Our History is Our Identity

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Marseille 1 v 2 PSG (07.02.16)

Growing up in the late 80s and early 90s foreign football was well and truly foreign back then. It was long before the luxurious days of internet technology and the instant connectivity of social media that we enjoy today. Whilst this may be difficult for the younger reader to comprehend, believe it or not there was very limited exposure to football on the continent back then. Can you imagine that now?

The global game is only ever a few clicks away, whether that be live match updates, ‘vines’ of a stunning goals or mesmerising pieces of skill, fan and stadium photos from all over the world, and god forbid, football clubs updating you directly themselves on all the latest news. All this and more and that’s just on Twitter and Instagram!

If this ‘football at your fingertips’ scenario had been posed to me back in the ‘80’s as ‘the future of football media’ it would have seemed unimaginable, and perhaps just as far fetched as the ‘touchscreen technology’ portrayed in the film Minority Report in 2002, only for Ipads to reach us 8 years later!

Back in the 80’s though I fondly recall my eagerly awaited anticipation of Saturday mornings and a 10 minute European football round up on Channel 4s multi-sport show ‘Transworld Sport’. You had to get up early to see it, and I doubt today’s take it for granted tech savvy teenagers would have had the commitment for it! No sky plus in those days, and that 10 minute window was as good as it got back then! They say patience is a virtue, and that seven day wait to see something other than Match of the Day or Saint & Greavsie was like TV gold for me.

There used to be a regular French football round up on Transworld Sport, and although this is just my personal recollection, the football always seemed more exciting, the kits more flamboyant and the stadiums very different! Those weekly highlights were captivating, and provided me with my first ‘visual’ encounter of Olympique Marseille.

IMG_5506Those first Saturday morning encounters coincided with a golden period in Marseille’s history and it was around about the same time that Chris Waddle signed for L’OM from Spurs in 1989. Although the coverage was brief, players like Jean Pierre Papin and Abedi Pele seemed to be scoring screamers every week, and Chris Waddle’s latest batch of step overs left another defender on the seat of their pants. Marseille had a top kit back then too, remember that classic ‘Panasonic’ sponsored shirt? (see right). As the weeks went on other names started captivating my attention, players like Dejan Stojkovic, Jean Tigana, Basil Boli, Enzo Francescoli, Rudi Voller, and Marcel Desailly.

That golden period saw Marseille win five back to back Ligue 1 titles between 1988/89 and 1992/93. An incredible achievement for the club which was unfortunately later overshadowed by a match fixing and bribery scandal that involved their then president Bernard Tapie. There is much coverage of that scandal online, but in essence Bernard Tapie was accused of bribing SC Valenciennes to lose their league game against Marseille towards the end of the 92/93 season to enable Marseille to win the league title earlier, and allow them more time to focus on their Champions League final against AC Milan. The ensuing investigation led to Marseille’s 1992/93 league title being stripped away from the record books, and as further punishment the club were relegated to Ligue 2.

Prior to that scandal unfolding, Marseille had started to become a force on the European stage too. In the 1990/91 season L’OM reached the European Cup Final for the first time in their history, but narrowly lost out to Red Star Belgrade on penalties after a 0-0 draw at the Stadio San Nicola in Bari.

Red-Star-Belgrade-008Now, if ever there was a harsh reminder needed as to how much money has changed the modern game in the last 20 years or so then spare a thought for Red Star Belgrade, and then compare them with the football fashionista that is Paris St Germain today.

In 1991 PSG were only 20 years old and finding their way as a newly established football club. Red Star Belgrade on the other hand were an Eastern European footballing force, one with real tradition and pedigree in Yugoslav and Serbian football, and were non too shabby on the European stage too. Despite still being part of an elite group of only 22 football clubs to have won the European Cup in the competitions 61 year history, Red Star are now massively struggling to keep their head above water in a decaying domestic infrastructure which lacks investment, development and public interest beyond the Balkans itself.

You can forget luxurious TV deals, parachute payments or the prospect of large scale private investment coming any time soon in Serbia. The annual and ever expanding gulf in revenue compared to the European elite makes it increasingly difficult to bridge the gap and negotiate the Champions League qualifying hurdle each season. This combined with a crumbling domestic infrastructure and this former European great is fighting to maintain its very existence. A sad state of affairs, and a stark reminder as to just how much money has changed the game we love. The playing field is anything but level any more, and with such a gulf in resources between the mega rich clubs in Europe and those lucky few that regularly make it into the Champions League proper it will be a long time before Red Star can ‘compete’ on the European stage as they once used too.

