficult selection choices! But he also made it by sheer force of his personality, great humour and team spirit. As I would find out, he is an astonishing expression of vitality and fun.
I found the perfect place to meet him: Maison Eguiazabal, Hendaye’s premier wine merchant. The place was full of sumptuous wines, glistening like diamonds under the soft lights. I chose Comtes Lafon’s Clos de La Barre, a wine I had drunk recently at my birthday in London.
The Silver Fox
When Laurent arrived, he was sporting his round pink glasses. The Silver Fox, the nom de guerre that I gave him, was looking relaxed, fit and bronzed as he launched straight into a passionate defence of the essence of rugby: “Rugby has to be great fun. We should stop coaching teams and a try should be worth 40 points.
“Giving your team-mate a pass and scoring a try are the greatest things in rugby, not the coaches. I love seeing the kids in the stadia, I want to drink alcohol in proper glasses, sing songs, party with old and new friends, and share stories. But all coaches want to do are training and weights sessions followed by a presentation. B******s to that!”
I sat back and watched him in full flow, this elegant man with a magnetic persona.
“Today, they drink water constantly. You would think it was Tunisia at the height of summer. I was in the changing rooms recently and there was water everywhere.
“Back in the day, we didn’t earn anything from rugby but we loved it so money didn’t matter. We played all the time and partied hard. We didn’t rest. Nowadays, at 25 years old, they rest. I would have hated that.
“And there are pom-pom girls dancing at half-time now. I would say, ‘Don’t go back into the changing rooms, let’s stay here’. The players have got the world back to front!
“Yes, sometimes I would get injured back then. I often think that if my nose hadn’t had been so big, I would have taken far more punches in the face.”
I was belly-laughing and choking on my Comtes Lafon and saucisson when he came out with that great line, one he had borrowed from the great Walter Spanghero. It was easy to see what the other players meant about Laurent’s vim and verve.
Laurent was on France’s tour to New Zealand in 1979, but was on the bench for that famous second Test that they won under the leadership of Jean-Pierre Rives. Laurent would have to wait until 1980 to win his first cap against South Africa, alongside a couple of other debutants that day, Serge Blanco and Pierre Lacans.
“By 1982, I was bored playing on the wing for Bayonne so I decided to join Montferrand. I was a victim of the infamous licence rouge, which meant I couldn’t play for another club for a year, so I headed to Wigan to play rugby league. It would be dark by 4pm so I only stayed five days and played one game, but I came back with an envelope full of money!
“I stayed at Montferrand for four years. They gave me a job, a case of money and showed me around the Michelin factory. I told them I wasn’t planning to open a garage so I never turned up to work. I just played rugby – wing, left and right centre, flanker – and partied.”
“Daniel Herrero called me in about 1985 to ask me to join Toulon. I agreed. But on the way back home to Hendaye, I bumped into Jean-Pierre at the airport and he was en route to Ibiza for a break. So I joined him. We partied so hard. Jean-Pierre was already at RCF [Racing] in Paris so I decided to join him. We won the championship in 1990 so that justified my decision. And anyway we were all amateurs back then having the times of our lives.”
Laurent’s phone is full of photos of his life today, partying with his old mates, but also supporting younger players whether for the French Barbarians, which he runs with his mate Denis Charvet, or playing beach rugby with the local lads every Sunday on the beach of Hendaye. He shows me a video of him dressed as a woman and serving coffee and cakes to his friends, who are rolling around with laughter.
He talked passionately and humorously about his great mate, Serge Blanco.
“Serge has given his life and soul to BO [Biarritz] and Basque rugby. He has busted his balls to support his team and create a Basque-wide club that could compete with the best in France and Europe, but he couldn’t get his idea supported. I say to him, ‘Don’t kill yourself for a handful of Espelette peppers and some jambon from Bayonne.’
“Serge has had his health problems and it is well known he recently had heart surgery. I tell him, ‘Serge, the best way for you to lose weight is to cut off a leg. It would be easier than resisting all that charcuterie you love so much’.”
Hospitality in Hondarribia
We spent the Saturday afternoon watching France beat England at the Stade de France 22-16. Laurent wanted me to feel at home so he unveiled an England jersey, which he draped over the chair next to a couple of bottles of champagne that he had opened.
There were no oranges for us at half-time. Instead, we played pelote Basque in his garden. I tried an assortment of bats and managed to lose the ball or pelote at the bottom of the road.
Laurent is an epicurean par excellence so in the evening he took his mate David Beraza and me to dinner in Hondarribia. We visited the superb Ardoka Vinoteka, a bustling little bar so typical of the Spanish Basques. It’s the sort of place you find in San Sebastián.
We ate a smörgåsbord of pintxos such as cod, scallops, calamari, Serrano ham, crunchy toast and garlic tomatoes, washed down with local beers served in beautiful glasses. Their ice-cold freshness and acidity cut through the food and encouraged us to go back for more. If there is a better combination in the world than those flavours on that night, I am yet to taste it.
The bar ebbed and flowed with noise and movement . It was a picture of societal bliss with locals of all sizes, ages and backgrounds chatting and laughing. I witnessed Spain, France, the Basque Country, the world at its best, watching the way food and wine can be such an equalising, democratising and unifying force.
Laurent was keen to ensure that I was being looked after during my time in France and that I was seeing his best friends – Denis Charvet, Éric Bonneval, Jean-Pierre Rives, Doxpi (Pierre Dospital) and Jean-Baptiste Lafond.
“Jean-Pierre was so impressive when you played with him. He showed you the way with his commitment and charisma. He helped you understand the importance of how to live in the moment. Jean-Pierre was a great example when he played and still is now. He showed you what égalite, liberté, fraternité meant. But fraternité or brotherhood is the key thing – that unbreakable bond and trust you have with your team-mates.
“Generosité was at the heart of everything we did. You shared it all, the ball was the link. As Jean-Pierre says, rugby is a game with a ball in the middle and 15 friends around it.
“As for Éric Bonneval, we would compete for the same position so when I shared a room with him, I’d leave the window open hoping he would catch a cold making him too ill to play!”
Rugby sur la plage
The next day, we played touch rugby with his mates in the sun, a routine they follow every Sunday morning. Lolo [Pardo] still had the guile and class. Afterwards, we went to the local bar for some light refreshments where Laurent regaled us with a rendition of God Save the Queen supported by some improvised percussion involving saucepan lids.
Feeling light-headed after a good workout and a few beers, we returned to Lolo’s home where the family was waiting. Patricia, Laurent’s lovely and eternally patient wife, had prepared a lunch of Italian chicken for us all – Jules, Jessica, Lola, Annie, Lolo, Patricia and me.
Lolo nipped out to his cellar and casually brought back a couple of stunning wines, a 1982 and 1995 Château Haut-Brion, both of which were the vinous equivalent of liquid platinum. They were silky, fresh, earthy and concentrated, and they cut through the food effortlessly, like Lolo would have cut through a defence in his prime. Lunch was magnifique, world class.
I had the time of my life with Lolo and his family. He is a free spirit and a passionate advocate for the swashbuckling style of rugby he used to play.
Brothers in Arms by David Beresford comes in English and French editions, RRP £40. You can buy it here. We have six copies, signed by the author and Sean Fitzpatrick, to give away.
For a chance to win one, just answer the question below and fill in your details. The competition closes on Wednesday 19 August.
Terms and conditions
The competition closes at 11.59pm on Wednesday 19 August 2020.Six winners will be selected at random, each winning a signed copy of ‘Brothers in Arms’ by David Beresford.
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