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Ultra violence in Marseille

Ultra violence in Marseille

At a time when Lionel Messi has just moved to Paris Saint-Germain, Ligue Un should be enjoying some positive PR and a feel-good factor. But one club’s ‘Ultras’ has left a bitter taste at the start of the new season.


Transcript

Hi, I’m Chloe and this is the Playmaker.

One story every day to make sense of the world of football. 

Today, Rachid Zeroual, the powerful Marseille Ultra.

“Dimitri Payet felled by a missile. He was hit, he was hit, don’t throw things back. And… Marseille’s patience has finally snapped with the home crowd, who have constantly been pelting them with missiles throughout the game and it has turned into a highly unsavoury incident.”

BT Sport commentators

At a time when Lionel Messi has just moved from Barcelona to PSG, Ligue 1 should be enjoying some positive PR and a feel-good factor.

Especially when football fans have been returning to matches across Europe for the start of the new football season. 

But in France, the reopening of stadiums has created a whole new set of problems for the authorities. And it’s nothing to do with Covid.

Last weekend, Olympique Marseille travelled just over a hundred miles to face bitter rivals Nice. The scenes that followed shocked football supporters everywhere. 

“And suddenly, the ugly side of the game has reared its head. It’s been bubbling away throughout the evening in that side of the stadium, from that section of the crowd. And they haven’t been able to get a handle on it at all throughout the game and the reaction of Payet there, having been struck by that missile sees it really flare up.” 

BT Sport

That moment when Payet threw the bottle back into the crowd sparked violent scenes as fans stormed onto the pitch, injuring players in the violence that followed.

Once order had been restored, Marseille refused to come back out onto the field, the match was suspended and finally abandoned.

Nice, currently, have been awarded the win.

It’s the second time this had happened to Marseille in a matter of weeks. During their recent derby with Montpellier, Marseille substitute Valentin Rongier had to be treated for a bleeding head wound after being hit by a bottle. 

So, why does this keep happening to them? And what does that have to do with Rachid Zeroual?

In France, hardcore supporters – known as Ultras – hold an incredible amount of power and have a dangerous reputation. 

Marseille’s Ultras recently stormed their own club’s training ground. They caused several hundred thousand euros of damage, trees were burned, and the club’s owner compared the incident to the storming of the US Capitol building. 

Rachid Zeroual is the leader of the infamous South Winners 1987 Ultras group. 

He is 50 years old, and was recently handed a prison sentence for his role in the attack on the training ground. 

You see, the thing is that the violence of these incidents is all connected to the deeper political and social issues in Marseille. 

“A chilling scene filmed from a balcony. Just after midnight, a group wearing masks force a 27-year-old man into the back of a car in the fourth district of Marseille. A few hours later, the car was found in flames, the man dead inside. It appears to be just the latest drug related episode of violence in the city.”

France 24 English

Ultras like Zeroual have so much power that the club can do very little about his influence.

I mean, where else can high-profile supporters call a press conference?

That’s exactly what Zeroual did following the violence at the training ground. He insists that it was the fault of American owner Franck McCourt and President Jacques-Henri Eyraud, who they were trying to remove from power during those protests.

“Supporters marched towards Marseille’s training centre with flares and fireworks, using them as objects and subsequently setting fire to the building. The protest took place just hours before the team were supposed to play Rennes, which has been moved to a later date. The latest incident comes just a week, just over a week since fans turned against the players before a home game against Lens when Marseille lost 1-0, their fourth straight defeat in all competitions.”

Sky Sports News

Zeroual said that “there is no law against bad Presidents, only bad supporters.” He insisted that the Ultras were only “trying to calm things down” with their actions. 

And he denies any involvement with the violence at the training ground, appearing in court on crutches due to illness and blaming the incident on supporters having been kept out of the stadium during the pandemic.

It must be difficult for the owners to know what to do in this situation. Essentially, they are in constant fear of violent repercussions from their actions. 

Eyraud – who recently stepped down from his role as Marseille President – said in 2016 that he wanted to put an end to “the OM of chaos, shenanigans and legal chronicles.” 

To try and do that, he gave Zeroual complimentary seats at the stadium, financial aid and privileges. 

But that’s clearly not been enough to stop the violence which the French Sports minister called “an insult to sport and football.” 

It makes me wonder, what is the solution here? The Ultras do provide some stunning displays of flares and noise that gives Marseille a reputation for having an electric atmosphere. It was even featured in the recent Matt Damon film Stillwater

So at what point do the club and the authorities say enough is enough, and at what point do they decide to ban the Ultras like Zeroual? When does a club’s culture become toxic? 

Marseille have already been involved in two incidents during their first three matches of the season.

It’s surely becoming seriously damaging to the reputation of the club and the league itself. And so it wouldn’t be a surprise in the near future to see a clampdown on these supporters. They’re the ones dishing out and provoking such violence in the name of football.

Today’s episode was written by Chloe Beresford, and produced by Klong.