A Travel Guide to Olympique de Marseille

Stade Vélodrome, Marseille: OM - Le Man by fredGLLS, on Flickr

Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License Image by:  fredGLLS 

Established in 1899, Olympique de Marseille are one of the oldest club sides in Ligue 1 – that’s a mere 71 years before Paris Saint Germain were formed, as they will happily remind you. Known as ‘Les Phocéens’, or for those in a rush ‘L’OM, the club motto ‘Droit au But’ or “Straight to the Goal,” was originally re-appropriated from L’OM’s rugby side as with many French teams, they were originally aligned to other sports within an ‘omnisport’ club. Marseille have spent most of their long history in the French top flight and easily have the largest fan base in France, stretching far beyond the walls of the nation’s second city, as well as across the Med into Algeria. Marseille are owned by probably the most powerful woman in football, Margarita Louis-Dreyfus, a style icon at 51, and one of the richest businesswomen in the world. How wonderfully French.

Finishing second in the Ligue 1 championship of 2012-13, L’OM are at time of writing, 5th in France’s top flight (the French Everton?) and a good 15 points adrift of leader’s PSG, with southern neighbours AS Monaco, the team chasing on the heels of Les Parisiens.  As for Marseille’s Champions League appearance this season, well it’s not the first topic of conversation you might choose to bring up, if you find yourself passing through the Mediterranean mega-port this Summer – with L’OM finishing the bottom of their group with “Nil Points.” Not good.


Image by Luctor under Creative Commons 3.0 License

It seems a far cry from the late 1980s and early 90s – an era that belonged to Marseille – when then club President Bernard Tapie built one of the greatest sides in French football history – the days of “Magic Chris” Waddle, Abedi Pele and Jean-Pierre Papin et al, culminating in Marseille winning the European Cup in 1993. Though I’m sure L’OM fans will want to gloss over the painful match fixing scandal of 1994 – now water under the bridges of Valenciennes.

These days there is talk of a ‘Marseille project’ – with those in charge of the club wanting to use ‘the Dortmund model’ to guide squad investment; restrict costs and salaries (translation – getting Loic Remy off the wage bill) and re-build and stabilise over the next 2-3 years. However, critics cite the relative inexperience of the squad as being one of Marseille’s major problems, as well as an ongoing slapdash approach to blowing massive amounts of Euros on unproven players – all not very Dortmund sounding. L’OM have to hope that striker André-Pierre Gignac keeps finding the net in 2013/14. We watch with interest.


Om 1988-89

Home Shirt 1988-1989

Marseille are another club with a tradition of classy football kits – easy really with traditional kits of predominantly all one colour – less chance of kit designers running ruin ( so writes a bitter WBA fan). The team traditionally play in white and light blue detailing – the colours adopted as a nod to the city of Marseille’s Greek founders back in the very olden days of time. Marseille and adidas have a very strong relationship going back over many seasons. Interestingly, in 2011/2012, kit maker and club held a competition where a fan was able to design the team’s away kit – a superb idea. The winning kit was a classy black with gold stripes.

Here are three we like – a lot.

mars 1991092

The “Chris Waddle” Home Shirt 1992-93

marseille 2000-01

Home Shirt 2000-01

ARCH-RIVALS: This is of course obvious – Paris Saint-Germain are Marseille’s arch-rivals and we have already written of Le Classique  (matches played between L’OM and PSG) elsewhere on the site – a game where a large proportion of the French, from Calais down to Corsica, unite behind Marseille against the might of Paris. As with El Clásico, this fixture is about more than football and is also a kick against the dominating economic and cultural influence of Paris in France. Others argue that games between Marseille and Saint-Etiénne – the teams with the most silverware – are the real French Classico. You decide. (Gallic shrug.)


Marseille Ultras say: “Turn off your TV and Switch on Your Passion!”

FAN CULTURE: Marseille has its own strong Ultras culture with groups ranging from the South Winners 1987, Commando Ultras ‘84 to the simply titled ‘Fanatics,’ which do what that say on the tin, I guess. Groups buy block tickets for their members at the beginning of the season and each have their own standing areas within the stadium curvas. Fans of L’OM have strong links with Italian sides UC Sampdoria, AS Livorno and AEK Athens which can often be seen reflected in fan displays, here and there.

As with other fan groups, the Marseille Ultras are worried about crack downs, as the French League may act to clean up the domestic game before the Euro’s are held in France in 2016. “Liberte Pour Les Ultras! ” is their plaintiff cry –whilst bans on travelling away supporters, which have been used before in France, could return if the Ligue President has anything to do with it.

Other things that get on the Marseille Ultras nerves is talk of a ban on flares in stadiums which they think will kill the atmosphere and that television is anaesthetising traditional football support.

Now if you so choose, you can go on a tour of L’OM guided by the Marseille Ultras themselves…a great little film and half way through you may notice a prominent ‘Marseille Against Racism’ flag. Where do they get their giant banners? That’s what I want to know…

STADIUM: L’OM play at the beautiful 1937 built ‘Stade Vélodrome’ which at 60,o31 is the largest capacity club football stadium in France. Originally, the stadium hosted cycling competitions but over time the stands encroached on the track and the cyclists were kicked out. The stadium is not loved by all of Les Marseillais- detractors moan about its poor acoustics and its exposure to the strong mistral winds of France (blowing down from the North, of course). One of the stands is wonderfully titled – ‘Virage Nord de Patrice de Perreti’ reportedly named after a “local charismatic bear” that died in 2000. The mind boggles.

L’OM are tenants not owners of the ground and the stadium is also sometimes used by Toulon Rugby Club, as well as hosting the occasional France international Rugby Union match.  The stadium is currently undergoing massive redevelopment as part of France’s preparation for Euro 2016 and has a temporary capacity reduction. Building work will result in covered stands and an increase in capacity to 67,000.  The project should be completed by Summer 2014 and designs for the finished stadium look stunning to be fair.

Fans who have an excessive interest in building control can keep track of every minute of the Stade Vélodrome renovation project via the L’OM website.Stade vélodrome by sophie roques, on Flickr

Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License The Stade Vélodrome prior to the re-building work  – Image by sophie roques 

NOTABLE EX-PLAYERS: Alain Giresse; Fabien Barthez; Jean-Pierre Papin; Chris Waddle; Didier Deschamps; Eric Cantona; Basile Boli, Rudi Voller; Abedi Pele and Morgan Amalfitano (of course).

SILVERWARE: European Cup Winners in 1993 – the only French team to lift the trophy to date. (They will remind you of this),  Ligue 1 titles x 9, Coupe de France x 10 (record holders) , Coupe de la Ligue x 3.

DSC_6095 by mustapha_ennaimi, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  Margarita & L’OM’s TDC winning team of 2011 Image : mustapha_ennaimi 

© LRM for @Awaycolours 2014


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