Saints and sinners
It's not just PSG's play that's foul, writes Dave Winter, it's their crowds as well
When the International Olympic Committee’s representatives visit Paris early this month to assess the city’s bid for the 2012 Games, you can be sure their hosts will keep them well away from a home match featuring the main Paris football team. It’s not just that PSG have been dire this season, finishing bottom of their Champions League group and struggling in the bottom half of Ligue 1. One whiff of the poisonous atmosphere at the Parc des Princes this season and the IOC would be straight on the blower to Seb Coe with some good news.
Racism and violence have featured with monotonous regularity at the Parc, while the club president, their head of security, owners Canal+ and all the PSG players have been victims of venomous attacks. In fact, the only people not to have felt the fury of the various PSG supporter groups are the opposition players, who have been treated to cries of “ole” every time they string more than two passes together and have had the luxury this season of treating a match in Paris like a home fixture.
PSG players have been filmed at their training ground pleading with supporters to give them a break, admitting that if necessary it’s perfectly acceptable to jeer them at the end of a poor match, but asking not to be booed on to the pitch or whistled when the first pass goes astray. It’s got so bad that the club’s top scorer, Portugal striker Pauleta, has stopped celebrating his home goals.
Events reached their apogee at the game against Lens at the start of February. The match took place shortly after the launch of the “Stand Up Speak Up” campaign (or “Thierry Henry’s Stand Up Speak Up campaign”, as it’s known here). In addition to the various anti-racism messages displayed around the ground, Nike kitted out PSG in a special all-white kit, while Lens wore black, with the campaign’s slogan rather than the player’s name on the back of the shirts. Showing a sense of perception normally only associated with great thinkers such as Gary Neville, supporters in the Tribune Auteuil unfurled an amusing banner reading “Avec Nike pas de racisme: tous les enfants a l’usine!” (roughly “No racism with Nike: all the children go to the factory!”). Unfortunately, the Tribune Boulogne opposite displayed a large banner reading “Allez Les Blancs: NBP 88”, with NBP being a neo-Nazi group and “88” symbolising “HH”, or “Heil Hitler”. Lens’ black players were victims of persistent monkey chants, though there appeared to be some sort of amnesty for the six black PSG players. Among the spectators in the stadium that night was France captain Patrick Vieira, who later stated that he would think twice before ever returning to the Parc.
Of course it doesn’t help that the team have been rubbish this year, that the club are hugely in debt, or that they are subject to a judicial inquiry into some highly dubious transfer dealing over the past decade. But none of this excuses the excesses of a sizeable part of PSG’s support. Besides, it’s been going on for years. Last season, almost by chance, PSG won the French Cup. However, the final was marred by the persistent barracking of the PSG captain, Frédéric Dehu, who, it had been revealed earlier in the week would be joining deadly rivals Olympique Marseille when his contract expired at the end of the season. He was even jeered when he collected the trophy and subsequently disappeared straight down the tunnel in tears, failing to return for the lap of honour.
The Federation Francaise de Football and the Ligue de Football Professionnel bear much of the responsibility for allowing the situation to spiral out of control. PSG should have twice played home games behind closed doors this season, yet each time the sanction has been suspended or reduced to a fine. And there is much to be said for the introduction of the “sit down, shut up, or you’re out” school of stewarding to French stadiums. If the stewards stand by as someone burns a rival club’s shirt, or as a father and three sons “flick the Vs” at the giant screen as Thierry Henry asks supporters to “Levez-Vous Exprimez Vous” (“Stand Up Speak Up”), then you have to ask how far people will be allowed to go. Seb Coe may yet find a use for the Millennium Dome.
From WSC 218 April 2005. What was happening this month
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