It was on a modest pitch in a northern Paris suburb where the six-year-old Kylian Mbappé began to shine. Long before he became a star of the World Cup-winning France team last year, his talent and renown grew at the Stade Léo Lagrange in the banlieue – suburb – of Bondy, which now, thanks to him, has a permanent place in French football history.
Today, on an overcast June afternoon, the pitch at Léo Lagrange is filled with the shouts of girls, 130 of them, many with the name of Bondy’s favourite son emblazoned across their backs. They are competing in a tournament – an all-out battle of the banlieues – to mark the start of the Women’s World Cup.
It may be a casual contest but the competition is fierce, the pace blistering and the talent plain to see.
In the first match the girls from Mbappé’s first club, AS Bondy, face off against a team from the nearby Clichy-sous-Bois. It goes to a penalty shootout. Bondy’s captain steps up confidently to take her shot but the ball goes straight into the keeper’s hands. When her counterpart then slots it past Bondy’s keeper, a group of girls on the sidelines in Clichy tracksuits let loose yells of joy.
“Clichy, Clichy, Clichy,” they chant, streaming across the pitch to embrace their players, just as two nights earlier the France captain, Amandine Henry, had sprinted across the Parc des Princes to celebrate with the bench having put the home side 4-0 up against South Korea in the World Cup’s opening match.