Champions all

“The French team which will take part in the annual athletic contest between France and England, to be held at Preston Park on Saturday, will leave Paris on Saturday morning and proceed via Dieppe and Newhaven”

… and here is the team in their rather natty shorts:

The French Team 1925

France – Angleterre, défilé de l’équipe de France. Source / BnF

On 25th July 1925, Preston Park hosted the fourth meeting between top athletes from France and England.  This year, for the first time in such a meeting, the French beat the English on points:  59 to 53. Not surprising as the French had in their midst four current national champions.

One English newspaper rather waspishly pointed out that the French could not even raise a team for the 3000-metre steeplechase and that:

“of the events which were carried through, the home team actually won eight and lost five, so that France achieved her victory on account of her attainments in the matter of second and third places throughout.”

On the whole, the French newspapers were generous in victory.  They tended to admit that they had been un tantinet surpris [a tad surprised] to have won and that their success might have been due in some part to the absence of un ou deux très bons athlètes anglais [One or two very good English athletes].

On the other hand, there were those reporters who, despite admiring the turn-out of 6000 spectators, still could not resist a tentative whinge because the athletes had been worried about running on grass rather than their usual ash track (une piste de cendrée) – an unfounded fear as at least one French national record was broken.

Then there was the French reporter who criticised the fact that there were too many holiday makers and not enough local Brighton people spectating.  The locals had been discouraged probablement par l’absence d’une enceinte à des prix vraiment populaires [probably because there were no really cheap enclosures].  According to the French, Britain was still a class-ridden society.  A railway company advert in the Daily Herald seems to scotch this view as they announced: “The enclosure is 2s and reserved seats 3s”.

100 metre hurdle

The crowds, the athletes and St Mary’s Church. Source / BnF

And of course, there was the weather.  The reporter of the Sports Argus (a Birmingham-based newspaper) saw it as “all that could be desired” and even the right-wing Le Matin described it as un temps splendide.  The equally right-wing Paris-Soir was not so generous: 

Il faut dire qu’une chaleur accablante handicapa nos compatriotes. [It has to be said that the suffocating heat handicapped our fellow countrymen.]

But perhaps the most important and significant moment of the day was when the French contingent lay un énorme gerbe de lys [an enormous wreath of lilies] on the recently-built war memorial in the Old Stein.  A touching start to the day.


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