We buried Lou Gautier last week. He died peacefully on the morning of July 14. A few hours earlier France, the country of Lou’s heritage and birth right, won the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in a tense final against Uruguay, after a penalty shootout. It was Bastille Day, France’s national day.
I do not know if Lou even watched the game in the chilly early hours of that morning, let alone if it was the stress of it that finally took him away. Maybe it was. And if it was, it would have been an appropriate la cause du décés.
Lucien, as I chose to call him, was one of Australia’s most important football journalists, spending 46 years doing it before he retired in 2004. He was, moreover, a football - or “soccer” - man in the most old-fashioned Australian sense: an immigrant with football stuffed in his suitcase and with a missionary instinct for propagating the virtues of the beautiful game.
Lucien was not born into a natural football family or environment. The second son of a roving business executive, he was born in 1936 in Wuhan, China, eventually being sent to boarding school in France as his father shuffled his postings from one continent to the next. It was in France where his love for football developed; his brother, Andre, recalling how Lucien would spend all his down time writing out team line-ups and stats of French league games.
By the mid-1950s, football’s conquest over him was complete, as he watched the 1954 FIFA World Cup – the first to be televised live – in all its attacking glory, producing an average of more than four goals per game. Then the Gautier family migrated to Australia with Lucien in his late teens. He dabbled in a number of jobs, including one as a wool quality estimator, before the opportunity of his dreams arrived.
The Hungarian expat, Marcell Nagy, now living in Sydney and at one time president of the Hungarian FA, decided to start a weekly football newspaper called Soccer World. He modelled the publication on the Hungarian sports daily, Nemzeti Sport, founded in 1903 and still going today. Just like Nemzeti Sport, Nagy’s bold experiment was printed on green newsprint, hence the nickname “the Green Paper” which was quickly taken up by the game’s fans.
Somehow, being in the right place at the right time, Lucien scored a gig as a contributor and not too long after became the paper’s editor, answering to its editor-in-chief, Andrew Dettre, another Hungarian expat (who wrote under the pseudonym of Paul Dean).
The Dettre/Gautier pairing was a brilliant partnership. Though both were immigrants, each was a master of the English language and could have taught a thing or two to native Australians about English usage and grammar. And they were multilingual, between them commanding a number of languages, among them French, German and even Russian (the native tongue of Lucien’s mother).
At a time when the internet was still three decades into the future, and Australian media coverage of the world game was barren, their source of international news were publications like L’Equipe, France Football, Kicker, Gazzetta Dello Sport and Nemzeti Sport (then called Népsport), air-mailed into Soccer World’s Marrickville offices.
The re-writes were mostly done by Lucien, the paper’s only full-time employee. Both men were rabidly and congenitally “European”, with a deep understanding of football and what it was about the game that drew affection and passion from the fans and their readers. Their coverage of the local game was superb, unparalleled even today, including on the internet. Team line-ups were published in formation, both in review and preview. There were performance ratings labelled to each player, impeccable match reports filed by stringers whose remuneration added up to a press pass, breaking news on transfers (like the time Apia made an offer to rugby league icon Reg Gasnier to become its goalkeeper), and in-depth profiles of the stars, like the “Little Professor”, Leo Baumgartner.
From the inception of the Green Paper, in 1958 when I was 13, it was my bible and only source of information and nourishment in my insatiable hunger to absorb what I could about football. I counted the days and the minutes to each Thursday when it hit the streets. This went on for 24 years when the paper finally folded.
I owe Lucien Gautier and Andrew Dettre (who, now in his 80s, is very much with us) an awful lot. My so-called knowledge of football, which was the platform for my career at SBS, would not be without what I learned from the Green Paper.
Indeed my first ever published article, in 1971, appeared in Soccer World, an unpaid, short opinion piece I sent to Lucien, trembling in hope that it would be published. It was. Later, when I was living in England, I wrote to Lucien offering to contribute in return for a press pass. He sent me a letter of authority, appointing me European Editor of the paper.
Lucien, after spending some years in the United States working for a publication called Soccer Corner, returned to Australia in 1988 and, as his luck would have it, found himself in the right place at the right time again and got a gig at SBS as a football researcher.
His immense knowledge of football, not to say his all-round learned demeanour and his capacity for cutting humour, never left him. He was loved by his colleagues and when he retired in 2004, he was applauded out of the SBS building with a standing guard of honour, tears rolling down his cheeks.
Lucien Gautier is survived by his brother Andre, sister-in-law Dobby and niece Chantal. He was 77.
And he is survived by us, the football family and the game, who would now be poorer had he not been among us.
Repose en paix, mon ami. Rest in peace my friend.
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