Tom May played for Toulon from 2009 to 2011 — here he gives the rundown on what is in store for Chris Ashton at the three-time European champions.
So what waits for Chris Ashton at Toulon? There will be early difficulties but plenty of thrills.
He divides opinion. Some say he should have stayed at Saracens and some see exactly why he’s moving on to Toulon. I’m in the latter party.
The spotlight is very different from the one he experiences now. For different reasons, it was the same with Jonny Wilkinson when he left Newcastle. It’s a relentless glare and sometimes it can be hard to live under.
(Photo by Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images)
Whatever the reason, he can’t get away from it and it’s tiring for players. He will be largely left alone in France. He will merge into the melting pot of galacticos that Toulon have and be able to get on with life — probably what he needs after the last couple of years. He will be able to breathe again and just be.
It will be a difficult move for him. Taking a young family to France will be tough. Simple things we take for granted when moving house takes forever to get sorted — internet, phone lines, TV etc. — and it can be excruciatingly frustrating to get your life in order.
My advice is just go with it even if it does bring you to tears at first. It takes ages to get most things done in France — even drinking an espresso — and no matter how hard you try, you won’t change it. If you buy into the way of life though, he’ll love it as much as I did. But fight it and he’ll be on the plane home from Nice sooner rather than later.
Learning any language is hard and getting started sooner rather than later is advisable for Chris. Mike Ford and Paul Stridgeon will offer familiar faces and mean the Wigan accent isn’t lost on the other players at the club and it will be some comfort to a new arrival. It will almost be a home away from home.
He will need to make an effort, that will be expected. The French don’t take it lightly should you not make an effort to speak their language and rightly so. It’s embarrassing when an Englishman expects everyone else to communicate in their tongue. Have a crack, everyone makes some howling errors which get some weird looks but that’s what it’s about.
Match day will be a completely different experience for him. Saracens are doing a good job at generating a growing crowd but Allianz Park is nothing compared to the sensational Stade Mayol.
Tom May on Toulon duty AFP PHOTO ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT
The stadium is packed to the rafters with Toulonnais fans, tossing the local newspaper in the air week in week out. It’s something he will love as a player, perhaps similar to the experience he would have had in the Super League. No doubt Ashton will be loved by the fans there but more importantly for me, he will love them and what they give to the whole experience.
Another piece of advice is: don’t forget the handshakes. Every day, on arrival at work, the players go round and shake everyone’s hand. It’s a superb way to show respect to those you see each day. You don’t forget anyone, that’s rude. Should you start speaking to them without having shaken hands and said hello, well look out! Even worse don’t forget that you have already shaken someone’s hand. You’ve had a shocker if you do. I only did it once and I didn’t do it again as it got a brutal response. It really didn’t go down very well.
Overall, it’s a great move, I don’t blame him. Clearly the money will have something to do with it and who would turn down the offer like that if it came along. If a big contract offer arrives at the age of 30 you’ve got to think about taking the opportunity, it might not come round again. The same happened to me. Perhaps not as many sacks of cash — no perhaps about it! – but it’s something you can’t turn down.
When you combine all of that with the truly memorable three years ahead of him, then he will be a happy man. He better make sure he doesn’t forget his Factor 50 though, that pale skin in the Mediterranean sun….
www.espn.co.uk – RUGBY