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Football News: Rivalries 1: PSG V Marseille

Rivalries 1: PSG V Marseille
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Rivalries No 1 - Paris Saint Germain And Olympique Marseille


The rivalry between PSG and Marseille is a relatively new phenomenon, with the Parisian side, as we know them today, only emerging in 1970, when Paris Football Club was merged with Stade Saint-Germain to create a Paris-based side capable of competing in Ligue 1. Marseille, on the other hand, has been around a long time and has an illustrious history and was the most successful club in France, with the largest fanbase, prior to PSG's emergence. Since then, this game has gone on to become France's most violent football rivalry.

It is little wonder it has developed into such a major rivalry as they are the two largest cities in France, it is capital versus province and north against south. Even the perceived identities of the two cities is opposed, with Paris seen as the home of a snobbish, elitist mass, the burgeoisie, while Marseille is considered as working class and left wing.

France is the most centralised country in Europe, with over 30% of France's GDP coming from the Paris region, so it is little wonder that those from a city like Marseille, which has falled into neglect since decolonisation reduced the once busiest port in Europe into a city wracked with poverty, an estimated quarter of its population being below the poverty line, were envious. While in recent years efforts have been made to regenerate Marseille, the divide has long since become entrenched between it and Paris.

The first meeting was in 1971, with Marseille winning 4-2, though the game meant very little as Marseille were the biggest, most successful club in France, with Bordeaux and Saint-Etienne as their perceived rivals. PSG were just a minor irritant at this stage. It was in the mid-1980s that the Parisiens rose up to become a genuine rival, winning their first league title under Gerrard Houllier in 1986, though the bitterness was not yet there, the two now were seen as genuinely in opposition now.

Bernard Tapie, a Parisian by birth, was elected president of Marseille at this time and he first worked to return Marseille to the top, which he succeeded in doing, though his methods were unorthodox and often illegal. At the same time the two clubs began to ramp up the rivalry between them, with PSG now genuinely seen as a big club, and their large following growing, violent confrontations were becoming commonplace amongst the fanbases.

The rivalry was stirred up constantly, such as when the new head coach of PSG, Artur Jorge, announced in December 1992 that they would "walk all over" Marseille. Then PSG player David Ginola promised "war". Tapie cut out the newspaper articles and pinned them to the dressing room wall to motivate the L'OM players, who went out and beat PSG 1-0. Though there are doubts about the result and whether Tapie went further than simply attaching press clippings to the wall, as the referee Michel Girard is claimed to have made 55 mistakes that night, including not handing out 5 potential red cards.

In 1993 Marseille beat AC Milan to win the UEFA Champions League before returning to face PSG just 3 days later. Marseille were leading in Ligue 1, while the Parisiens were second. Despite PSG taking an early lead Marseille ran out 3-1 winners and won the league only for a match-fixing scandal to engulf the club. Marseille were stripped of the title and relegated as a punishment. PSG, who had just been bought by the TV company Canal+, rejected the offer of the league title or Marseille's place in the Champions League as Canal+ feared that Marseille fans would cancel their TV subscriptions if they accepted them!

The fall out from the relegation of Marseille and Canal+ coming in and spending big was huge anyway. Both Canal+ and, particularly, Tapie promoted the rivalry in an extremely confrontational way, heightening tensions between the two sets of supporters to almost unbearable levels. He would make comments about how their real rivals were Red Star, the other main Paris club. In 1995, with Marseille still in the second tier, the clubs met in the French Cup semi final and the rivalry spilt over into violent scenes, almost full on riots, as 146 fans were arrested and 9 policemen hospitalised in clashes. PSG won the domestic treble with a side which included David Ginola, the great George Weah and Rai.

The following season Marseille won a return to Ligue 1, and the league games between the two resumed their bitterness. It gradually got more nasty until in 2000 a Marseille fan was hit by a seat thrown from a PSG section and was paralysed for life. Even that has not made the fans see sense. Even fan favourite players would suffer if they chose to move between the two, as Frederic Dehu found out during the 2004 French Cup final. Dehu was set to move to Marseille at the end of the season when his contract expired and the Parisiens booed him throughout the cup final, even when he lifted the trophy for their team! Straight after the trophy lift Dehu disappeared into the dressing room in tears.

