“If Corsica built me, the North made me become a man”, tells Lensois goalkeeper Jean-Louis Leca

T-shirt, shorts and slides. It is in casual clothes that Jean-Louis Leca came to tell his story in the armchairs of the Gaillette training center, the RC Lens training center. Amazing second in Ligue 1 despite the defeat in Montpellier on Sunday, the Sang et Or goalkeeper did not come to talk about the start of the Racing season. At 36, Leca, who spent his career between Corsica and Hauts-de-France, came to talk to 20 minutes of its island identity and its similarities with northern culture.

You were born and played in Corsica but you spent the rest of your career in the North (Valenciennes and Lens). What did this region bring you?

The North is very similar to Corsica. Don’t be afraid to say it, but these are the two poorest regions in France. And then there are a lot of values, a lot of mutual aid between people. People love their land there, are proud of their origins, they have a real identity. For example, when I arrived in the North, my neighbors came to see me to find out if I needed anything. It is indicative of the closeness between people. This is good because today, we are in a society where all that is being lost. Everyone thinks only of his face. But in Corsica or in the North, when we are in trouble, we come to help you. It suits me and that’s why I am very fulfilled in Lens.

What do you like about the North?

When I go to a new city, I acclimatize and adapt. I always try to understand the city where I live through its history. In 2018, when I arrived in Lens, Philippe Montanier (Racing coach at the time) took the team to the Lewarde mining museum. I had found it fascinating. Subsequently, I took my wife and my children there because I found it important. When we’re on the highway and my kids ask me, “Daddy, what’s that mountain of dirt?” Well, I can explain to them what a slag heap is, what was mined. For example, I was given a gaillette (a large piece of coal). I was also able to explain to them what it was. I’m proud to be where I am and happy to get used to it.

The mining museum, in Lewarde, in the North. – M.Libert / 20 Minutes

Have you visited other museums in the North?

Yes, I also went to the Louvre-Lens with my family. The goal was to make them understand once again where we lived. It brings an open mind to my children. When you live far from Corsica and arrive in another region, it is important to know where you are, why you are there and what are the right attitudes to have.

What are the right attitudes to have in your opinion?

It is to be interested in the history of a city, of a region because there are people who have families and ancestors who fought to preserve all that. For example, I went to the Vimy site where there was one of the biggest bombings of the First World War. It is also the place that marked me the most in the region. When you get there, you feel the weight of history. It was heavy with this great monument and all these names attached to it. It is really impressive.

The Vimy Memorial in Pas-de-Calais
The Vimy Memorial in Pas-de-Calais – Adrian Wyld / AP / SIPA

What has this region brought you personally?

If Corsica built me, the North made me become a man. This region made me aware of the important things in life. The first time I arrived here (in Valenciennes in 2004), I had never lived alone, my wife was pregnant and we did not have an apartment. It was there that I realized that I was no longer going to play football but to exercise my work to feed my family. The North made me grow and opened my mind to many things.

During the first lockdown, you paid tribute to the people of the region by taking over the Corons on guitar with your daughter. How did you get the idea?

During confinement, we had fun challenging ourselves. One day, I’m having fun with my daughter and we start singing the Corons. We film ourselves and I send the video to Hugo (the club’s press officer) who finds it great and asks me if he can post it on social networks. At first, I was a little reluctant because I wanted to protect my children from social networks. So, I remade the video by filming my daughter from behind. I didn’t think it was going to make such a buzz. But to give people a little happiness in this difficult time, I thought it was cool for everyone. Besides, I also made another video for Bastia where I took up a Corsican song. It made me happy to give my loved ones a little balm.

Lens and Bastia are two emblematic clubs with audiences of enthusiasts. If you had to compare them, what would you say?

Furiani is the same as Bollaert but with 20,000 people instead of 35,000. When you walk around town in Bastia, it’s like when you walk around town in Lens. People come to see you and the fervor is the same in both cities. These are people who live for their club, who are passionate and who can also invade the field when things are not going well (smile). There are a lot of similarities between the two clubs. They are very family clubs. When you arrive, we come to you. RC Lens is one of the most emblematic and popular clubs in France and where you want to go and play. If Bastia is a little less emblematic in France, it is a popular club where people also want to go. It really represents something.

How would you define your Corsican culture?