Conversely, Paris St Germain were in the right place at the right time, or perhaps ‘from’ the right place at the right time! As the only top flight club in one of Europe’s most popular capital cities, you can understand the Qatari investment appeal. I suppose it was a no brainer. Arab wealth has now catapulted the club from mediocrity to almost galactico status. The football romantic in me would love to see some of that multi million pound investment ploughed into a less fashionable project, one of the former greats that just happen to herald from the poorer echelons of Eastern Europe perhaps?!

IMG_5504Anyway, I digress. That European Cup disappointment of ‘91 seemed to stand Marseille in good stead. Two seasons later in 92/93 they went on to win the inaugural UEFA Champions League – UEFA’s new version of Europe’s elite club competition. Negotiating 10 games en route to the final, Marseille collected theirs, and French football’s first European Cup trophy defeating favorites AC Milan 1-0 at Bayern Munich’s Olympiastadion.

Fast forward 20 years and many of those household names that fell off the tongue at Marseille in the 90’s have all but dried up. Household names that now seem to play for PSG!

Following Qatari investment in 2011 PSG have become what Marseille once were. The club has been well and truly catapulted onto the global stage, and in recent seasons they have constructed their very own team of Galacticos that now dominates French football. At the time of writing PSG are 22 points clear at the top of Ligue 1 and have just despatched of Chelsea to reach the last 8 of the Champions League. What about Marseille? Well they haven’t managed a single league home win since September 2015, a run stretching to a staggering 14 consecutive home games.

The PSG uprising is met with utter disdain on the Cote D’Azur. PSG are the “plastic” club, a club without history and tradition, and the club with bucket loads of cash that has bought their short term success. Marseille fans will tell you that ‘their’ club represents proper football, football for the working classes in a one club city whose supporter base reflects the social dynamics of its population. A football club with real tradition, built on a hotbed of passion and fanaticism that has become synonymous with the club’s loyal and most dedicated fans. This is their identity.

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‘Our history is our identity. And You? Purchased without a cash schedule’…

Marseille, like many European clubs have a number of fanatical ultras groups that loyally support the club. But rather unusually these groups take up residence in different parts of the stadium. As such the atmosphere in the Stade Velodrome on matchday can be quite unique. On my walk up to the stadium an hour or so before kick off the volume of noise that echoed around the ground and onto the streets outside brought goosebumps to my skin. Once inside the chanting reverberates around a visually stunning stadium. To the north end, the MTP Ultras (‘Marseille Trop Puissant’) occupy the ‘Tribune Patrice de Perretti’, such named after their former ‘capo’ who sadly passed away in 2000 aged just 28. To the south, two of the most famous ultras groups stand side by side. In the upper tier are the ‘South Winners’ group. Formed in 1987, they are  distinguishable by their orange banners and scarves.

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The South Winners Ultras Group (above)…

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The Commando Ultra’s ’84 (above)…

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The Marseille Trop Puissant ‘MTP’  Ultras (above)…

In the tier below the South Winners, stand the Commando’s ‘84, typified by the club’s classic white and light blue colours. Both groups unite on match days and have produced some visually spectacular choreographies since the new stadium opened in 2014. With such fervent support emanating from both ends of the ground the noise levels quickly crank up and it must be a unique experience for a footballer to play here. There is one particular chant that see’s all three ultras group combine in what can only be described as a tennis equivalent of a football chant! Click on the video link below.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bs6lOs4w0t4

It’s hard to believe that there are no top flight local derbies contested in France’s two largest cities. A situation that is comparatively unique to the rest of the continent. Marseille v PSG, known as ‘Le Classique’ (a moniker given from Spain’s El Classico) is viewed by many as French football’s biggest domestic encounter. No doubt fans of St Etienne and Lyon would have something to say about that! Nonetheless, ‘Le Classique’ has historical, cultural and social importance to those that religiously follow it. The game is symbolic of so much to so many. This is Capital v Provence, north v south, working class v upper class.

PSG’s recent new found wealth brings added spice for the rest of us that occasionally dip in and out of french football via BT Sport. To arm chair fans across the world the game now has a similar appeal to Spain’s El Classico, with PSG taking on the role of Real Madrid in French football’s most watched game.

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The lead up to game was dominated by Steven Fletcher (well, in England anyway!) and his surprise transfer deadline day move to L’OM. His “rest of the season” loan deal from Sunderland opened up a debut opportunity that must have left him pinching himself! The chance to pull on the famous L’OM shirt and play in front of the club’s fanatical fans was one thing, but to potentially experience ‘Le Classique’ in your first match must have made it a no brainer for the Scottish big man! No disrespect to Steven here, but I doubt it had the Galactico’s of PSG too concerned!

