The fans gathered at French striker Kylian Mbappe’s first football club erupted in screams Sunday when their homegrown hero scored his team’s fourth and final goal on the way to World Cup glory.
‘Bondy has also secured its place in history thanks to him,’ said Mohamed Mouloudi, 21, amid a sea of French flags at the AS Bondy club on the outskirts of Paris.
The 19-year-old’s success is a fierce source of pride in the deprived and multi-racial estates or ‘banlieues’ on the edge of the capital where many of France’s players honed their game.
After his goal in the 65th minute, many in the crowd at AS Bondy were no longer even watching the match and began singing a tribute song using Mbappe’s name to the tune of the disco favourite ‘I Will Survive’.
‘I don’t know if you all realise, but Bondy has a world champion!’ the club’s president, Athmane Airouche, screamed into a loudspeaker, prompting the crowd to chant ‘Kylian, Kylian, Kylian!’
‘Five years ago, he was still here,’ says Airouche, who appeared barely able to believe it himself.
‘Thank you Kylian! Vive Kylian! Vive Bondy! Vive the Republic! Vive la France!’ he screamed, almost losing his voice.
Mbappe quickly made his mark at the club with his speed and shooting, and few were surprised when he won the young player award for the World Cup after Sunday’s victory.
The French forward has emerged as one of the stars of the Russia World Cup, winning plaudits on and off the pitch for his skills and maturity as a role model for a new generation of French fans.
Sunday saw him hailed by Pele and he also cemented his image as a fans’ favourite by giving a high five to one of the protesters who briefly invaded the pitch during the match, an image that quickly went viral on social
‘We goofed off together at school,’ said Yousseff, one of the hundreds of young people watching the match at the club.
‘We’d pass him the ball, he would zip between everyone and then, bam, he’d score, like in the movies,’ he said.
‘When he was still in the under 15s, the coach for the under 17s would already call him up for important matches.’
The success of the French squad, around two-thirds of whom are from immigrant backgrounds, looms large over the tower blocks that dominate the skyline of northeast Paris.
But the grim reality is that few make it out of the deprived urban centres, or ‘banlieues’, where poverty and discrimination have led President Emmanuel Macron to describe residents as being ‘under house arrest’.
After Mbappe was signed by Paris Saint-Germain last year his 50,000-strong hometown, which extends on either side of a motorway linking Paris to Charles de Gaulle airport, put up a giant banner reading ‘Bondy, the town where anything is possible.’
‘He has put a spotlight on the city, we’re prouder than ever!’ said Kader before bursting into song about the ‘Bondy champion.’
Several others praised Mbappe’s family, not least his father Wilfried, who has Cameroonian roots and was once a demanding coach at AS Bondy.
His mother Fayza, of Algerian origin, was a professional handball player.
AS Bondy is also credited with helping youngsters in the areas, including girls, by mixing football and education.
‘We had to bring our school marks, and if they weren’t good enough, you didn’t play that weekend,’ said Yousseff of the club’s approach.
That policy is still enforced, said Airouche, the club’s president: ‘If you’re not good in school, you don’t play.’