Travel Almanac: Saturday in VB

I have often contemplated what life on a Saturday is like in other countries. For me, being an Australian, it has always been sport, sport and more sport. For others it might be a bit of art and perhaps a movie but I suggest that, overall, it is sport that is the main player.

What is it like in the French town of Villers-Bretenneux (VB) for instance?

Well, today was miserable right from the start. The temperature did not get above ten degrees, with consistent drizzle and a chilling wind.

The one café that serves decent coffee and is normally quiet was a hive of activity this morning, with the locals coming in droves to: (a) get out of the cold; (b) to have a warm drink; and (c) bet on the football (soccer). They say that it is hard to estimate just how much money is spent on Lotto Football each weekend and from the attendance at the café in a small village I can see why.

Probably no different to having a punt each Saturday at the club or pub. There is one big difference though – the bonhomie of the patrons. Aussies certainly do not go in for kissing each cheek, which is common place to both male and female here in France.

However, I could just imagine PJF and JTH going through this procedure en route to a Cats game each week.

Once they have their Lot Foot cards it is down to serious business. There are 15 matches and there are 8 sections, so one can bet on 15 games or up to 120 depending on interest. Most of them pay with plastic so I imagine it is quite a few Euros.

It was serious stuff as they sat and contemplate the potential winners with the local paper and Le Figaro by their side. Not to mention what looked like, in many cases, a warm whisky or similar.

There seemed to be very little interest in horse racing in this part of France.

Most of the clubs in VB have either an Australian or New Zealand name, e.g. Koala, Wallaby and Kiwi to name a few. I passed the Koala Club as I wandered down the road and popped in to see what was taking place.

The manager at the museum in Lorraine had told me of these clubs and how, when she arrived from Chester some 20 years ago, she became involved with the Koala Club, which now has over 200 members who specialise in weightlifting and gymnastics. There was quite a crowd there when I arrived working out on the latest equipment which was strange to see in such an old building.

It was too cold for me so I wandered down to the Musee Franco-Australie to see what was happening there. Melanie, who was on duty, told me that quite often these are the sort of days when people are attracted to visiting the Musee.



There were only two other people in attendance and when I was speaking with Melanie they smiled and I could see that they were from Oz Land and Victoria to boot.

It turns out that Rod and Karen had been touring around Europe for a few weeks but like many were struck by the enormity of the Somme. As Karen said: ‘we did not know all this about our boys and what they had to put up with.’

She was right. You only have stand on the outskirts of the town to see the rolling plains and it would have been like shooting ducks at the local show for both sides.

They both agreed they would have to come back again to take it all in.

We started talking footy, as you do in France.

I found out that Rods’ father and his uncle had a green grocer in Strathmore in the early and middle sixties and the Essendon Football Club would purchase oranges from them each week before the game.

Sometimes the players would come in and do the buying on behalf of the club and often ventured in during the week as well.

Rod recalled that his Dad and Uncle would get the players from Essendon and sometimes other clubs to sign the autograph book and he said there were hundreds of signatures.

Now here’s the rub. Rod has not seen the book for a few years and he was wondering if someone out there might know of the disappearing autograph book. Unfortunately, I did not get their surname but seeing the Almanac has so many readers I thought I’d ask.

The weather was not getting any better so I decided to encamp for the remainder of the afternoon. From the window of my second story Airbnb I could view the local sports field.

Mid afternoon there were probably 50 or 60 young boys playing Oz Kick (my term) in the drizzling rain. This was followed by a match between two teenage teams. From that I gathered that the afternoon in a little country town in France is young people’s time.

At 5pm the youngsters were still out there in the freezing weather. I retired to bed for a while with a good book on VB.


About Bob Utber

At 80 years of age Citrus Bob is doing what he wanted to do as a 14 year-old living on the farm at Lang Lang. Talking, writing, watching sport. Now into his third book on sports history he lives in Mildura with his very considerate wife (Jenny ) and a groodle named "Chloe On Flinders". How good is that.


  1. Cat from the Country says

    I read Terry your story of VB and we both likef it

    We have, on a sunny day, visited the cemetery … and cried … at the loss and the enormity of the event.
    We dined at one cafe and admired the Australian-built school funded with pennies from Victorian school.children and the memorial opposite the school

    Peter Fitzsimons talks in his book, Victory at Villers- Brettnneaux, of the relationhip between Villers-Brettoneaux and the scool at Strathewan, Victoria which was burnt in those terrible bushfires.

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