Fan violence in France: understanding the events and what it means for football

Pitch invasions and grandstand violence were undesirable features of the game before matches were played behind closed doors Ben Sutherland / Flickr

On the evening of Sunday August 22, Dimitri Payet got up from the ground, grabbed an orange bottle at his feet and threw it back into the crowd. He turned to another bottle on the ground a few feet away and did the same. Marseille players had been the target of objects thrown from Nice’s home support throughout the game, but Payet’s retaliation in the 75th minute prompted fans to storm the pitch. The resulting brawls were spectacularly chaotic and broke out between fans, players and staff. Reports would be later emerge of injuries to Marseille players Payet, Matteo Guendouzi and Luan Peres, while club physical trainer Pablo Fernandez was suspended for hitting a Nice supporter.

Disciplinary proceedings are still ongoing, but Nice’s next match against Bordeaux (08/28) was played behind closed doors and at least five supporters were arrested. Returning to the game, referee Benoit Bastien brought the Nice players back to the pitch some time later in what turned out to be a ridiculous attempt to restart the game, fully aware that angry Marseille manager Jorge Sampaoli had already led his players to their team coach. .

“Fan attacks not only need to be seen in the context of football history, but also as part of broader societal trends”

The final score was recorded as a 3-0 victory for Nice due to Marseille’s refusal to complete the game, but assigning the blame to the away team gives the downright ludicrous impression that fans can just take it. storm the pitch to claim victory for their team whenever they want. . Studied closely, the images will reveal individual crimes that deserve to be punished, such as Payet’s reaction. The football world, however, needs to take a step back and recognize the scenes as more than just ‘crowd issues’.

Fan violence in football is nothing new. Hooliganism, ultra culture, and many other names for aggressive behavior are rife in the global football landscape. In that same game in 2019, the game was suspended for ten minutes midway through the first half as homophobic banners and chants were evident in the stands. Meanwhile, Marseille’s opener of this season was also affected by bottles thrown by the crowd, as they rushed to a 3-2 victory from behind over Montpellier.

Historically, a pig’s head, bananas and goblets have been among the items thrown from various stalls and in each case it is quickly concluded that this was the responsibility of a few idiots who “are not true fans of soccer”. The fact that the recent racist abuses and missiles launched at Raheem Sterling by the ultra neo-Nazi group activated by a fascist Hungarian dictator appear to be able to receive similar ‘one or two bad apples’ treatment by FIFA and UEFA is symptomatic of football’s tendency to dismiss terrifying violence as isolated matters.

“Courageous and outspoken young men performing for the entertainment of the masses have had their progressive attitudes militarized against them”

Fan attacks should not only be seen in the context of football history, but also as part of broader societal trends. People may have taken the pitches by storm, but this is the first time since the stadiums reopened. During the shutdown, reports estimated a 48% increase in discriminatory abuse targeting gamers on social media. As demonstrated after England’s loss in the Euro 2020 final, fans are increasingly seizing the opportunity to scapegoat, especially black players.

The development of such horrific behavior has largely been confined to the online sphere for 2020 and much of 2021, but the post-game ritual of mistreating players poses a very real threat to football’s return to the games. stages. Accessible DMs and unmoderated comment sections provide increasingly open access to professional footballers online, breaking the decades-old divide between player and fan. How big can the leap from virtual threats to physical violence be?

Political allegiance is at the heart of some of the world’s most heated football rivalries, and the Nice conflict with Marseille introduces a right-versus-left element, respectively. Where the boundaries of inhibition are broken between players and fans, politicians dig trenches. The England men’s national team has been notoriously criticized by Home Secretary Priti Patel, who described their knee grasp as “gesture politics”. While the boos of the action largely dissipated throughout the tournament, it was clear after the final that these players were on thin ice with their relatively abusive fan base. Courageous and outspoken young men performing for the entertainment of the masses have had their progressive attitudes militarized against them, putting their own safety at risk.

Without emotion, football loses all its meaning. People need to care and fan culture revolves around the idea that every weekend so many people pay some attention to the game. However, this passion, in a way almost unique to football, seems to be playing out. develop into a sense of entitlement among fans; a right to victory, to performance and to abuse when either of these elements is not delivered. Upon arriving at the office, a banker should not feel threatened to perform exceptionally or face physical abuse; neither a teacher, a doctor, a delivery driver nor a professional footballer. It remains to be seen whether there is a real long-term threat to player safety, but given the availability of income in football, not investing in proper precautions is not a mistake that clubs can make. allow to commit.

As home supporters rushed through the “Popular South” billboards two weeks ago, they crumpled the illusion of safety for athletes trying to perform at their workplace. In an increasingly polarized political landscape, football will always try to separate itself from reality; the threat to physical security, however, has the potential to be very real.

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