On Saturday November 13th, 2010 the soccer stadium in my hometown of Luchon (French Pyrenees) was named the Stade Jean Peyrafitte. Jean Peyrafitte is my father and today he is a dashing 88 years old. His political career lasted for a span of 24 years. Among many mandates the most significant are: mayor of the town of Luchon (1974-1995); Conseiller Général —county executive— (1977-1992) & Senator (1980-1998).
He was of course touched to be honored during his lifetime but the real thrill was to have the soccer field where he played as a young man named after him. Dad started his soccer career while he was in boarding school in Toulouse; during that time he finished second at the regional best young player contest and therefore was qualified to participate in the final in Paris. Unfortunately his mother, who was a control freak, didn’t allow him to go; her excuse was: “You are too young to go to Paris”, at that time parental authority was not challenged but I still can feel today how sad he was .
When he was done with school he came back to his hometown and integrated the lead soccer team (équipe première) despite his young age. In 1942 the team won the division championship and managed to play up to the 32th final of the Coupe de France — the French National Soccer Cup. After an intense and dramatic game they lost against Toulouse, a pro team. It was only in the last part of the second half that the then international player Mario Zatelli scored twice.
After being requisitioned for STO — that was the Compulsory Work Service during the German occupation of France — and spending a couple of dreadful years in German factories, my father got drafted in 1946 to serve in the army. His battalion was stationed in the town of Menton. There he got to join the town soccer team where he once again excelled. He got noticed by the Monaco managers. At that time the Monaco soccer team, very close to Menton, was trying to reach professional status. On Mondays during the soccer season they organized friendly games against professional teams in order to prepare for promotion. They needed better players and they invited my dad to play. At the end of the year they reached promotion to pro level and they offered dad to join the team for good. He seriously considered; he was done with the army, loved the area but once again his mother thwarted his dreams and pressured him to come home. Many times I heard the story of my grand father showing up in Menton to convince him to come back home. Dad was an only child, and they were able to pressure him by claiming they needed help with the family business; once again he obeyed and returned.
Other offers to play in professional clubs came, but he turned them all down, returned home for good and threw himself into many successful ventures. Before getting into politics, he coached the soccer team, created a night club —where I got to listen to great jazz!—, wrote for local newspapers, promoted Southern French Tourism and food, created an independent hotel chain with friends…well the list would be too long to name them all.
Anyhow, back to the naming of the stadium: Dad being concerned that his voice would not be strong enough since he is struggling with light bouts of Parkinsons that have an effect on his throat, and as he is also concerned with getting over-emotional, he asked me to read his speech. I also typed it for him and that was interesting. When I arrived at his house on Tuesday the dining room was cluttered with boxes, old files, envelopes filled with photos, articles and various dossiers. My mom said: “And that is only a small portion of what we have”! We sat down and started sorting and organizing. We kept all the soccer related documents at hand so dad could refresh his memory to write his speech. We only started typing the speech on Thursday, because we got caught up in looking and filing photos of his night club in the 50’s. I will have to do a separate post on that because there is way too much to say.
So on Thursday we sat side by side and he started dictating me what he wanted to say. I had to listen to many of my dads speeches over the years so I know his style pretty well. I helped trying to keep it concise and focused as he had about 5 minutes to respond to the mayor’s speech. It went pretty well despite how opinionated we both can be. One of the keys was to keep it only between the two of us. He wanted my mother around, for details and dates, but their constant fighting mode of communication would have been too much for me, so I agreed to go consult with mom every time we needed details. He worked on the speech everyday until Saturday. He is a perfectionist and completion comes when there is no more time for revision! Anyhow, everything turned out great. It was a very sweet moment, both my brothers where there too and in his speech my dad mentioned that his three children had played on that field. Pierre played goalie, he actually had a bit of a carrier in Paris, Jean-Louis played forward and I was part of the first woman’s team of the town! Dad also mention that his father Joseph Peyrafitte had been at the origin of the stadium. He had been a team manager when my dad played and in the thirties it was he who actually had facilitated the transfer of the stadium to this location and part of the land had been his at some point.
Below are many pictures of the moving ceremony with all of us. The ceremony was followed by a soccer game where the local team (now playing in a lower division) won 3-0. It looks like they felt inspired by the brillant history — may they begin their rise to a great future. To conclude as my dad did: Vive le Bagnères-Luchon Sport (the name of the team!) —Photo © Domy-Luchon