I had already been to Stade Du Ray on two separate occasions to watch Ligue 1 strugglers OGC Nice when a friend of mine suggested we go to see to local debu between Nice and Olympiqyue Marseille. This invitation piqued my curiosity for two main reasons. First, Olympique Marseille were touted as one of the best teams in Europe. They were coached by French World Cup winner Didier Deschamps and their line-up included current French internationals like Mathieu Valbeuna and Pierre Alain Gignac. I was also keen to get to the match because it was something of a local derby, where I might expect to find a bit of intensity.
On the whole, French football lacks major rivalries. There is nothing to rival games like Scotland’s Old Firm between rangers and Celtic, the latch between Boca and River Plate in Argentina or England’s Merseyside Derby. One major reason for this is the lack of geographic pairings. None of France’s major cities have two large teams. The closest Ligue 1 comes is the match between the two biggest teams from the South coast: Marseille and Nice. Because of this, the game can get a little feisty.
The 2012 version of the match had a couple of other factors that would make it interesting. Firstly, OGC Nice were in a spot of trouble as they sat in 18th position and were in danger of relegation. Secondly, despite strong performances in the UEFA Champions League, Marseille were performing poorly in the French League. They were on a run of seven straight defeats that they desperately wanted to halt. Thirdly, Marseille’s star striker was Loic Remy, who had made a major fuss when he left Nice to join Marseille.
Tickets for the match were a little more expensive than normal. Instead of paying 12Euros to sit behind the goal, it was 18.40. However, my friend assured me it would be worth it. Most of Nice clearly felt the same way as the game was busy. Getting there on the Tramway was difficult as hundreds of fans crammed on. The stadium was also much fuller than it had been when I went to the previous games. There was also heightened security with several roads blocked off by police in huge armored suits. This was in order to prevent any clashes between the fans.
During the previous games I had seen, I had been impressed by the OGC Nice fans. They were a lot more passionate than the majority of other French fans. They liked to sing and scream, and really get behind their team. However, this time, they took it to a new level. There were scores of flags, hundreds of firecrackers and plenty of singing – much of this was in rather colorful language and directed at the Marseille players. This all made the experience of the derby rather exciting.
Sadly, the game itself failed to live up to the standards of the fans watching it. Marseille were desperately poor. Remy was anonymous in attack and Valbuena scarcely managed to get into the game save for the odd flash of skill. They were very lucky to still be level at 0-0 when half-time came around. The only thing that helped them was Nice’s inability to score. The home-side had enjoyed lots of possession, but was in desperate need of a cutting edge. In the second-half, though, things spiced up. Marseille managed to score against the run of play and looked like they would leave with an undeserved victory. Thankfully, Nice awarded a late penalty to equalize. The goal was greeted with great delight as the stadium erupted.