EURO cult heroes: Joël Bats, 1984

Meet the enigmatic France keeper who disappeared for a fishing trip on the eve of France's glorious 1984 final.

Joël Bats lines up with France at the EURO '84 finals
Joël Bats lines up with France at the EURO '84 finals ©Getty Images

On the eve of the 1984 UEFA European Championship final, Joël Bats was nowhere to be seen at France's team base. One of the more enigmatic players to have represented Les Bleus down the years, the goalkeeper with the extravagant bouffant had suddenly felt an urge to unwind.

"I went fishing with Philippe Bergeroo and Bruno Bellone, with a rod we'd made ourselves," he explained years later. "We actually hooked a carp from the little pond at the monastery where we were staying and got an earful afterwards, but we had a good laugh about it."

1984 highlights: France 3-2 Portugal
1984 highlights: France 3-2 Portugal

Battling disease

For Bats, it was another example of how he prefers to do things differently – and with good reason. First brought through the ranks at Sochaux, he began to catch the eye after joining Auxerre in 1980 yet was diagnosed with testicular cancer two years later, a frightening episode that brought him face to face with his own mortality. "I spent hours thinking about life," he said, having found solace in writing poetry during those dark days. "Honestly, I went through a bad time, but I survived."

He made his international debut in September 1983 and, despite conceding three goals in a 3-1 loss to Denmark, his arrival marked the dawn of a new era. If France had been searching in vain for a regular No1, Bats would become their first keeper to rack up 50 caps, helped by his performances as the hosts secured their first European title in 1984.

Joël Bats makes a save in the 1984 final
Joël Bats makes a save in the 1984 final©Getty Images

Tying down his spot

"Before we played Belgium [in the group stage], their coach [Guy Thys] said France have one weakness – they don't have a goalkeeper," he recalled. "We'd gone nine games without conceding! Thanks to the confidence people had in me, we were able to remove the stigma around the position."

Thys was left eating his words after France prevailed 5-0 in that group match, but it was in the semi-finals that Bats truly shone, making a pair of superb saves in a 3-2 extra-time triumph over Portugal – before Michel Hidalgo's men beat Spain 2-0 to lift the trophy. Two years later, Bats was at it again, keeping out spot kicks from Brazil's Zico and Sócrates during the FIFA World Cup quarter-finals as Les Bleus closed in on a third-place finish.

Making music

Bats mentored current France keeper Hugo Lloris at Lyon
Bats mentored current France keeper Hugo Lloris at LyonIcon Sport via Getty Images

By then wearing the gloves of Paris Saint-Germain, Bats left another searing impression in 1986. Putting his poetry to music, he released an album, Gardien de tes Nuits (Keeper of your Nights), and made memorable television appearances to belt out tunes including the children's song L'Escargot (the Snail) and plaintive ballad Soli Solitude.

As for the day job, Bats collected his 50th and final cap in 1989 before retiring in 1992 and beginning yet another career – in coaching. After graduating from goalkeeping coach to assistant coach and then joint manager at Paris, helping them to the 1997 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup final in that last capacity, he briefly held the reins at Châteauroux. More recently, he worked as Lyon's goalkeeping coach from 2000 to 2017 before accepting a post at Montreal Impact, all the while maintaining his wild curls and sideways take on life.

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