When a Club of the fame and fortune of Paris Saint-Germain opens its doors to a virtual unknown at relatively late notice, there’s a lesson to be learnt.
That lesson is that you can never, ever, be too busy or feel too important to share your experiences and knowledge with others, in this case for the benefit of football.
The men who taught me this lesson were Edouard Chevalier & Benjamin Sorin – two integral members of the media team at PSG – plus Matt Spiro, a France-based football writer and broadcaster, presenter of the Ligue 1 Show, and commentator for beIN Sports, the global sports broadcasting giant owned and operated by Qatari Sports Investments.
It’s my second last day in Europe for 2014 – this is, hopefully, not my last trip – and I wake in the northern French city of Lille. Checking my e-mails, a note from Robbie Thomson – the accomplished Australian football commentator whom I became friends with during his time working for Fox Sports in Australia – syncs to my inbox.
Robbie, these days a PSG employee himself as producer, journalist and voice of This Is Paris, plus a Ligue 1 commentator for beIN Sports, writes to tell me that that very afternoon his colleagues are happy to show me around PSG HQ in Boulougne-Billanncourt, a suburb on the outskirts of Paris best accessed by Metro Line 9.
Robbie, writing in transit from Dubai enroute to Paris because he has just completed a brief stint in Australia commentating on the Foxtel A-League All Stars’ clash against Juventus in Sydney, cc’s a bunch of his colleagues (having sought their permission) to expect my arrival later that day.
To be brutally honest, until that moment I had given up on my ambition to visit Paris Saint-Germain. You see, before I embarked on my trip, Robbie and I had spoken about me coming to PSG HQ for a tour, and to learn from some of the very best in the French football media landscape. However, knowing Robbie was in Australia and travelling extensively during the brief time I had penned in to be in and around Paris, I began to doubt whether I would, realistically, get to visit the four time Ligue 1 winners – a club that Zlatan Ibrahimovic, no less, calls home.
But Robbie is a man of honour, a man of his word, and a man only too happy to help a fellow Aussie abroad.
Speedily, I pack my suitcase and race to the metro. Before too long, I’ve got a ticket for the TVG from Lille direct to Paris, and by 2:30pm I find myself booking a night at the nearest hotel I can find outside Paris-Nord. I dump my bags, grab a metro map (it is my first time in Paris, after all), and circle Station Billlancourt. It’s quite the shift from Gare du Nord, and is indeed the second last station on Line 9 – only Pont de Sévres is further away from the centre of the French capital.
The substantial train trip is a blessing in disguise. While I may run a little late for the time originally proposed by Robbie, the lengthy sojourn enables me to gather my thoughts and think about what it is I’d like to know about the media team, plus practices and processes, of one of the biggest football clubs in the world.
And: Is this opportunity even real!?
It’s about 3:30pm and roughly four hours after finding out that PSG were happy to meet with me, I’ve made my way from Lille to Paris, and, crucially, to Boulougne-Billanncourt. PSG’s HQ is a modern, but, surprisingly, not elaborate building. I speak to the receptionist, and as per my instructions from Robbie ask for Matt Spiro. Within minutes, Matt is in the foyer to greet me, and seems genuinely interested in who I am, how I know Robbie, plus what it is I am after. I explain.
From there we venture onto Level 1 of the complex, which in fact does not belong, at least technically, to Paris Saint-Germain. This Level is beIN Sports, Paris, and is the place where much of the world’s Ligue 1 coverage and content is created. But beIN Sports and Les Parisians are inextricably linked, thanks in no small part to their Qatari ownership.
So, Level 1, Matt details, is the place that I would normally find Robbie. Level 1 is the location that This Is Paris, the standard-setting, once-weekly, 26-minute magazine show tracking every element of PSG is put together. It’s Wednesday afternoon, and the producers are in fact putting the finishing touches on that week’s program. I’m lucky enough to secure a sneak-peek at some of the editing, and happen to spot a Fox Sports T-Shirt hanging proudly in one of the modest editing suites, just below a Sivasspor scarf.
After around 30 minutes with Matt, we venture up the lift to Level 2 – PSG proper, and the place where the club’s media, communication, and marketing teams are based. Matt introduces me to Edouard and Benjamin, and they escort me over to their quarters. Their set-up is impressive, and they’ve got some of the very best equipment – as you might well expect – to utilise. But there’s no mistaking another thing they possess – something that cannot in fact be bought, but which is worth more than the many millions PSG possess: passion for football.
Both Edouard and Benjamin are devotees of one of France’s favourite sports, and quite plainly lovers of the beautiful game. Both have had roles in the game before arriving at PSG, Edouard at the French Football Federation and L’Equipe, and Benjamin at Ligue 2 outfit Le Mans FC – a proud club once home to the likes of Didier Drogba, Gervinho, and (can Mariners fans remember?) Daisuke Matsui.
After speaking with Edouard and Benjamin for a matter of minutes, any perhaps expected awkwardness disappears. Forget they work in a media and communication team of dozens at one Europe’s grandest clubs producing content to which most aspire, and I’m from a Hyundai A-League outfit where resources are, truth be told, scant. We are men united b y the same cause – to do the best for our respective clubs in our chosen profession and passion.
It’s because of this, I believe, that Edouard and Benjamin are so open. Ok, I’m not from a rival Ligue 1 team, but they’re more than content to share with me what works for them digitally and traditionally, provide me with a number of resources to take home to continue my education, and even press play on some of their latest and upcoming content, talking me through how and why they put it together.
More surprisingly for me, they’re genuinely interested in the club I work for. We navigate to www.ccmariners.com.au, where they check out images of our Stadium, and ask questions, keenly, about the Mariners. Their knowledge of Australian football is limited, but they love Central Coast Stadium, particularly the palm trees at the south and its idyllic ocean views.
They’re interested when I talk about Asia, and our links to it via the AFC Champions League, as well as the 2013 Menpora Cup. I digress and share my interest in Indonesian football with them, and the potential I see there. We find common ground, as they share that 1.2 MILLION, of their then 12 MILLION Facebook fans are from Indonesia. (Just yesterday, PSG, Les Rouge-et-Bleu, surpassed 15 MILLIONS fans at www.Facebook.com/PSG.)
Edouard and Benjamin walk me up to Level 3, where a quite substantial Zlatan graphic greets guests. Level 3 is business – commercial sales, ticketing, merchandise. We, unfortunately, cannot visit Level 4 – that’s for the top, top management, a place reserved for the likes of Nasser Al-Khelaifi, Jean-Claude Blanc, and, sometimes, Laurent Blanc. A place where, perhaps, Edinson Cavani extends his contract, or Yohan Cabaye’s agent negotiates his release.
I depart PSG HQ just after 5:00pm on Wednesday 13 August 2014 grateful. Grateful that a club such as Paris Saint-Germain would even entertain hosting me for a few hours. Grateful to Robbie Thomson, Matt Spiro, Edouard Chevalier, and Benjamin Sorin. And grateful that I am lucky enough to work in football – the most beautiful, all encompassing, connection producing, sport on earth.