Every time the plane arrives and lands on the tarmac, I feel a climb. When I step out of the plane and start to smell this peculiar smell without pollution. When I walk around and see the mountain on the right and the sea on the left. When I go up to the village and hear the ringing of the bells of cows, sheep or goats. When I hear music from home with touching and moving lyrics. All this takes me to the guts and to the heart. I am proud of what I am and I claim it because we are a people who have been colonized several times and have defended themselves constantly. It is rooted in our education not to let it go. So sometimes it’s overwhelming, even if we try to channel it all with age.

History is very present on the island of beauty …

It’s not something you learn, you grow up with it. It’s in you. It’s in my personality, the education I was given, the way I built myself. In Corsica, we grow up with the names of historical personalities like Pascal Paoli or Napoleon. We know that these are important people who fought for us to be free. Closer to us, I also have a lot of respect for Edmond Simeoni (died in 2018) who fought to ensure that our coasts are protected from concrete. They didn’t want to do anything and thanks to people like him, we can say that Corsica is the most beautiful island in the world.

You grew up in Furiani, where the biggest disaster in French football occurred in 1992. How did you experience this drama?

I was 7 years old and at that time I went to see all the matches at the stadium with my father. The Sunday before this famous match, I come home from the beach with my father. We pass in front of the stadium and the stand was being set up. We stop in front of Furiani and Jo Bonavita, a historic leader of Bastia, calls out to my father: “François, go up and look at the platform”. My father goes up and from there, he says that he will not go to this North stand for the match and that he prefers to go to the West stand. He also adds that he will not take his children. As much to tell you that I cried all the tears of my body. And on the night of the game, it was my uncle who kept us at home.

On May 5, 1992, before the semi-final of the Coupe de France Bastia-Marseille, a provisional stand at the Furiani stadium collapsed.  Assessment: 18 dead and 2,357 injured
On May 5, 1992, before the semi-final of the Coupe de France Bastia-Marseille, a provisional stand at the Furiani stadium collapsed. Assessment: 18 dead and 2,357 injured – SIPA

When I turn on the TV, I see a gentleman coming out of the stand who has fallen. You wonder what happened because my parents went to the game with my uncles and aunts. Fortunately, they didn’t fall and I wasn’t hit directly. But it is a striking fact which followed us and which still follows us because there are still people who are suffering. Some are disabled for life, others have lost family members. It’s an important date for the Corsicans because we never want to forget what happened. We live through it and we try to give our support to the May 5 collective, because it’s the biggest drama in French football and I sometimes have the impression that we don’t give a damn.

In many Corsican bars, you can see your photo, Corsican flag in your hand, one evening in 2014 when you celebrated the victory of Bastia in Nice causing an invasion of the ground. Looking back, are you proud of what you did that night?

It was a political act. People thought I was angry with the Nice club, but that was absolutely not the case. I resented this prefectural decree which prohibited any ostentatious sign, not with the effigy of Bastia, but with the effigy of Corsica. That’s what shocked me. I had found it racist or at least very awkward. So I made this gesture and I have no regrets. And if I had to do it again, I would do it again. I love my island, my land, my flag so much that if it is necessary to fight for it, I will fight for it. Afterwards, am I proud of it? When you come home and your children ask you what happened, you are not proud of having caused a land invasion. On the other hand, I am proud to have said what I really thought and too bad if it caused a media outcry at the time.

Jean-Louis Leca, the Bastia goalkeeper, entered the lawn with a Corsican flag at the end of the Nice-Bastia meeting (0-1), on October 18, 2014.
Jean-Louis Leca, the Bastia goalkeeper, entered the lawn with a Corsican flag at the end of the Nice-Bastia meeting (0-1), October 18, 2014. – JEAN CHRISTOPHE MAGNENET / AFP

On the other hand, history haunted you five years later in Lens …

One morning, the club secretary calls me to tell me that a bailiff is trying to reach me. I then call my brother, who manages my business and says, “Don’t worry, you don’t owe any money. It turns out, you even touched an inheritance ”. But in fact, not at all (laughs). After this Nice story, I had taken a two-game suspension but Bastia had wanted to bring the case to criminal justice because he found the sanction scandalous. Result, I take 1,500 euros fine in the first instance but the club decides to appeal again. Except that Bastia files for bankruptcy a few months later and I am going to Ajaccio. Years go by and the fine is increased several times during this time. In total, there was 4,000 euros. The bailiff then told me that I could still appeal. I replied “No, it’s okay, don’t send anything, I’ll write you a check right away”.

Do you feel French?

Yes, I have no problem with that. I know very well that the evolution of Corsica went through France. For example, I have no problem saying that I support the France team. I live these things very well.

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