Category Archives: Blog Articles

ALLEZ L’OM! A visit to Olympique Marseille with Avalanche

Olympique de Marseille v Lorient

Velodrome

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.

Jean Bouin

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.

Gustave Ganay

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.

Zidane

Supporters ShopOnce 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 Velo 2quick 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.

Waddle

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.

MLD

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!

Fam

The author and his son!

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)

 

Le Meilleur Reste À Venir

“Le Meilleur Reste À Venir” the Marseille Twitter account proudly boasted before Christmas, trying to flog the half-season tickets, with the club resting a reasonably pretty 6th after a pretty pitying start.

In the league since the beginning of 2017, Rudi Garcia’s side have won three games against Montpellier, Guingamp, and Rennes. All teams, one would hope that Les Phocéens would harbour ambitions of comfortably finishing ahead of in the table.

However, against sides around OM’s stature, the story quickly changes. Four games this far against reasonably big sides, and all resulting in crushing defeats.

The latest against a Paris Saint Germain admittedly on-the-up following their recent defeat of Barcelona, but handed the game against a Marseille side that were more than happy to disclose all of their weaknesses against a record crowd at the Vélodrome.

65,252 turned up to the stunning venue to see their side technically, tactically, and mentally outfought and outplayed by a PSG that continued to capitalise on Garcia’s side’s continuing ineptitude in front of the prime-time cameras.

It seems that every time OM play on a Sunday night they completely bottle it. Including these last four games against Monaco (1-4), Lyon (1-3), Nantes (3-2), and the latest debacle against the Parisians, they haven’t won a Sunday evening game since Nantes on the 25th September 2016; while a second heavy defeat against Monaco (away 4-0) and a 3-2 loss to Nice early on has defined the season.

However, last night must have been the epitome of all that is wrong with OM as a team at the moment. In front of the crowd they froze, and as our delicate defence once again crumbled with the slightest bit of pressure, the Parisians knocked goals in for fun. This commentator fails to recall an entire set-piece in the course of the game that didn’t result in a chance for the visitors.

A total lack of communication in the back-line plus a dread of marking made OM look like a side that had never practiced a defensive set-piece in their lives; navy bodies queuing up at every opportunity to profit from Marseille’s ineptitude. OM have conceded more than two goals on eight occasions this season, including against the aforementioned Montpellier and Rennes; leaking over two goals a game since the new year.

Last night’s Marseille was the same OM we saw against Monaco, the same we saw against Lyon, and the same we saw in that midweek loss to Metz. Four atrocious performances in less than two months for Les Marseillies; and now, sitting seventh in the table, it seems like the best, for now, has well and truly passed.

 

Kevin Galvin

(@kjgalvin93)

Steve Mandanda: A Man Amongst Mice

Mandanda

What makes a good clubman?

Unending loyalty to the organisation and its fans? Exemplary performances to push the team forward? Being a guiding light when things go wrong? Remarkable leadership and an acceptance of personal responsibility? Or is it just doing the best job you possibly can on and off the pitch for your team?

Olympique de Marseille goalkeeper Steve Mandanda ticks all of these boxes, and has been the backbone of an otherwise flaky OM organisation both on and off the pitch. The 30-year-old, contrary to popular belief, has only been at the club eight years, but in that time has become one of the most symbolic players in Marseille’s modern era.

The netminder arrived on loan from Le Harve in 2007 for €400,000, and profited from Cédric Carasso’s knee injury to play over 34 times for Les Phocéens both domestically and in European competition, and winning Ligue 1 Goalkeeper of the Year before making his move to the Vélodrome permanent for the miniscule sum of €2.5 million in the summer of 08.

To put that into perspective that’s the same amount that Arsenal paid last summer for two 16-year-olds, or what Galatasaray have paid for uncapped Dutch defensive-midfielder and former West Brom disappointment Ryan Donk.

