The year is 1978 and, for the first time since 1966, France’s national squad have qualified for the World Cup finals. The tournament is to be held in Argentina which two years previously suffered a military coup, when Isabel Perón’s government was toppled. Argentine army senior commander Jorge Rafael Videla has since installed a merciless dictatorial regime.
|Hidalgo in 1978, source: INA.|
In a TV news report broadcast that night, Hidalgo recounted: “[One of the two strangers] pointed a gun at me and ordered me to go with him into the small wood 50 metres away. Meanwhile the other person took my place in the driver’s seat of my car next to my wife. But I made a move once we had walked 15 or 20 metres, because I could feel the barrel of the gun in my back and I sensed I didn’t have long to live. My reflex was to turn and grab the barrel of the revolver, which fell to the ground. I managed to grab it first, at which point he ran away. The two strangers got back into their car and fled.” Only a few words had been exchanged throughout the ordeal: Hidalgo had asked what they wanted of him and the only response had been “On va faire un tour dans le bois” (“I’m taking you for a walk in the woods”).
Hidalgo headed straight to the nearest police station and lodged an official complaint. The police examined the gun and noted it wasn’t loaded. The football coach was understandably shaken though and considered throwing in the towel: “In these circumstances you wonder what sport has got to do with it all. I especially thought about my family and decided there was no point in going [to Argentina].” However, he quickly overcame this initial reaction and “sport won out. I’ll soon be back with the players and we need to pursue our pacifistic actions that bring people together rather than driving them apart”.
|This may or may not be where the attempted kidnap took place, on the D18 road out of Saint-Savin. At the time, this would have been the most logical route for Bordeaux.|
It is unclear whether charges were ever pressed against anyone. It rather looks as if the case was dropped with on-the-pitch action taking precedence. But France’s World Cup campaign was short-lived: they were knocked out at the group stage after defeats to Italy and eventual winners Argentina. France went out on a minor high though, beating Hungary 3-1 in a match best-remembered for the unusual green and white stripes the French wore – there had been a mix-up and both teams had turned up at the stadium with white shirts. France had to requisition a local team’s strip!
|France's promising 1978 squad (source: Vintage Football Club) and the team's infamous green and white striped shirts versus Hungary! (source: Poteaux Carrés).|
|A recent shot of Hidalgo |
(source: France Soir).