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The Commando Ultras 84 officially welcome Steven Fletcher to L’OM!…

The game got off to the worst possible start for Marseille, as Ibrahimovic tapped in a low Maxwell cross from close range to put PSG one up inside two minutes. With no away fans at the game the goal was met by an eery silence. Despite the early setback, Marseille settled into the game well and worked extremely hard off the ball to make life as difficult for PSG as possible. Former Chelsea midfielder Lassana Diarra was the heartbeat of the Marseille side and on this showing still looked a really class act as he dominated the midfield area for L’OM. Whilst Diarra was one of the game’s standout performers, Cabella produced the first half’s stand out moment. Collecting the ball just inside the PSG half, he skipped past one challenge and headed into PSG’s central midfield area. Evading a second challenge, Cabella unleashed a low drive from 25 yards that flew into the bottom left corner. Cue wild scenes inside the Stade Velodrome! The goal naturally gave Marseille added confidence, and they created a number of decent half chances, that on another day could have seen them take the lead. But unfortunately for Marseille their desperate run of poor home form continued as Angel Di Maria slotted home a low drive from 12 yards to secure the three points for PSG.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YAVBB27fF_A

Although PSG epitomise everything that is wrong about modern day football, a trip to Marseille however is well worth while, if only to experience the unique atmosphere of the Stade Velodrome and the passionate support of the MTP, South Winners and Commando’s ‘84 ultras groups. The fact the city lies on the Cote D’Azur and enjoys a warm Mediterranean climate is a real bonus!

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The newly refurbished Stade Velodrome is a sight to behold, and is one of the most unique new build stadiums in Europe. The stadium redesign acknowledges the ‘soul’ of the former ground by keeping those renowned, yet classic curved shaped stands at its core. The curvature of the stands transcends into the stadium roof too, and as you look upwards the impressive architecture surrounds you like a tidal wave. From the outside the stadium basically resembles a spaceship hovering above the ground!

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As it stands, Marseille are going through a real difficult patch and it will be a long while before the glory years of the 90’s return to the South of France. But regardless of that you can sense the city’s belonging to L’OM and just how much this club means to the diverse communities that this football club represents.

City Info:

Any city that is based on the coast gets a thumbs up from me! England fans travelling to France for Euro 2016 will enjoy visiting Marseille this summer, and the area around the ‘Vieux Port’ will no doubt be a natural gathering spot for fans. Set amongst the city’s marina, what better way to enjoy a pre match drink by the sea than watching Marseillais life pass you by as you grab a few rays of the Cote D’Azur sunshine!

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The Vieux Port area (minus the sunshine!) looking up to the Notre Dam Cathedral…

Those of you that like to have a wander round should definitely place a visit to the Notre Dam Cathedral on your list. Although it’s a steep climb from the city centre the views across the city and out to the Mediterranean are simply stunning. There are also superb views across to the Stade Velodrome from here too.

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Views across the city from the Notre Dam Cathedral (above and below)…

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Travel Info:

From the airport: Turn right outside the MP2 terminal and walk down to Halls 3-4 outside the other terminal building. Bus 91 (13 euros return, and tickets available at the bus station ticket kiosk just adjacent to the bus stop) will drop you at Gare St Charles Bus Station in central Marseille. From here you can pick up the metro lines, or walk down to the port area.

In the city: If you’re visiting Marseille specifically for football, you could do worse than stay in the ‘Joilette’ area of the city. 5 stops on Metro Line 2 (red line) to the Stade Velodrome, and a 10-15 minute walk down to Viuex Port makes Joilette an ideal base for your visit.

Getting around: A one day travelcard will set you back 5 euros and is valid on bus, metro and trams.

Getting to Stadium: Take Metro Line 2 (red line) to Pont do Prado. The stadium is 5 mins walk from here. Whilst the metro is great for getting to the stadium, it can take a while to access it after the game! The stadium is about 45 mins walk from the Vieux Port and with a range of cafe’s and bars a leisurely stroll back into town after the game might be your best bet.

Tickets: Log onto Marseille’s official club ticketing website and you can buy print at home tickets for all home games without the need for becoming a member or purchasing a pre-registered fan card.

The Marseille club shop (or superstore) is located right at the main entrance staircase to the stadium. On the opposite side of the road is the ‘Ultras Boutique’ where you can pick up a range of official and unofficial merchandise.

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By the way, I have never seen so many blokes attending a football match dressed in full club training tracksuits as I have in Marseille!…Not sure this will catch on in England!!

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