‘It’s so tribal’: France-England game strains dual nationality families

<span>Photograph: David Levene/The Guardian</span>
Photograph: David Levene/The Guardian

Saturday night will be a tense evening in James Parry’s house – he is a lifelong France supporter, but his wife will be rooting for England – not just because they want to see their team reach the semi-finals of the World Cup, but because the match will decide who their three-month-old baby will support for the rest of his life.

“With the birth of my son, my wife’s family think he should support England, which is a point of contention for me because I would like him to support the same team. This [game] means a lot because it’s been suggested that whoever wins on Saturday should be the team he supports – that’s probably higher stakes than the actual match,” he says.

Parry’s family in London is just one of the many dual nationality households across the UK that will see their loyalties tested when the neighbouring countries face-off for the first time in a high-profile tournament for a decade.

Parry, 38, is half-French, half-English, but his Gallic allegiances were cemented when he watched France win the World Cup on home turf in 1998. The team have performed better than England since, including winning the last World Cup. “I’ve been really lucky to watch an era where they’ve won a lot,” he says.

The strength of France’s national team has proven a pull for Laurent Derioz, 52, who is also half-French and half-English. After a childhood of being teased over his nationality, he credits Eric Cantona and Thierry Henry with making it “cool to be French”.

But although emotionally he wants France to win on Saturday, intellectually he thinks it’s England that really needs the boost. “The lift the ‘98 World Cup win gave to France was amazing. I was there at the time, a lot was said about this multiracial team that helped bring some unity of identity to the country.

“The English team could do with a lift because since Brexit there’s no good news – it’s been a nightmare since 2016.”

May, 35, and Jordan, 39, say that football is always an area of contention for them: May, from England, supports Manchester United while Jordan, who is French, supports Arsenal. But with two competitive and skilled national teams facing off, the stakes are even higher.

“I think the safest plan on Saturday will be for us to watch it separately, because it might strain the relationship. Though maybe we should watch it together as a test. I think we’ll have to agree on how we should behave ahead of the match because we’re both competitive,” says May.

The pair are based in their home countries but visit each other regularly. Jordan is in London for this match, but worries about receiving abuse unless he finds a pub for French fans. “British fans the world over do have a bad reputation for losing badly,” notes May.

She adds that they each support the other’s teams when they’re not competing. “We have a lot of respect for each other’s cultures and we love so many elements, but when it comes to football it’s so tribal, I would never dream of [supporting France].”

Jo Ortlieb, 55, agrees that sports matches between France and England can get “very tense” in her family, because she and her two sons support England, but her husband is loyal to France, where he is from.

“We’re quite grown up about it all but I think my husband probably doesn’t appreciate the fact that my boys support England, especially as they grew up in France,” she says.

Her eldest son, who is a big football fan and goes to university in the UK, will be supporting whoever is in the lead during the quarter-final on Saturday. “He plans to swap shirts based on whoever is winning, which is a bit shocking really.”

Ortlieb says she always feels a little bit alone watching games because she is outnumbered by French fans. “We may go to an Australian pub or our rugby club, which is going to be showing [the match], but I’m just going to be feeling a bit lonely,” she says.

“Someone said to me this morning: ‘You’re going to win whatever on Saturday.’ I said: ‘I’m sorry, but I’m not. My heart is still for England.’

“It’s still a lovely atmosphere, the chanting, it’s great. It’s nice to see people together again, even if there is a bit of friendly rivalry.”