"To see in the ultras only a power of nuisance is to ignore that they are above all a counter-power"

French football needs its supporters ultra to ensure the atmosphere in the stadiums, but also as an opposition force, writes our columnist Jérôme Latta

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Paris Saint-Germain's fans hold a tifo representing a character of Japanese manga Dragon ball prior to the French L1 football match between Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) and Olympique Marseille (OM) at the Parc des Princes Stadium in Paris on October 27, 2019 (Photo by Bertrand GUAY / AFP) BERTRAND GUAY / AFP

CHRONIC. A great procession to the Velodrome Stadium, an exceptional tifo, a record crowd, a fiery atmosphere: the OM-OL poster of Sunday night (2-1) recalled what the football spectacle owed to the fans and the importance of their presence to make the value of the product.

The superlatives of the commentators of Canal + contrasted with their vexation a week earlier when the Saint-Etienne-Monaco match was held in front of empty kops, their two tribunes having been closed by the Disciplinary Committee of the League for use of smoke.

Assumed transgressions

Football needs its supporters, even if they are the cause of various troubles. The Lyonnais coach was stranded, some of the simplest thought to throw paper balls on the corner shooters, others to direct lasers into the eyes of the opponents.

These excesses are however not to be attributed to the ultras, who would not claim them. Unlike the use of fumigants, which caused a brief interruption last night in Marseille, and still constitute the main point of tension with the authorities.

Earlier in the day, in Nantes, the Brigade Loire celebrated its twentieth anniversary with a nice pyrotechnic show during the match against Saint-Étienne. This assumed transgression will be worth to the club one of these fines that the leaders budget before the season, so much they have become ritual.

While dialogue has progressed in some areas, the struggle is dragging on in this area, to the extent that some groups are using it as a means of pressure on their leaders. The other clubs, caught in the vice, deplore the rigidity of the Disciplinary Committee.

Structural conflicts

After the long controversy over "homophobia in the stadiums", the ultras continued to occupy the sports news. In Lyon, the arrival of Rudi Garcia, former OM coach who had not spared the OL, has aroused a reprobation that immediately began its credit.

Elsewhere, supporters are often in direct opposition to their leaders or shareholders. In Marseille, the promises of the new owners were smashed on the wall of bad sports choices, leading to the weakening of the team and a severe revision of objectives.

In the Girondins de Bordeaux, another club bought by foreign investors, the means immediately contradicted the ambitions displayed, accentuating the extreme distrust of the ultras – who had analyzed the flaws in the discourse of the buyer.

The supporters of Bordeaux today revolt against a ticketing policy accused of simulating shortages in some stands to promote the sale of more expensive places … This while the filling rate of the new stadium – just over 50% season past – is hopeless.

We can see, in Marseille and Bordeaux, the result of a clash of cultures between supporters who say "No to modern football" and neo-technocrats who speak second language marketing.

These more structural than cyclical conflicts testify above all to the tensions brought about by the financialisation of football, which implies a cynical governance of clubs, reduced to the status of economic assets.

Voice over

Therefore, to see in the ultras only a power of nuisance is to ignore that they are above all a counter-power, almost the only one facing the upheavals of which they are among the first victims.

During the decade, the repression and deprivation of rights they have been subjected to have forced them to federate. They ended up getting, sometimes forceps in a very hostile environment, a voice in the chapter. Represented by their own organizations, they are also represented in the National Instance of Supportism created by the 2016 law.

And when dialogue and common sense prevail, they make progress, such as the return of the standing stands or the recent invitation to the prefects to distribute the prohibitions of displacement with more discernment.

The ultras also gained a much better visibility. It is hard to say that they have a better press than before, but the specialized media can no longer ignore them because they have established themselves as players in the game.

Finally, the "replacement of fans by spectators-consumers" part of the vast program of liberalization of football, which has been in action for some 30 years, has not been as successful as in England. With few assets, French football knows that it can do without his supporters.

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