Toxic rivalry explained after Ligue 1 shock suspended due to pitch invasion
The Ligue 1 match in Nice against Marseille had to be abandoned on Sunday night following a mass brawl involving players, supporters and staff.
While Dimitri Payet was about to take a corner, the midfielder was hit by a projectile by Nice supporters and after collapsing to the ground, he sent a bottle back into the stands.
Chaos ensued as his teammates scolded the crowd and fans burst onto the pitch. Manager Jorge Sampaoli had to be physically restrained, while a Marseille staff member was seen pushing a supporter to the ground.
The referee initially suspended the game with around 15 minutes to go, but Marseille refused to return to the pitch. At least two of their players, Payet and Matteo Guendouzi, have revealed that they have suffered bruises.
Under Ligue 1 rules, the result will be recorded as a 3-0 victory for Nice because their opponents allegedly withdrew.
The scenes sent shockwaves through Ligue 1, just weeks after the biggest transfer stunt in French football history. It was hoped that Lionel Messi’s arrival at PSG would do wonders for the league brand, but events at the Allianz Riviera may have caused untold damage to reputation.
So why did this happen – and what happens next?
A story of tensions
Police have often identified the match as “high risk” and have banned supporters absent from attending in the past.
While this is not the main Marseille derby, it combines two clubs with a deeply rooted ultra culture. The Commandos Ultra ’84 de Marseille are the oldest group of this type in France.
Tensions with Nice also have political connotations. While the CU’84 have a long-standing affiliation with the anti-fascist movement in the south of France, some Nice supporters have been linked to right-wing groups. Some witnesses described one of the Nice supporters on the pitch during Sunday’s game as wearing an American Confederate flag on his jersey.
Much of the identity shrouded in Nice fan groups stems from regional pride. They adopted Nicart, a local dialect, for their club. “Nissa la bella” – meaning Nice, the beautiful – has become their anthem and the language can be seen on fan banners and unofficial merchandise.
It has become a way to differentiate themselves from their rivals, but one thing both groups of fans have in common is a tendency to borrow from a legacy of Italian ultras – hence the name. Commandos in Marseille.
There have been previous matches between the suspended clubs as well. In 2019, a match was abandoned after match officials spotted two anti-gay banners in the stands. André Villas-Boas, then Marseille manager, said the Nice supporters who posted them needed “education”.
As a result of the latest incident, heavy penalties are expected to be taken. Marseille, in particular, will fear the possibility of losing players following long-term bans; It has been less than four years since they terminated Patrice Evra’s contract after he was banned by UEFA for seven months for kicking a fan.
It was Nice’s first home game with a full crowd in 18 months due to the easing of restrictions, but the city’s mayor insisted fans must be punished – although he also denounced the Marseille hierarchy.
“This violence is intolerable,” wrote Christian Estrosi on Twitter. “Sanctions must be taken by the LFP [Ligue 1 governing body] after determining responsibility. If the behavior of some supporters is unacceptable, that of the Marseille president was also [Pablo Longoria] in the stands, and also that of the coach [Sampaoli] in the field.
“I would like to salute the impeccable behavior of the players and coach of OGC Nice. It is now up to the authorities to take the necessary decisions. “
How the two clubs reacted
Meanwhile Longoria, the Marseille president who is said to have faced his Nice counterpart Jean-Pierre Rivere, said the scenes were “totally unacceptable” and explained the decision not to return to the playing field.
“We decided, for the safety of our players, who were attacked and because the pitch was invaded, that we could not come back to the pitch, because the safety of our players was not guaranteed,” said Longoria.
“This is already the second time this season that we are in this situation: it has already happened in Montpellier. There, we decided to resume the match … We must create a precedent for French football by taking a stand. The referee of the match today spoke to us: he told Jorge Sampaoli and me that indeed the safety of the match was not guaranteed, and that is why he decided to stop the match.
“However, Ligue 1 have decided that the game should resume, to maintain public perception.”
Nice, on the other hand, insisted that the game continue. Around midnight the players returned and, incredibly, resumed the same positions they had occupied in the corner of Payet. The referee then whistled.
Rivere, the president of Nice, admitted that water bottles had been thrown away and blamed the players for reacting.
“Unfortunately, what started the fire was the reaction of two Marseille players who turned bottles, in our supporters’ stand and after that it got out of hand,” he said.
“It’s disappointing that it ends like this. Things are pretty clear. Marseille security should not have entered the field and hit our players. I don’t really understand why Marseille has not restarted.