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French Rugby Column 247 || By: Howard Johnson

April 24, 2020 3 min read

When my local club Albi were booted out of the French Top 14 because
of a series of financial irregularities too complicated for the likes of me
to understand, Castres became de facto my nearest elite outfit.
Castres is a comfortable 40 minute drive from Albi through lovely
rolling hills and without the hassle of any traffic worth speaking of. In
short, it’s the kind of journey that makes you remember why you
moved to France in the first place.


But in the four years since I arrived here it’s not a journey I’ve ever
made with any great enthusiasm. It’s not that Castres isn’t worth the
time of day. It is. In fact, Castres is a very pretty place, with its wide-
open pedestrianised square and higgledy-piggledy buildings clinging to
the side of the Agout river that runs through it. My distaste for the
place could have something to do with the fact that my accountant is
based there, of course. But in actual fact I think it’s something to do
with the rugby club.


I don’t know what it is exactly, but try as I might I just can’t whip up
any personal enthusiasm for Castres Olympique. By heavens, I’ve had
enough opportunity to get the CO bug by now, given that a pal of mine
down here happens to work for the French bank that’s one of the
club’s main sponsors and very kindly phones up every now and again
with the offer of freebie tickets. But whenever I’ve been sat there in
the Stade Pierre-Antoine I’ve been curiously unmoved by the whole
spectacle unfolding in front of me.


Now as anyone who’s been in a sports ground full of partisan
supporters when they have no vested interest in the outcome of the
match can tell you, it’s one bizarre old feeling. Whenever my French
mate Charles is up out of his seat, giving full vent to his emotions with
a staccato volley of expletives, usually featuring the words ‘putain!’,
‘con’ and ‘bordel’ in random order, I remain in my seat. With a watery
grin that says ‘I’m trying to get excited here mate, I really am’, I try to
earn some brownie points by letting off a round of swear words
myself. It’s pathetic, frankly. I’m not fooling anyone, least of all
Charles, who looks at me with something approaching pity. How can I
be such a cold fish? How can I not be out of my seat willing Castres
on? Well who knows, really? How do you know when you’ve fallen in
love? How can you ever understand why your mate married the girl
who made your skin crawl every time you met her? Some things will
never be fathomable and for me, loving Castres is simply beyond my
ken.


Given the state of affairs at the club right now, that’s probably a damn
good thing. After losing 23-9 at home to Bourgoin this weekend, the
CO find themselves in the Top 14 drop zone, a place they’ve flirted
with periodically ever since I arrived here before always managing to
get themselves out of a hole just in time to avoid relegation. Poor old
Charles won’t be getting much work done this week, I’ll wager. He’ll be
too busy worrying about his beloved rugby team. I, meanwhile, will be
rocking along blithely unconcerned about the fate of Castres in this
year’s championship. After all, I did all my crying in the summer when
Albi’s fate was sealed. Love’s a funny bugger, isn’t it?