Olympique de Marseille v Lorient
26th August 2016 20:45 Ligue 1
Stade Vélodrome, 3 Boulevard Michelet, 13008 Marseille, France
Last Christmas I was absolutely delighted to find some cheap flights from Lulsgate to Marseille, in that sweet spot at the end of the school summer holidays when the new football season has begun. The whole of France is En Vacance so there’s no risk of strikes and the mistral is down to a gentle breeze, almost making the 30 ° + heat fairly bearable. After a wet week in Wales last year, a family holiday in the South of France was something to look forward to, especially as I could probably factor in a trip to catch an Olympique de Marseille game. Yes some of my motivation for visiting this neck of the woods was OM driven, having been a fan from a far for many years.
Once the fixture list for the new season was finally revealed, I saw that we would see them lining up against Lorient from in the north-west France in Brittany. Purchasing tickets online from Bristol was a breeze – I selected a pair in the Tribune Jean Bouin (a French athlete from 100 years ago), clicked on the “Achter” button and then they were immediately mine to print out.
Fast forward several months to holiday time and disaster struck in the departure lounge. I realised that I had forgotten my tablet pre-loaded with loads of holiday reading material, so I panic bought some magazines which I will barely consume and a copy of Hunter S Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas to re-read.
We were to spend our first 24 hours dans la Ville de Marseille before heading out west, on a train along the beautiful Côte Bleue to our holiday resort near Martigues. In this time we could see how important the club is to the City, spotting the OM logo everywhere and specifically on a variety of the distinctive white and sky blue Adidas maillots (replica shirts) being proudly worn. In the tourist Information office I booked a stadium tour for the day after the game and I managed to leave a few well-chosen Bristol City stickers round the place before we left until our return at the weekend.
Cut to a few relaxing days later, leaving the girls by the pool, me and my Son are heading back into Marseille for our football adventure. Spotting our shirts, a young French lad, who was heading back up North with his family after a week off, was doing his best to engage my Son with a few football related questions, but my lad did his best to pretend he wasn’t there – probably for the best as it turned out they were heading back to Paris and he was P$G. Being a long time OM fan, I’d already schooled my son that the Parisien team are to be respected as much here as we do Bristol Rovers at home.
On arrival back in Marseille we made our way to our Airbnb near the stadium, which was on the brilliantly named Boulevard Gustave Ganay. We were afforded a fine view of the magnificent new Velodrome from our room and it was complete with mosquito nets which amused Avalanche Jr after I explained what they were for. After a reasonably confusing but entertaining conversation in Franglais with the host we headed back into the centre of town for an ice cream on the Vieux Port.
Much to my dismay I discovered that the tres grande Mural of local boy Zinedine Zidane on the Corniche is no more. So we hit up the local Adidas store, which has a fantastic tribute by a local graffiti artist to Zizou in the stairwell. The merchandise was more expensive than ever due to the Brexit effect – €90+ for a shirt is a little beyond my willing, despite my sons pleading, so we left empty handed. Taking a stroll through Castelane, heading back towards the stadium I remind Joe that his namesake (his middle name is Zinedine – my Wife was caught unaware in the hours following his birth) heralds from this very area. Maybe he’s just taking it all in but he doesn’t seem that impressed.
Once we made it back up to the Boulevard Michelet, the place was a little busier with OM shirts everywhere. We made a visit to the official club superstore, where my favourite piece of tat was a pair of 3D OM boxer shirts complete with glasses. No I didn’t understand the point either. I was tempted by a full size replica of the European Cup, but it close a few zeros more € than I had at my disposal. (Incidentally Marseille are the only French club ever to have won it – something fans like to remind those in Pari$ whenever possible.) We then headed over the road to the Ultras own shop (pictured above), at the foot of a massive block of flats opposite the stadium. This was a refreshing place after the clinical interior of the official, Adidas sponsored shop we had just escaped form – there was a great level and variety of stock, from t-shirts, scarves and badges Some fantastic anti-P$G stuff was on display) and the whole organisation was impressive – it puts most official club so called “super shops” to shame.
Back outside, after I had strategically placed a BCFC Away Days sticker, we sat down for a quick glass of Ricard at the amusingly titled “Le Fair Play pub”. Ricard is a type of Pastis, which is an aniseed flavoured aperitif, best consumed diluted with water, ice and hot weather. It’s incredibly popular in Marseille and everyone was at it – the beer drinking (La Cagole, a popular malty + fizzy local brew was my favourite) seems to happen after the game. A few locals were curious about our accents and once they found out we were English it was all about the local legend that is Chris Waddle. His name was the first two words anyone said to us when they discovered our origin. There was also talk of Joey Barton, who is a minor cult hero after his season long loan here a few years back.
Refreshed, we had a few Kodak moments before making our way up the ginormous mass of steps to the foot of the stadium and made our way into the stadium through the Kiddies Haribo section – I presume this was to get the younger fans as suitably wired as the adults. A very smart looking lady (airline hostess standard) handed us a free program each and escorted us to our seats.
With 30 minutes to go before kick-off, the two Ultra groups at both ends were already in action and produced a constant wall of sound until the very end of the game. Their positive enthusiasm for the duration of the game was refreshing, despite the protests that were also happening, targeted at owner Margarita Louis-Dreyfus. MLDGO signs were everywhere (inside and outside) and the Virage Sud Ultras displayed a massive strongly worded, sign which spanned the whole width of the Velodrome. Fans seemed to be very unhappy about the owner’s lack of interest in their club. Days after, their wish was granted and she was selling the whole concern to an American investor. The game was poorly attended with the reported number being 26193, with many fans were staying away in protest. Despite this, the atmosphere was electric and after the teams walked out to Jump by Van Halen (which sounded better than you’d think) we didn’t know if we should be watching the game or the fans! My son was particular transfixed with the fat bloke stood on a purpose built platform, with his back to the pitch shouting instructions out through a megaphone.
The game itself went well, with OM recording their first win of the season with a 2-1 victory. The first goal came from a particularly impressive free kick from Cabella and Swansea loanee Gomis, who was an absolute joy to watch play.
It was a late night for both of us – French games typically kick of at 9pm, which I was thankful for it was still absolutely baking inside. Next morning, after a quick espresso and a pain au chocolate – we reported for duty at 09:30 for a stadium tour before catching a train from the Gare St Charles back to our holiday in Martiques. We did manage to get a few good photos of my son in his City shirt for hopeful inclusion in the programme once we got home – check the Leeds edition!
I did afford myself a quick glance back over the city from the fine vantage point that is on offer at the top of the steps in front of the station and said a quiet au revoir. Marseille is an amazing city whose inhabitants are a credit to it. And it’s easier to listen to the local’s lingo down here, as they speak a little slower! Everything you’ve heard is wrong and the Marseillais are friendly as Parasians are rude!
by Avalanche (with a little help from his Editor ;o)
NB: This peace originally appeared in the Autumn 2016 edition, of Bristol City fanzine, The Bountyhunter (@BountyhunterBC)