Yorkshire Day? I say Vive la France

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LIKE most blokes of his generation who spent half their youth fighting the Germans, my grandfather really disliked the French.

You could trust the lads in the opposite trench, he said. They made no bones about the fact they wanted to kill you.

But it was them on the same side he was suspicious of. He couldn’t help it. There was nearly 1,000 years of cross-Channel animosity wound tight in his DNA.

So when, nearly 50 years later I told him I would be supporting France at the 1998 World Cup, he was moved to pronounce me not just a traitor but also, and I quote, “a typical bloody-minded Yorkshireman”.

I thought about this on Monday, Yorkshire Day.

The French thing, perhaps I should explain.

My argument was – and still is – that I don’t pick my favourite band or author according to which stretch of land they come from, so why should I my football team?

Why should I support 11 lads because they happened to have been born on the same island as me, when one French Algerian genius – Zinedine Zidane – has brought me far greater joy simply by being born at all? Is it not he, therefore, who deserves my loyalty?

I was serious then, and I’m serious now.

Watching Zidane made my jaw drop. Not just because he was so incredibly good but, more importantly, because he was so incredibly good without even seeming to try.

When Maradona or Pele or Cruyff tore apart opponents you could see their little legs pumping and their arms swinging. But with Zidane...he just glided. He flowed. He hardly appeared to move and then, suddenly, three surrounding defenders were out of camera shot.

Grace, style, quiet arrogance. Even his headbutts had finesse.

And, as such, I wanted Zidane to be successful.

That’s a proper reason for supporting someone, I told my Nottinghamshire granddad. A geographical coincidence isn’t.

But he wouldn’t have it.

Typical bloody-minded Yorkshireman, remained his conclusion.

It was the first time I’d been labelled so but, reader, it wasn’t the last.

Over the intervening 13 years I’ve grown increasingly use to hearing that same refrain – from loved ones, from colleagues, from strangers.

If I didn’t have a misplaced superiority complex and a stubborn belief only my own opinions were worth hearing, I’d be starting to think it’s more than coincidence. Ahem.

But this week as the existence of Yorkshire Day was brought to my attention, I started to question my credentials as a stereotypical Yorkshireman.

Because if toasting a pointless date invented by Yorkshire Ridings Society in Beverley to protest against local government realignment is what this region is about then send me along the Snake Pass and call me a Lancastrian.

As a saying I’ve just made up goes: if something needs an artificial day of celebration, it’s probably not worth celebrating.

I cherish this region everyday by living here, and by loving its people and places; its streets, its sites, and its Supertram network.

And I don’t need to shout about why on August 1.

You know already, otherwise you wouldn’t be living here, either. It’s about stoicism and quiet confidence, not braggadocio and ball-swinging.

So what’s the proper Yorkshire way to write about Yorkshire Day,0 I asked an old Sheffielder down The Riverside.

Write about France instead, he said. Done.