Supporting a team from a different city or country is never going to be an easy thing, but with the social media and technology we have today I have found it easier and easier watch Marseille games from a distance and from the comfort of my sofa. Unfortunately watching them in person, hasn’t got that much easier for me. You can’t fly from Newcastle to Marseille, often the only flight into France is to Paris, trains to London are obscenely priced to then make a connection, oh, and I’m a teacher too so unless there’s a game during the holidays I couldn’t go anyway. But, every once in a while you feel like someone is smiling and looking over you as when the Champion’s League fixtures were announced, fate would have it that I was already booked on a training course in London on the day of the Arsenal game. What an opportunity! So I made my best plans to get hold of tickets in the away end.
Unfortunately the tickets that a few of us were expecting, never arrived, after a hold up at Paris airport (damn Parisians!). Richard, who had ordered the tickets desperately tried everything to make arrangements, including getting in touch with the supporters group, trying to get replacements, even speaking to Arsenal explaining the situation, but unfortunately nothing happened. So with less than 24 hours to the game we sent out some emergency tweets, asking anyone for an RT in an attempt to find some spare tickets, I was even contacting Arsenal supporting friends asking about tickets in the home end out of sheer desperation! Good friends on twitter were asking around too, but it wasn’t looking good, so I sulked off to bed in an attempt to get some sleep before the big day.
The day started at 3:30, with a quick coffee, bite to eat and then de-ice of the car before setting off to Doncaster (last train back to Newcastle leaves London at 10.00, meaning I’d have to leave the game at half time to get home, whereas last train to Doncaster is 11.30 meaning I could stay for the whole game, but does involve 2 hour drive each way). An ambient musical playlist was provided by The XX, Fleetwood Mac with a little bit of Van Halen (‘Jump’) thrown in to get me into the mood for hopefully watching OM. As I sat waiting for my train to London, I couldn’t help worry that the trip would be in vain, as I still had no ticket and would be relying on someone having a spare, so began planning what tourist sites I could later visit in London as I waited for my late return train. As the train neared London, re-tweets started flashing through and a message from Liam came through asking if I was down for the game, I explained the situation, and after hearing that he’d try and sort something, my reception was lost to London’s mighty tunnels and underground system.
When I emerged from Earl’s Court tube stop, the phone vibrated and as I looked I saw a message from Liam: ‘Sorted’. Enough said. My course was good enough, but it was a struggle to stop my mind from wandering to the thought of being in such a fantastic ground, in with the OM ultras. After finishing up, it was time to head over to Kings Cross. I met up with Ben, a huge OM fan, and we chatted about OM, life, work and everything in between like a pair of old mates who hadn’t seen each other for years. As good as the beer was, we both had one thing to sort still, tickets. Off we headed to the Emirates. Ben went to meet Franky, top honcho amongst the Virage Sud ultras, and I headed to meet Liam and his ‘contact’. Time was getting on, and I was still a bit worried that the tickets might not materialise, so when we met Karim, and he didn’t have them I was flapping a little. As Karim’s contact showed up shortly after and distributed tickets amongst his friends, it looked even worse as Karim started to count numbers on his hands and anxiously looked in our direction. Finally, Karim’s contact handed him a couple more, and we had them! Panic over, worry ended, excitement building, beer time. We headed to the nearby pub and met up with Ben, Franky and Marek, and we all headed into the back room where the OM fans were already in full voice.
As exciting as it was, to be amongst the ultras, singing away happily with their Arsenal counterparts, it was game time so we headed to the away section. After a quick bag search and pat down, we were in and headed for our ‘seats’. Security quickly told us, ‘just find anywhere mate, no one’s sitting where they should be’. He was right, no one was sitting where they should have been, and they weren’t even standing where they should’ve been, in fact when the game kicked of everyone was standing on the seat of any space they could find. I wasn’t to complain though, as I ended up only 12 rows or so from the front even closer to the flag waving, chanters, who I’d really wanted to be amongst. The Emirates as a stadium is undoubtedly impressive. Fair facilities in the away end and even padded seats. The curvature of the top of the stands reminded me a little of the Velodrome, but unfortunately, as with most modern stadiums it lacks a little character, as did the atmosphere for most of the evening. Aside from the obvious 2 cheers from home fans, the most noise came when Arsenal made their substitutions. An occasional chant of ‘Ar-se-nal’ rang round a few times along with a semi-impressive call and response song between the Clock end and North Bank, though nowhere near the spectacle that the Virage Nord and Sud create at the Velodrome.
So after all of the excitement what better way to start a game than to go 0-1 down within the opening minute? Typical. OM were tore apart down the left as Morel and Khalifa in particular struggled with Arsenal’s dominance and slick passing play. OM struggled to get a foothold on the game, as Arsenal passed the ball around them with ease. Even when Marseille did manage to win a tackle and retain the ball, the midfield 3 of Lemina, Romao and Imbula where too far away from the forward 3 of Jordan Ayew, Gignac and Khalifa, so hopefull through-balls and punts up the pitch where never going to help. In truth a change in formation to the usual 4-2-3-1, or even a temporarily defensive 4-5-1 would have helped to control the game a little more. It was almost inevitable that without Valbuena, Payet and Thauvin in the starting 11, OM would find it difficult against a team as good as Arsenal, particularly with the confidence that Arsenal have at the moment, but the lack lustre performance from a number of the OM players was difficult to take as a fan. The fans did manage to air their grievances a little, and made sure that Jordan Ayew understood what they thought of his typically lethargic performance as he was substituted in the 2nd half.
Keeping the game at 0-1 was mainly down to Mandanda, who had another of his incredible games, pulling of some great saves including a penalty save from Ozil in the 1st half. Nkoulou and Mendes did manage to snuff out many attacks too once the ball inevitably made its way into the centre after going past either Abdallah or Morel all too often.
Wilshere’s 2nd of the game really took the wind out of the OM sails, as with 30 minutes left and the introduction of Valbuena and Thauvin, it looked like Marseille might actually fancy getting something out of the game. Half chances were few and far between though, with an audacious lob by Gignac being cleared on the goal line the closest we managed, before two late Thauvin strikes were saved well by Szczesny.
Unfortunately the full time whistle went without even a consolation goal to cheer me up about the remaining return part of my journey. Valbuena, Romao and Mandanda noticeably came over to pay tribute to the OM fans at the end of the game, with Romao giving his shirt to one supporter at the front who had presumably lost his own as he spent the entire chilly night topless, clapping and chanting.
A mere 7 hours after the game finished I eventually climbed into bed and managed a grand 2 hours sleep before having to get up for work. It was a good sleep though, dreaming about my mini adventure, and thinking about the fantastic people I met. I hope it won’t be too long before I meet Franky, Marek, Liam and Ben again, weather that’s in London, Newcastle or hopefully even in the Velodrome, it doesn’t really matter.
My eye-balls literally feel like Ferero-Roches as I write this, and you know what, I’d do it all again tomorrow if I could.
Andrew (@aswanny84 & @MarseilleUK)