Just a few months later another player beloved by PSG fans, Fabrice Fiorese also moved to Marseille, after he fell out with the manager Vahid Halilhodzic. Fiorese became a hate figure for the fans and the pair were whistled and chanted out of the next game at Parc Des Princes. It was not just the fans that were not getting along either, as there were problems over tickets, after Marseille were given just 1000 for a league match against PSG. Marseille requested more, as Ligue 1 rules set out a maximum of 2000 tickets, but PSG refused to provide more.

Marseille's president Pape Diouf accused PSG of putting commercial interests above human life at a press conference as the 1000 tickets above the Marseille fans had been sold on the internet to PSG fans. There were strong rumours that it was hooligan groups that were buying up the tickets and Diouf threatened to boycott the match if those tickets were not made available to Marseille fans. Marseille had reason to fear problems as 30 PSG fans were arrested for fighting amongst themselves at a service station on the way back from a match against Nantes. Though it may also have been about deflecting away from Marseille's problems with the club under investigation for transfer irregularities.

PSG responded to the accusations by pointing out that the same arrangement had been in place the previous season, when the away section was fitted with a plexiglass roof and nets were put up to deflect objects thrown. They also claimed that the 1,000 limit on fans was an unwritten agreement between the clubs which had also applied to PSG when they visited Marseille. Whatever the truth of the matter, l'OM refused to send a first team to Paris and asked fans not to attend for their own safety.

Even without Marseille fans travelling up to Paris, the police closed the roads around the ground, alcohol was banned in the area and 1,200 policemen were mobilised for the 5pm kick off! They were given special powers to arrest any groups of more than 15 people, which resulted in more than 100 arrests. The PSG fans gathered to greet the Marseille team bus arrival with chants of 'Encules, encules' while giving Marseille the middle finger. Encules OM is even emblazoned on scarves that you can buy outside of the ground. Marseille's B team were able to hold the Parisiens to a scoreless draw but both teams were docked a point by the league over the affair.

After the swine flu epidemic claimed Ludovic Giuly, Mamadou Sakho and Jeremy Clement from the PSG team, with two others under observation, the game in October 2009 was called off just hours before the game, with 2000 Paris fans already in Marseille for the game. Riot police had to be deployed on the streets of Marseille, with PSG president Robin Leproux saying that there were "a lot of injuries". Judging by the way the two sets of fans behave that is probably an enormous understatement. PSG keeper Gregory Coupet even said that the games were so violent that he would not let his children see them.

The PSG fans did not even need Marseille fans around, they turned on each other in 2010 with their two main supporter groups Supras Auteuil and the Boulogne Boys clashing leaving one fan in a coma. The violence led to away fans being banned for a few years, but it didn't save the fan who was left in a coma as he died, and both supporter groups were marginalised.

The following year was when the power finally shifted to Paris, as Oryx Qatar Sports Investments bought the club and threw money at it. While PSG were signing world stars Marseille were struggling financially and have not won a trophy since 2012's French League Cup, while the Parisiens have won 5 Ligue 1 titles, 4 French Cups, 6 consecutive French Super Cups, 5 League Cups and Marseille have not beaten them since 2011.

The rivalry has grown ever more fierce, PSG fans were banned from Marseille's stadium and surrounding areas in 2017 and last season police had to shield Neymar when he took corners due to the crowd pelting him with objects. Even the arrival of new owner Frank McCourt in 2016 has not managed to tip the scales back in Marseille's favour, despite his pledge to spend big when he bought the club. Now PSG fans see Europe as their competition and look down their noses at Marseille, but it does not stop them doing significant damage to the Velodrome Stadium when they are attending, something which is reciprocated by the Marseille fans when they are in the Stade de France.

It is a rivalry between the two most successful clubs in France, which characterises their own North/South divide, which is very similar to the one found in the UK, though upside down, as it is the rich north and poor south. A political divide which has descended into violent discord which overshadows the football itself, it is now amongst the most bitter and nasty rivalries in the game, which has gone far beyond the results on the pitch.

Written by Tris Burke July 11 2019 16:50:21


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