The 1980s were great for flamboyant goalkeepers. The spaghetti-legged Grobbelaar of Liverpool, the outrageous Harald Schumacher of Germany, and then there was Joël Bats of France. I recently came within 10 metres of the great man, thus answering a question I could had never previously asked: Whatever happened to Joël Bats?
What? You don’t know Joël Bats? As a kid growing up in the ‘80s, France were my favourite team. Built around the mercurial Michel Platini, the 1984 European Champions were also unlucky not to reach the World Cup finals of 1982 and 1986.
Like their contemporaries Brazil, the French team of the 1980s vie for the title of ‘Best Team Never to Have Won the World Cup’.
When I completed the Panini Mexico ’86 sticker album it was France I wanted to complete first. I’ve still got it somewhere and am very proud of my ten year-old self, although I had to send off for Mark Wright (Eng) and Jorge Burruchaga (Arg). I still believe that was the best World Cup ever.
France were pure class from the back to the front. Giresse, Fernandez, Battiston, Tigana, Rocheteau… Busy keeping the ball out of the net was Joël Bats, his huge black perm flopping over his yellow Adidas jersey. Although he did spill Andreas Brehme’s free kick in the Mexico ’86 semi-final, leading to a 2-0 win for West Germany.
Face-to-face with Joël Bats…almost
I went to OGC Nice v Olympique Lyonnais (OL) recently and, typically when abroad, I arrived way too early. Early enough to watch the ‘keepers warming up. Accompanying the Lyon ‘keepers with the obligatory drills was a grey-haired man who did not look entirely dissimilar to Billy Connelly from a distance.
I took a picture for my own entertainment to show my friends and say; “Look, OL’s goalkeeping coach looks a bit like Billy Connelly”, and then from behind me I overheard two locals talking. “C’est Joël Bats.”
A quick Wikipedia check later that evening on hotel Wifi confirmed it: 57 year-old Joël Bats has been goalkeeping coach at OL since 2004. While Bats retired to the bench, I settled in to watch a mediocre match in the French Ligue 1 – otherwise known as 22 men who are yet to sign for Arsenal.
Let’s recall the commentator’s dream. That time in Mexico ’86 when Rats beat Bats. Vassily Rats of the USSR, that is. And what a goal that was.