One week into our three week summer camping holiday to France circa 1973 and all was well in the world, hot summer day followed hot summer day, the scousers had built an impressive golf course which wound its way in, around and through the tents on the site and walking to the toilet block in the dark became a hazardous affair in case you turned an ankle in one of the holes or bunkers that they had dug out.
Adjacent to the camp site was a securely fenced-in football ground, used by a local French football team it was jealously guarded, watered every afternoon by a caretaker and mown to a fine green sward, we gazed upon it in awe and wished that we could play football on a pitch like that.
On only the second day we found the hole in the fence that permitted us to do exactly that and as long as you vacated the securely chain-link fenced pitch by the time the caretaker arrived in late afternoon you could play football to your hearts content.
It wasn’t too long before word got around on the camp site about the availability of a first class football pitch, mainly due to our dad inviting everyone he spoke to, it was the thing that he did when on holiday, if there was nothing to do on a camp site then he organised something, I can’t tell you what a pain in the arse it was to have a father who was always organising people into doing something when all you wanted to do as his son was sit around and do nothing all day.
Soon we had thirty or more people turning up every morning for the ten o’clock sharp kick-off, the ones who hadn’t been before would stand outside the ten foot high chain link fence and wonder how on earth you got inside as all the gates were securely locked, “the fence is loose in that corner” our father would shout to them, “you crawl in through the bottom corner…”
And then one day three young men arrived to stand at the fence and gaze at our twenty-a-side football game.
“The fence is loose in that corner…” our father started to yell and when there was no response he walked over to them pointing to where the loose fence was, “The fence is loose in that corner…” he repeated.
One of the young men said something to him and our dad turned around to the rest of us and yelled “Bloody hell, they’re Germans…”
Nothing quite envigorates an English football match than the arrival of some German nationals, these young lads were in their early twenties and they could play football, very well. The fence was lifted and they crawled onto the pitch, ok its not quite like running out at Wembley, crawling through a fence on your hands and knees and hoping your jumper doesn’t get caught on the chain links, but the arrival of German nationals upped everyones game.
They all joined our team, one of them was a goalkeeper, a proper goalkeeper not just an idle kid like me who liked being in goals because you could sit down for long periods while the play was up the other end of the pitch, they dazzled our opposition with their Germanic footballing skills, this was the era of Franz Beckanbauer and Bayern Munich domination and they put twenty or so goals past our opposition goalie until he went back to his tent in tears, well, playing a ten year old in goals on such an important occasion was never going to work was it ?
After the game we all shared one of Ralphs cans of Long Life beer and the Germans thanked us for the game and explained how we were the only group of people who had welcomed them during their holiday so far, they were puzzled as to why the French refused to speak to them or serve them in shops every time they heard their accents and diplomatic as ever my father explained to them “Its because you’re krauts”
And it was true, German people were not welcome in Brittany in 1973, less than 30 years after the war that particular generation of French people had not forgotten the invasion of their homeland, the eviction from their houses in strategic Brittany, the forced labour camps that some of them were subjected too, you can’t blame them I suppose but these lads weren’t even born when their fathers were kicking the shit out of the French countryside.
Not to worry, they had found some English people who were quite happy for them to join in their football games every day, especially if they were on your side for they were very good and scored goals up the other end for fun while their goalie stopped everything that the opposition could throw our way, we didn’t even mind them insisting that our team should be called Bayern Munich even though our dad muttered under his breath the first time it was suggested, “Here they come again, invading our bloody football game this time…”
They got on like a house on fire with the dads in our teams, shared beers, wouldn’t talk about the war though even though everyone tried to introduce the subject at every beer break, “We were not born at that time” is all they’d say apart from when my dad mentioned that he’d been in Africa during the war and one of them remarked “Ah, you must haff known Rommel then ?” to which my dad changed the subject and mumbled, “Well, not that part of Africa anyway…”
The evenings were another story though.
As the Germans could not get served in any bar in France our dad invited them to Ber-nards bar with us and the scousers. Our party was about thirty strong by then and we’d all turn up in force every night and dominate his bar and his sing-alongs for as long as he felt like still serving everyone, which usually meant some ridiculous time in the early hours of the next morning.
All went well for a while as round after round of beers were consumed, and then one of the Germans tried to buy a round at the bar.
He came back to the table,
“I am afraid zat ve vill haff to leave zis bar” he told our dad, “Ber-nard does not vant us in here”
A council of war followed, our Dad, Ralph and all the scouser dads telling, not asking, telling Ber-nard that he had to serve the three German lads or we’d all walk out and never come back.
“Ah wass a paratrooper during le guerre ne’st pa ?” argued Ber-nard, “Zezz boys are le bosch, Nazis, ah speet in zer direction” and he did.
“He’s just spit on my foot Frank” said Ralph who had served on Arctic convoys in the Royal Navy during the war
“Pardon Monsieur” spoke Ber-nard, “Ah meant to speet in zerr direction”
“Well we were all in the war” explained our dad, “I was in Africa you know”
“Ah Monsieur” said Ber-nard, “You gave Rommel ze old what-for ne’st pa ?”
“Well, not that part of Africa anyway”
Finally the threat of losing thirty customers who were perfectly capable of drinking his establishment dry every night of the week won over the outrage of having Germans on the premises, Ber-nard allowed them to stay providing that they didn’t stand at his bar and that when other French people came in they didn’t talk too loud so that no locals would know that Ber-nard, bar owner of the district was fraternising with le Bosch, for if he had been discovered doing so he’d have been tied to a lamp post and tarred and feathered overnight.