(By Zack Wilson) The form of Catalan Dragons in the play-offs last year had been something to gladden the hearts of those rugby league people who want to see the game flourish.
Keen-eyed fans may also have seen footage of the team arriving home at Perpignan airport, where an enthusiastic crowd greeted them with songs and cheers.
Some may even have seen the stirring renditon of the Catalan anthem ‘Els Segadors’ (The Reapers), delivered by the Dragons’ pre-match singer Albert Bueno, along with the players, at the airport.
All good stuff, and a sign that the Dragons are finally becoming what many hoped that they would be: a competitive club capable of winning things.
France need to be strong for the sake of the international game. A strong Catalan Dragons, producing homegrown players and doing well in Super League, is worth so much to rugby league as a whole.
While it is hard for some traditionalists to accept foreign teams playing in a British competition, they need to understand that times change. We can never have a European Champions League or Heineken Cup type competition in rugby league without having to travel to to the other side of the world.
For that reason, teams who bring an element of international competition to our league should be encouraged.
Having a French team, especially one from a region/nation with such a strong sense of its own identity, is great for rugby league. The Dragons have an active supporters’ branch in North Wales, building on the similarities between the two nations of Catalonia and Wales.
It would be superb to see a similar level of achievement for a Welsh club in a few years’ time. This type of regional and national rivalry is what top sport thrives on.
Catalonia is also the true home of French rugby league. This was where the great Puig Aubert came from, as did Jean Galia, the man who, probably more than anyone else, was the force behind establishing rugby league in France.
It is also nice to see the French game growing, and finally beginning to recover from the blows dealt to it by the Vichy regime in the Second World War.
This miserable bunch of Nazi collaborators banned league, and confiscated all of its grounds and equipment, handing them to rugby union. No compensation was ever received by the French game for this.
Dragons victories would go a long way towards easing that hurt, and would give the Catalans something else to wave in the face of their rivals from north and south of the Pyrenees.
In the meantime, the Dragons reaching Old Trafford might also give us another chance to enjoy Albert Bueno and his rendition of ‘Els Segadors’ on the big stage again.
And that is something to be relished and treasured. Who knows, maybe one day we may see similar stories and songs springing up in Dublin, Limerick, Glasgow or even Milan.
The lyrics of the Catalan anthem, ‘Els Segadors’ become even more bloodthirsty in translation. This song concerns the uprising fought by the Catalans against the representatives of the Spanish elite in 1640. This is known as the ‘Bloody Corpus’ rising, and, although unsuccessful in the end, it is central to Catalan identity in France and Spain. The lyrics, standardised from the oral tradition in 1899, are reproduced here in English:
shall again be rich and bountiful.
Drive away these people,
Who are so conceited and so arrogant.
Strike with your sickle!
Strike with your sickle, defenders of the land!
Strike with your sickle!
Now is the time, reapers.
Now is the time to stand alert.
For when another June comes,
Let us sharpen our tools well.
May the enemy tremble,
upon seeing our symbol.
Just as we cut golden ears of wheat,
when the time calls we cut off chains