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The importance of Ballon Sur Bitume

Interview with the director of the first street football culture documentary

The importance of Ballon Sur Bitume Interview with the director of the first street football culture documentary

Ballon sur Bitume (literally “ball on hardcore”) is the street football culture documentary shot by YARD – a Paris-based website about underground culture – on the urban playgrounds in the suburbs of Paris, like Sevran or Argenteuil. The documentary is 50 minutes long, and it deals with all the aspects of this culture: from the technical skills of playing, the rap music, the relation with mainstream brands and how this culture affects people from the hoods of Paris. There are also some special guests interviewed by Yard, pro players that started play in these playground like Riyad Mahrez (Leicester), Serge Aurier (PSG), Mehdi Benatia (Juventus), Ousmane Dembélé (Borussia Dortmund), Yacine Brahimi (Sporting Lisbona); rappers that have written songs about this culture MHD, Niska, Gradur, and three players from the french national futsal team: Adrien Gasmi, Landry N’gala, Kevin Ramirez.

Ballon sur Bitume was launched on Youtube for free on November 17 and it has already reached the 500k views. It is directed by Jesse Adang and Syrine Boulanouar, and we decided to have a little chat with Jesse about the doc and street football.
The thing that impressed me the most about the documentary is the complexity and the completeness of the Street Football culture. In your opinion when did all this start? I mean, when the street football culture became a system of value (music, style, attitude) for the kids of the hood?

I don’t think we can really put a stamp mark on the debut of this culture. However, we can see that it started to appear all over France and Europe at a time where immigrants who came to those cities to find a place to work and live but were moved to the suburbs. I try to remember what I saw on TV, radio and on magazines growing up and to me, the street football culture became valuable when Zinedine Zidane scored two goals at the 98’ World Cup Final in Saint Denis (Paris). Like the medias loved to say back then: «The Black-Blanc-Beur France» (black, white, and arabian France). Obviously, sportswear companies started to notice that people who lived in those suburbs were not rich, but they idolized their hometown heroes who happened to be footballers, actors or Hip Hop artists, so they spent money they didn’t have to look like them. Be a part of that success story. Next thing you know, adidas who is the sponsor of ZZ put a huge billboard on the top of a building with an image of ZZ looking at you in Marseille (where he grew up). That was it, according to me. I don’t want to make them look bad, but let’s just say it’s a win-win situation.


It seems to me that this kind of street culture is much more similar to the American street basket culture rather than the South American street football. Things like trash talking, style and the hate for the defeat that are essential both in basket and the street football culture instead the culture of South America is a little more naif and focused on the get-away from the ghetto. What do you think about this?

Either ways, you try to make it out of your environment. I’d say that this street culture is a mix between the US street basket culture and the South American street football. You have a lot of naive young players who just play for the love of the game and whenever someone tell them they’re very gifted, they don’t realize it. Some of them are very driven and they know what they want to do in the future, each step, they make sure do whatever it takes. You’ll be surprised to see how many pure talents there is in those hoods playing just for fun. Some would say it’s a waste, but to them, playing with their friends without any rules is all they want. Nothing more, nothing less.


As the doc states, a big role for the development of the street football was played by the physical construction of the playgrounds - both for the football level and the social life of the youngest -, the pitches have become “the heart of the hood”. In Bangkok a lot of irregular urban pitches have been built following this philosophy. Do you think that city planning and architects will have an increasing role in the next future in order to solve the problems of the hoods?

I understand your point and what you are trying to say, but I’ll be more cautious about putting all our faith into better sports facilities. Solving problems in the hoods will only succeed if the educational system is more developed and if job opportunities are available for people living in those hoods. That’s what we tried to show in the documentary, and I’d like to repeat that: to all the young kids loving playing football, basketball or rap…PLEASE, do not forget school. Your education will be your safety net if your plans don’t go well.


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Adrien Gasmi (French international player of futsal) plays with a 19 on his shirt, the number of his building in his hood; Serge Aurier celebrated the title of PSG with a shirt for Sevran, his hood. You think that street football is changing the relationship between the pros and their backstories? It seems that they are way prouder of their origins than during the 80’s and the 90’s, isn’t it?

