After a year of playing behind closed doors, the return of supporters is a welcome sight across stadiums in Europe.
French football though is reeling from a number of incidents which have marred the start of the Ligue 1 season, with brawling in the stands and on the pitch, and objects being thrown between opposing sets of supporters.
There was a lot of excitement going into the campaign, in part due to the boost of Lionel Messi’s arrival at Paris Saint-Germain. But the ongoing violence in French football is serving as an unwelcome distraction.
Marseille players clashed with Nice ultras after a bottle was thrown at Dimitri Payet
Payet threw the bottle at the Nice ultras, which led to the hardcore fans coming onto the field
Lens supporters clash with riot police officers during their Ligue 1 clash against Lille
The problem is nothing new, with French clubs sanctioned for various types of unrest in previous seasons, including pitch invasions, objects being thrown between supporters and setting fireworks off in the stands.
But since the return of fans after a year of restrictions, barely a week seems to go by without some sort of crowd trouble. Clubs have received punishments varying from the ban of away fans to partial ground closures to fines. However, it doesn’t seem to have deterred fans from causing trouble, with four notable incidents in a 12-day period between September 18 and 30.
It all started on the opening weekend of the season, after missiles were thrown onto the pitch after Marseille’s Dimitri Payet scored against Montpellier. The referee was forced to stop play after midfielder Valentin Roniger was struck with a bottle by a Montpellier supporter.
Security could do little as Lens ultras ran onto the pitch as fans of both clubs clashed
Marseille’s clash with Nice on August 22 was then suspended after Payet threw a bottle back into the crowd which had struck him, leading to a melee involving Marseille players and Nice’s ultras who stormed the pitch.
The incident led to Marseille’s physio Pablo Fernandez being banned for the season after throwing punches at Nice players. Nice were docked two points – one of which was suspended – while Marseille defender Alvaro Gonzalez received a two-game ban and the match has been rescheduled for October 27.
Marseille fans are currently waiting to find out when they can return to away games after clashing with Angers supporters in a Ligue 1 clash on September 22.
Marseille coach Jorge Sampaoli gets dragged away during their match against Nice
Elsewhere this season, Lens’ clash with Lille on September 18 was delayed by more than 30 minutes when objects were thrown between both sets of supporters which led to a section of home ultras entering the pitch from an adjacent stand.
It was recently reported by French outlet L’Equipe that the French government would meet with the LFP concerning the rise in fan violence, as punishments have done little to dissuade further crowd trouble.
France24.com reported that the incidents have led to much ‘soul-searching’ in the country, and that it may be down to the return of charged atmospheres in football grounds, with fans releasing pent-up frustrations from a year of coronavirus restrictions.
Angers had one of their stands closed for the game with Metz while away fans of other clubs have been banned at games this season amid a series of shocking violent episodes
Marseille supporters invade the field during their away Ligue 1 trip against Angers
There appears to have been some confusion over who is meant to deal with events that happen inside stadiums.
France’s Minister of National Education, Youth and Sports, Jean-Michel Blanquer put the blame on the incidents so far this season on ultra groups and hooligans but said they would take action with incidents ‘outside stadiums’.
He told news channel LCI: ‘This is obviously totally unacceptable. With (the minister of the Interior) Gerald Darmanin we will probably take action when it comes to events that happen outside the stadiums.’
For the clashes in the stadiums, the minister returned the ball to the football authorities, the LFP and the French Football Federation.
‘Some clubs have in the past succeeded in putting an end to this unbearable hooliganism. We will have further discussions with the League and the Federation on what is envisaged in this matter.
‘They have already reacted to two events that have gone too far in recent times. Sanctions have been taken and we will ask what new measures are being considered to put an end to this.
‘But there are people who must be banned from stadium in the future from the moment they have had this type of behavior. You have to be firm. These are people who damage the image of sport, who overturn what sport should be.’
Despite the minister’s comments, after the Marseille v Nice game, the LFP president said the governing body was ‘limited’ in its ability to control the problems.
Vincent Labrune wrote to France’s ministers of the interior, law and education as well as its delegate in charge of sport, as per France 24: ‘The very regrettable violent scenes… remind us that safety at football matches and the control of some supporters are particularly complex.
‘The LFP is quite limited in its ability to control the problems of violence and public order.
