Joe Blogs: 'The money's good, but so is the weather, the rugby and the amazing crowds'
By Joe El Abd, 08 September 2009
No ordinary Joe: Toulon's
English flanker Joe El Abd
Toulon flanker, and former Bristol captain, Joe El Abd has joined FRC as a regular columnist - giving us the inside line on life down on the Cote d'Azur, what it's like to move from the Guinness Premiership to Top 14 and generally telling us how it is for a professional rugby player in the modern era. This week he talks about money - and why it's not just the pull of the Euro that's attracting Britain's players across the Channel.
Is money the only reason why so many British players have moved to play rugby in France’s Top 14 this season? Certainly if you read or listen to most of the British media that is impression you would get, but as one of those who has moved – from Bristol to Toulon – I can give you a more complete perspective on the reasons for crossing the Channel. While it is clearly a fact of life that money plays a part in most work related decisions, for most players money is only one of many factors that makes a move out to France hard to resist. Let me explain.
Firstly, I want to be truthful. The Top 14 pays well, especially when considering the current strength of the Euro against the Pound. However, disregarding this fact, it has always been a goal of mine (and I know for many other players too) to play out in France. Indeed, I began taking French lessons with my wife two years ago in the hope that my dream might one day become a reality. I have always been fascinated by the idea of moving abroad to earn my living and was inspired by the likes of footballers Steve McManaman, Michael Owen, Paul Ince and David Beckham, who all left England’s Premier League to ply their trade elsewhere in either Italy or Spain. I have always felt that succeeding abroad marks a player out with distinction, so having the opportunity to do this myself as a professional rugby player was an opportunity I felt I had to take.
Top 14 Table 2009/10 / Top 14 Transfers / Top 14 Fixtures 2009/10 / Toulon team page /
On a professional level I am sure you would all agree that challenging oneself in a new environment is one way to take your performance to another level. This has certainly been the case so far. Playing with different players, against different teams and receiving coaching from different perspectives certainly brings out the best in you as a player. One only needs to look at the revitalisation of players such as Andy Goode (now at Brive) to see that sometimes change can be for the better.
On the lifestyle front experiencing a new culture and language gives you life experiences you simply can’t achieve in most jobs. On this point alone I find it surprising that more players don’t want to seek out the challenge of playing abroad. Life down in the south of France is certainly more relaxing and I’m yet to find out the word for stress in the French language. I have always found that the foreign players in England seem to make the most out of what the country has to offer, always using their time off to visit areas in Britain I had never heard of. Well, now out in France it’s my turn and seeing what the Cote d’Azur has to offer has been fascinating so far.
Then there’s the weather. I hate to sound smug but so far I have been here nearly three months and it has rained for a grand total of about five minutes! I am now convinced that it is the climate of certain countries that allows them to produce the athletes they do, because things like staying behind after training to perform extras in the sun isn’t so much of a chore. There also haven’t been many occasions while playing in England that after a hill session (some things never change!) the team has been able to perform their recovery in the sea. No matter what country you’re in waking up and seeing the sun out the window brings a smile to your face.
The passion and fervour surrounding Toulon and the Top 14 is also something extraordinary. Rugby here in Toulon is akin to a religion. Supporting RCT is something to be proud of and as a player you are well aware of this fact. The atmosphere at the ground is something I have not experienced in club rugby before. Standing before match at the Stade Mayol listening to ‘Pilou-Pilou’ being shouted by the crowd gets the hairs standing on their ends. For those of you who don’t know ‘Pilou-Pilou’ is Toulon’s crowd version of the Haka. Take a look at this you tube clip to see what I mean ('Pilou Pilou'). Why wouldn’t a player want to experience playing in this atmosphere?
I’m going to stop there but I hope you would now agree that there is more to playing in France than just the money. All things considered when faced with the question why do I want to play in France, I think to myself why wouldn’t I!
Till next time…