Bung Lovin' Criminals
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Basile Bole enjoyed Marseille's 1993 Champions League campaign
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The city of Valenciennes has been described as the Athens of northern France, but the Olympique Marseille fans gathered in a city centre car park don’t look too impressed with it. It’s a sunny April afternoon, just a few hours before the southern club play Valenciennes in Ligue 1, and the visiting fans are being penned in for security reasons. They’re fed up. A group of 50 or so make a break for freedom from the car park and escape the police barricade holding them back. They run towards the stadium, charging at the Valenciennes fans, but the heavy police presence ends the trouble quickly and decisively.
The animosity between these two sides is clear – and with good reason. It’s the first time they’ve met at the Nungesser Stadium since 1993; the bribery scandal surrounding that game devastated both teams and left an indelible stain on modern football.
A fan walks to the game in a shirt bearing the message “OM, Je Ne T’Aime Pas”. “Our local rivals may be Lens and Lille, but Marseille are our enemy from afar,” says Eric, a Valenciennes-supporting taxi-driver in his mid-twenties. “Our hatred of them is a special one.”
Marseille are known for the passion of their fans, and Sebastian, who has driven almost 900 kilometres – from one end of France to the other – does not want to waste his energy on the opposition. “Who even are Valenciennes?” he laughs. “We don’t care about them at all. Let’s be serious: we are Marseille, we don’t go that low!” He’s more concerned about the result of today’s game than anything else.
Both teams need a result: Marseille are in fifth place and still hoping to qualify for the Champions League, while Valenciennes are looking over their shoulders to avoid relegation. It was a slightly different situation, however, when the teams last met here in Valenciennes, on May 20, 1993.
Back then, it was the crucial time of the season: Marseille needed three more points to clinch the French league and six days later were due to face AC Milan in the Champions League final. Their final game of the season, to come after the European final, was against Paris Saint-Germain, and they did not want to go into it needing to beat their arch-rivals for the title.
Their penultimate game was against Valenciennes who then, like now, were struggling in the top flight. Marseille won 1-0, and went on to win the Champions League, becoming the first and only French team to lift the European Cup, but barely had the celebrations died down when scandal rocked the French game.
Marseille were found guilty of bribing two Valenciennes players to throw their match. They were stripped of their French title, relegated, and their president Bernard Tapie was given a two-year jail sentence – of which he served five months – and banned from football for two years. Valenciennes ended the season relegated, from where they soon slipped into the backwaters of the third and fourth divisions before going bankrupt and facing a winding-up order.
“They left us in the shit for 15 years,” snorts Eric. “We were the victims, and yet all everyone talked about was Marseille this and Marseille that. What happened to us was much worse than what happened to them, and that’s why we all hate them so much.”
This article appeared in the August, 2007 issue of FourFourTwo magazine. To buy back copies of this issue call 03-8317-8121 with a credit card to hand.