The Zaire-born shot stopper has since won a Ligue 1 title, the Coupe de la Ligue title three times, and has been named Ligue 1 goalkeeper of the year also on three separate occasions. He has been capped over 20 times for the national team, and in 2010 was the natural choice to replace Mamadou Niang as captain of OM, despite only being at the club a few years.

Despite Marseille’s disappointing end to the season Mandanda was again named goalkeeper of the year, and became the club second most capped player after 391 games with the crest on his heart; and at the start of the season he passed the 400 mark, now with 415 games he stands just 40 games behind Roger Scotti as the all-time appearance record holder.

In those appearances Mandanda has seen the good and bad, and despite all of the difficulties the club has had the goalkeeper has remained, despite being linked to the likes of Manchester United, Liverpool, AC Milan and Juventus during his time at the Vélodrome. With his contract now expiring the 30-year-old has been linked to several clubs, most notably Aston Villa, whom were chasing the French international fervently during the current winter transfer window.

Despite club chairman Vincent Labrune announcing that Mandanda would be staying, there continued to be much speculation, particularly given OM’s policy of farming players out as soon as the right money is offered (as evidenced by the appalling transfer dealings this summer). And after he single-handedly put OM through to the next round of the cup versus SC Caen (pulling off a number of top class saves to keep a clean-sheet before saving three of the four Caen penalties) eyes only grew wider for Villa, who find themselves struggling in the wrong part of the Premier League table with games now running out.

However, that was put to bed by Mandanda himself; never one to shy away from responsibility, the Marseille icon announced on facebook that he would not be leaving.

“Out of respect for the Marseille supporters, I’ve decided to break my silence concerning my future” he announced via his facebook page “My agent received offers from several clubs to leave this January…I’ve decided to stay at Marseille…One of the main reasons was my attachment to Marseille. I have responsibilities, I am the captain. My adventure with Marseille is not a simple one; it’s a story of how I built a part of my life here.”

For many players an announcement of such gravity would come as a shock, but for a man who has represented Marseille superlatively since his very first game the decision to openly admit his future comes as no great surprise.

It does come as some relief to Labrune however, who has sold the vast majority of his marquee players in the summer, seeing Marseille slump as low as 19th, and only sticking their head into the upper end of the table in the last few weeks. OM have been appalling at home, and their inability to score has been putting serious pressure on Mandanda and his less than firm defence. Off-the-field Mandanda has also been a leader, keeping the dressing room together after Marcelo Biesla deserted OM, and successor Michel has been under considerable criticism.

It’s been majorly down to the heroics of the 30-year-old that OM have managed to steer themselves away from the relegation places, and still somehow find themselves competing on every front. He has been putting in match-winning performances, and along with the brilliant Lassana Diarra, have been managing to make up for the uncountable amount of passengers Les Phocéens seem to be carrying in every game.

The question is, however, do Marseille deserve to keep him?

While there is no question about the fans’ support and devotion for him and team OM, serious questions continue to linger about the management of Marseille, and whether choices are really being made for the benefit of the club, and its players.

The goalkeeper’s refreshing honesty cannot be said to have spread to those behind the scenes at the Vélodrome, where secrecy and suspicion ostensibly run rife. Shady business dealings with criminals have been exposed in recent years, while the club’s selling policy have meant that Marseille have captured just a single league title in the last 15 years, and far from being the European superpower they were (and arguably should still be), OM have now become a selling club to not only those more powerful on the continent, but in l’hexagon itself.

Mandanda himself has had a disappointing career at international level, and with first-choice goalkeeper Hugo Lloris having already left Ligue 1 to shine on the global stage of the Premier League, the temptation must be hugely strong for Mandanda to follow suit and do the same, ahead of a huge year with France hosting this year’s European Championships.

However, like he always does, Steve Mandanda has once again put the team’s fortunes ahead of his own, and stuck around for what will almost certainly be an extremely difficult second-half of the season. With his contract set to expire this summer OM fans will be waiting with baited breath to see if they can hold on to their lynchpin for another season, if not Marseille will not only have lost an instrumental player, but a man amongst mice at the Vélodrome.

Kevin Galvin

(@shefellover93)