That’s a fact! This generation lives without any complex. They don’t try to fit into some image, they don’t pretend to be perfect, this generation is true to its core and that’s the difference between them and the previous generation. Plus, it makes a better success story for those players who reach a certain level. You can’t deny that. Ask a kid around, they won’t tell you that Christophe Dugarry or Marcel Dessally are their inspirations. They’ll say Riyad Mahrez or Serge Aurier, because when you see them or hear them talk, you know where they come from. It’s not that they are rejecting the French culture but you know, they can feel ostracized during their lives. So, their hood is their country, they’re very proud of where they live.


In the doc it’s said that the best street players are in Paris; but also Belgian and Dutch are skilled mainly because of their multicultural society. In which way you think that different cultures affect the styles on the pitch?

You know, I’ve been lucky enough to travel the world. One thing I noticed through all the cultures I saw is that adding something is always better to get rid of something. On the pitch, it started maybe 5 decades ago, French people were living in their hood and next thing you know, a family from Portugal come and live the door next to you. Your children play together, maybe they don’t speak the same language but guess what? Football is a universal language. So they play, one kid teaches the other something he used to do back home. Then a family from Algeria, then a Senegalese one…
This melting pot made street football what it is today.


Talking about style - an important part of street football culture - you think that big brands like Nike or adidas are taking inspiration from the street football? One example could be the training suits that are becoming tighter and tighter.

I’ll be lying if I said the contrary. I really think those brands saw the potential in this culture way before we did. They’d be stupid to not capitalize on it and I don’t blame them. They know our taste, we know they’ll do something we’ll like. Again, it’s a win-win situation.


French rap is getting bigger and bigger, and they are bringing in a lot of elements from the football culture - I’m thinking about the PNL for example. How do you think this can help the spread of football culture?

French rap is getting bigger on an international scale but it has been number #2 rap-wise in terms of sales for a long time, maybe since the beginning of this culture. Before PNL who talk about football players, Doc Gyneco did it back in the 90’s. This again, shows how tights are the relations between rap and football. You see Pogba or Dybala dabbing and half of the world watching them doing this move don’t know what it means. It comes from Hip Hop. The same with Griezmann, I heard a lot of false thing about his goal celebrations and that's laughable…don’t you know Drake and his Hotline Bling song? They are a lot of other examples I could name but it shows that Hip Hop is impacting the world way more than you can imagine.
My question is, do you think PNL is bringing in elements from the football culture or is it the other way around? You’ll have to ask this question to yourself. I know the answer ahah.


The aspect that fascinates me the most about the street sport culture is the storytelling. Legends from the hoods that never got pro, wonder kids that promise to become the next Messi. In the past years most of them were fables, powered by the word of mouths, nowadays we have Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and all the other socials. How do you think the new technologies have changed the street storytelling?

We don’t need to wait on a TV reporter or a TV channel to broadcast what we do: Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat are our medias! Internet is our media! Everything is faster and easier. But, you’ll never change the street mentality which is to tell stories from mouth to ear. We love to count stories, legends, we love to share those things. This is something we need to keep dreaming. Of course, it is easier now to help a kid who has a certain talent by recording him play and just send the videos to the clubs, or the scouts.


Between all the players from the Parisiens hoods that went pro, which one is your favorite and which one has the most ghetto style of playing?

My favorite is Hatem Ben Arfa since the documentary «À la Clairefontaine», I was his age and I saw him evolve since then. Now he plays for the PSG, so, it’s only right. Hatem, according to me, has this ghetto style when he plays. You see that he just improvise when he touches the ball but he has to take decisions in a fraction of seconds. Some people say he’s lazy, but that’s not laziness, that’s someone who knows his qualities. Some people train hard but they only have skills, talents. Hatem has a gift. What he has cannot be teached in football academies, you’ll have to learn them the hard way and the best way there is: sur le bitume. I think Kylian Mbappé is the next big thing. People say he plays like Thierry Henry (who was also from the hoods) and has a lot of potential. I agree with them. The way he touches the ball…that’s poetry.