‘It is, in fact, essential that the troublemakers are significantly sanctioned and that necessitates collective action from the clubs, authorities, local and national government and also, especially the law.’
Marseille’s Europa League clash with Galatasaray was halted when flares were thrown
Marseille fans are waiting to find out when they can return to away games after Angers clash
The ongoing issues has also raised security doubts with Marseille expressing concern about the ease with which their fans could access the pitch before their game with Angers.
Lyon fans were recently banned for their derby clash with Saint-Etienne, with RMC Sport reporting the decision ‘appeared to be motivated by a fear’ of another pitch invasion.
With Messi’s arrival in Ligue 1, this was seen as a time when the league could profit from having arguably the world’s greatest ever player arrive in the league.
But with authorities pondering on how to stop the sight of the crowd trouble which has plagued the season so far, the incidents are not helping French football as it looks to capitalise on Messi’s arrival.
Main incidents so far this season
August 8 – Montpellier v Marseille
The curtain-raiser was marred by crowd troubles after former West Ham star Payet bagged Marseille’s second goal of the game.
Referee Jeremie Pignard stopped play after missiles were thrown onto the pitch by Montpellier fans with a bottle striker Roniger in the mouth.
Roniger posted a photo after the game of his swollen lip with the caption: ‘Giant kisses to the Montpellier fan who threw the bottle at me. Good night to that idiot.’
Two fans were reportedly arrested for the events of the game.
22nd August – Nice v Marseille
Marseille players did not return for the restart of their clash with Nice following ugly clashes with home fans which forced the referee to abandon the game.
During the game, Payet was hit by a bottle and fell to the ground. He got back up and threw it at home fans, prompting a significant number of Nice supporters to rush the pitch.
The game was suspended in the 75th minute when Marseille players and Nice fans had to be separated. Nice players and stewards tried to intervene but more projectiles were thrown and the referee made the decision to take the teams off the pitch.
A section of the home fans had been pelting the visiting Marseille players with bottles throughout the match, resulting in the stadium announcer telling the crowd to refrain from throwing items at players.
The game has been rescheduled for October 27 while Nice were docked two points with one of those suspended. Marseille physio Pablo Fernandez was banned for the season after throwing punches at Nice players while defender Alvaro Gonzalez was handed a two-game suspension. Nice also had to play a game behind closed doors.
18th September – Lens v Lille
Kick-off for the second half was delayed by more than 30 minutes after fans from both sides entered the field of play and riot police were forced to intervene.
The trouble appeared to start when objects were thrown between supporters of the two fierce rivals and soon after a section of home ‘ultras’ entered the pitch from the adjacent stand.
Police and stewards calmed down the situation with officers placed in front of the stand to avoid any further issues.
Lens were given a two-game stadium ban while Lille fans were barred from their away trip to Strasbourg.
September 22 – Angers v Marseille
The travelling Marseille fans at the Stade Raymond Kopa breached a security cordon and made it on to the pitch at the final whistle following a goalless draw.
Stewards failed to contain the situation as punches were exchanged with home fans who had also made their way onto the pitch.
Flares and firecrackers had been thrown between the two sets of fans during the game and equipment in the stadium was damaged as fans poured onto the pitch.
The incident has forced Ligue 1 to close part of Angers’ stadium with Marseille fans waiting for the conclusion of an investigation to find out when they can return to away fixtures.
September 22 – Montepellier v Bordeaux
Bordeaux supporters’ coach was targeted with stones before the match with Montpellier.
L’Equipe reported that multiple people were injured as a result of glass debris from the attack. The home stands had already been partially closed following Montpellier’s incicent with Marseille on the opening day of the season.
Bordeaux president Gérard Lopez has reacted to the incidents on his Twitter account: ‘The football that I love is not and will never be this. Violence has no place in sport and I firmly condemn it. My full support goes out to the Bordeaux supporters and the injured, the club is with them.’
September 30 – Marseille v Galatasaray (Europa League)
Play had to be stopped at the Stade Velodrome for almost 10 minutes as Marseille and Galatasaray fans threw flares at each other during the clash.
Galatasaray boss Fatih Terim, and club captains Fernando Muslera and Dimitri Payet approached fans in an attempt to calm the situation.
Riot police were deployed and charged into the stands, clearing the trouble so the first-half could get going again.