There will be only one enduring image from Ligue 1’s shameful finish to the weekend as the match between Olympique Marseille and Olympique Lyonnais was cancelled. It will be the picture of Lyon manager Fabio Grosso covered in blood, concussed, and unable to form a sentence after his team’s bus was attacked en route to the Stade Vélodrome by Marseille fans.
But it could so easily have been the image of Lyon supporter’s busses shattered and broken. Or the masked Lyon fans shouting racial epitaphs and Nazi saluting in the away stands. This was a night when the undercurrent writhing beneath French football once again emerged.
It should be easy to summarise what happened because it’s happened enough times to become routine. French football has a violence problem and with a leadership that seems unwilling to challenge this, it’s hard to see how it will find its solution.
France has been wracked by incidents where violence has erupted within and outside of the stadium. Crowd trouble has made a comfortable home within the league and this is the second game in one month to be abandoned because supporters cannot go a moment without debasing themselves.
In early October, Montpellier and Clermont Foot’s match was cancelled midgame because a fan threw a firework at the Clermont goalkeeper Mory Diaw. Last year the promotion and relegation races were settled in Ligue 2 after a Bordeaux fan stormed the pitch to confront the Rodez goalscorer. Lucas Buadés was taken to hospital and the match was abandoned.
The year before saw nine games abandoned in Ligue 1 and another Marseille and Lyon fixture cancelled after Dimitri Payet was struck in the head by a water bottle thrown by a fan.
If there is an issue surely there is a solution, and the league’s elegant catch-all solution imposed due to the rise in incidents was to put up nets around key parts of the stadium in high-risk fixtures to try and prevent missiles being launched at players.
It felt like putting a bandage on a seeping wound; the missiles might not hit the players (as often) but has the core issue of the violence been fixed? No, as we keep seeing. The nets only work during a game and if you have them up, which just means that the violence bubbling underneath the surface finds other routes and avenues to express itself.
The problem is that French football from its administrative body down to the clubs seems incapable or unwilling to check and challenge the behaviours of its supporters. It is rare to see legislation or even meaningful sanctions put in place after these incidents, which only works to encourage an attitude that the fans can get away with repeating these acts.
I keep thinking about a scene in The Simpsons where Ned Flanders’ parents go to a psychologist to try and fix their out-of-control son, and they plea “We’ve tried nothing and we’re all out of ideas.”
It could become the slogan of the league itself. France will remonstrate with itself, it will demand how can this keep happening, politicians and key figures will slither out and condemn all involved, and then we will watch as nothing changes. Then the next incident will occur and the ugly cycle will start over and over again, as we etch ever closer to a more fatal conclusion.
The truth seems to be that nothing will come of this image of Grosso hurt and bloodied. It seems like nothing short of death will cause a change that shame cannot touch, leaving only some unsuspecting martyr to an avoidable and fixable solution. This is a deeply depressing thought, but only marginally less so than the idea that even death might not fix these issues.