Marseille fans boycott France's clasico, so PSG fans fight each other

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Welcome to yet another new regular feature. Let James Horncastle take you to Paris, where fans fight amongst each other...

It’s fair to say Gabriel Heinze is no stranger to controversy. When the Argentina international found himself out of the starting line-up at Manchester United in 2007, he openly solicited a move to their hated rivals Liverpool.

Encouraged by Rafa Benitez, Heinze clearly liked the idea of becoming the first player since Phil Chisnall 46 years ago to cross from Old Trafford to Anfield.

He didn’t get his way. Sir Alex Ferguson blocked the transfer, drawing criticism especially when Liverpool met United’s asking price of £6.8m.

So when Heinze - who ended up moving to Real Madrid - found himself surplus to requirements again in the summer, he didn’t take the easy way out. There was interest from France, notably from Marseille, and the 31-year-old leapt at the chance.

And why wouldn’t he? Before joining United, Heinze had played in France for three years at Paris Saint-Germain – whose fiercest rivals, lest we forget, are none other than Marseille.

It must be said in Heinze’s defence that he would have liked to go back to PSG, but new manager Antoine Kombouaré had faith in Mamadou Sakho, a gifted yet error-prone 20-year-old from the club’s academy.

Heinze: Not popular in Paris

Still, you get the feeling that of the several offers presented to Heinze and his representatives in the summer, there must surely have been one that was trouble-free and uncomplicated.

But obviously that wouldn’t have been to the taste of Heinze, who by now seems to relish the bitterness he inspires in others.

So it’ll come as no surprise that Heinze was one of the focal points – or should we say flash-points - ahead of last Sunday’s clasico between Marseille and PSG at the Parc des Princes. “I spent three formidable years in Paris,” Heinze said, before his trigger-happy personality decided to add: “I will do everything to win the match.”

Recently retired midfielder Fabrice Fiorèse decided to come forward and remind Heinze what kind of a welcome he could expect. After all, he had first-hand experience of the PSG fans’ wrath when he moved to Marseille in 2004.

On Fiorèse’s return to the Parc in November that year, he needed police protection just to take a corner.

Touché! The banner tells the story

Heinze wasn’t the only prospective target, though. Two other Marseille players, Edouard Cissé and Fabrice Abriel, could also consider themselves on the hit list, having upped and left PSG earlier in their careers.

Hatem Ben Arfa, the hugely talented but temperamental playmaker who grew up in in southwestern Parisian suburb Châtenay-Malabry, also admitted to France Football that while playing at the Parc feels like a second home, the fans tend to mock him.

Strangely though, all four players emerged not only victorious – with a stunning 3-0 victory, Marseille’s biggest at the Parc – but also relatively unscathed. For the PSG fans had decided to take aim not at Marseille, but at each other.

"Let's have a riot!" "Oh, alright then."

Throughout the match, rival sets of PSG supporters from the Virage Auteuil and the Kop of Boulogne exchanged abuse. In fact, they only turned their attention to the team when Benoit Cheyrou scored Marseille’s third and final goal in the 71st minute and then it was to chant “thank you, Paris” and “une équipe de merde”. 

Once the game ended, the inevitable happened, as fights that had already broken out before kick off resumed outside the ground. Ever since the Tigris Mystic, a collective of ultras from the Virage Auteuil, dissolved in 2006, splinter groups, most notably the Supras and Authentiks, have challenged those from the Kop of Boulogne.

In the week leading up to the match it looked like a ceasefire had been called. But once Marseille fans announced that they were boycotting the fixture, the latest Paris peace treaty was revealed to be a fig leaf.

The empty away end - well, corner

Riot police charged and tear gas was launched as the area around the Parc became a warzone. A 38-year-old member of the Kop of Boulogne was left in a coma after being attacked by a rival group based in the Tribune d’Auteuil.

Enough was enough. Action had to be taken. The city reverberated to echoes of November 2006, when a member of the Boulogne Boys was shot dead to protect an Israeli supporter under attack following a UEFA Cup match against Hapoel Tel Aviv. 

On Tuesday, PSG’s chairman Robin Leproux revealed that the club would try to stop the violence by no longer selling tickets for away games. “Violence is at its height, we have reached a new level of urban guerilla warfare," read a statement on PSG’s website.

The police edge nervously forward

"Until further notice, we shall not sell tickets to our supporters for our away games. It’s a far-reaching and distressing decision but I have to ensure the safety of all.”

The French Minister of the Interior Brice Hortefeux backed Leproux’s decision ahead of PSG’s trip to Lens on Saturday, especially in light of clashes between the club’s fans in Lille on January 16.

However, putting the deplorable violence to one side for a minute, L’Equipe raised a perfectly valid existential point regarding the almost unprecedented nature of PSG’s situation. “There were no Marseille supporters at the Parc des Princes. And, in the end, there weren’t any people there to support PSG.”

If a football club is required to be financially solvent to remain a going concern, surely it also needs a fan base as well? Lying in 12th place with just one win in the League in 2010, PSG are in crisis but above all they are on their own.

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