The sound of the final three whistles may have rang through the Luhzniki Stadium in Moscow, but all I heard in front of the Eiffel Tower was the crowd of a hundred thousand people belting La Marseillaise, lighting flares, and rejoicing in the shower from the Paris Fire Department. Even before the final whistle blew, chants were echoing through the Champs de Mars, where fans had been waiting for this moment for over seven hours in the massive crowd and brutal heat.
As soon as the game finished, French nationals and tourists from around the world flooded into the streets by the hundreds of thousands. Collective shouts of “Allez Les Bleus” could be heard from packs of speeding motorcycles, mobs of fans draped in the French tricolor, and Americans like myself attempting to fit in while enjoying the scenes.
As the street party made its way towards the Arc de Triomphe, I saw a bizarre collection of events. People standing on top of bus stops were leading the crowd in the ‘Skol’ chant, packs of people wheelie-ing on motorcycles and four-wheelers weaved through the crowds while honking, and a man wielding studio-size speakers created a dance party, all while keeping the procession moving.
Even more interesting was the police presence. In the midst of the national security nightmare that France was experiencing, coming off of Bastille Day into a celebration that saw one million rowdy fans descend on their streets, the excitement and significance of this moment was not lost on French police and armed forces. Fans ran up to take selfies with riot police, and many, myself included, gave and received high-fives from laughing soldiers that carried FAMAS rifles across their chests and packs of O-negative blood on their backs. The massive French flag hanging from the Arc billowed in the wind, and the smell of smoke from flares and the sound of car horns and fireworks filled the air.
The game may have ended at 7:00, but Paris showed no signs of slowing down. I enjoyed the celebrations for about three hours, and at 11:30 when I decided to go back towards the Arc after some rest the festivities were still going strong. The density of people had dwindled, but the intensity of the jubilee had only increased. Flares and Roman candles littered the streets, and impromptu fireworks shows seemed to start every five minutes. As the party got more rowdy, riot police moved to contain the celebration by means of shields and tear gas. After stumbling my way out of the gas and attempting to clear my eyes, I navigated by way back to my hostel, dodging ignited objects in the middle of the road and rambunctious Parisians.
Although my experience may have ended where the possibility of danger began, the rest of the city saw no reason to stop the party, and the experience was truly one that I will never forget. Horns, fireworks, and football chants rang throughout the night, as the City of Light welcomed home a new golden generation.