Since the resumption of the French football championship in early August, several meetings have been punctuated by violence. Blows between players, supporters and members of the management during the derby between Nice and Olympique de Marseille, on August 22, violence and invasion of the field at the end of the first half of the Lens-Lille match, on September 18 , or even paving of a Bordeaux fan bus in Montpellier, on September 22.
If this resurgence of violence finds an explanation in the end of confinement and the resumption of a championship almost stopped for two seasons, Patrick Mignon, a sociologist specializing in questions of supporterism, nevertheless recalls that this phenomenon is a “Regular chronicle of French football”.
Are these incidents a new phenomenon of violence in French football or rather a coincidence of timing?
In recent weeks, we have mainly witnessed a return to a situation that was already a few years old. This type of violence is more or less a regular chronicle of French football since the 1980s. The phenomenon had certainly lost its scope, but it is all the same part of the ordinary of football.
On the one hand, this revival is not by chance, however, because we are emerging from a long period of confinement. The supporters – and all the more the ultras, more involved in sport – are finally returning to the stadium after almost two white seasons. This first return for months thus presented itself for some as a challenge because it was necessary to find both support mechanisms and above all reputation. Provoking these incidents is then a way for them to get back on the “supporters’ map”. Because they are certainly often in conflict with the clubs – and know very well that by provoking this violence, the latter will be punished -, but they are above all in competition against each other and want to show that they exist.
However, there is another aspect to take into account. The latest incidents took place either during derbies (Lens-Lille and Nice-OM) – which are traditionally “hot matches” and for which some excesses are expected – or during meetings between important clubs and more. small teams – which are also traditionally strained. From this point of view therefore, the succession of these tense matches is a coincidence of timing. And the phenomenon is not necessarily more important than before. It is above all an accumulation of events; if we add it up, it is likely that it does not exceed that of previous seasons.
What role do the weak sanctions imposed recently play in the increase of these incidents?
The question of sanctions is, in my opinion, inseparable from the supportive management policy in French football. Sanctions are what they are, they are applied in the same way as before and, blind or justified, they are part of the legal process. So we can’t really say that the sanctions, which some people believe are too weak, are responsible for this new violence.
I think especially that we forgot, during the interruption suffered by French football because of the pandemic linked to Covid-19, that this issue of supporterism was going to be taken up in order to define different modes of action. , instead of or in addition to sanctions. This was the central theme of the discussions launched by the sports ministry with clubs and supporters, but the pandemic has stopped everything.
Since then, we have talked about the financial crisis of clubs and the return of spectators, but French football still does not have a clear policy for managing supporters. The latter must be much deeper than simple sanctions, and find a balance between prevention and repression.
Are these supportive management difficulties specific to French football?
These incidents are not limited to French football, and more serious violence sometimes takes place in stadiums in Eastern Europe or Italy. At European level, responses to this violence differ, however. There are two models among the countries which have imposed a systematized policy.
The first is the British model, which first presents a system of significant criminal penalties – serious misconduct, even non-violent, insult or invasion of the field can also be sanctioned by the outright cancellation of the subscription. But this repressive component is nevertheless linked to the importance of the public, which makes it possible to rely on expensive subscriptions and not on the sale of single seats or on the ultra supporters who had constituted, in France, the bulk of the public at a certain period.
This repression is also combined with a policy of intervention by clubs in their environment – to prevent violence against young people, civic and civil education -, as well as a very strong football culture, too. both numerically and qualitatively, which has pushed even the most passionate of supporters to oppose the hooligans.
The second model is German and more preventive, thanks to the establishment of a dedicated policy from the end of the 1970s and the first victim of clashes between supporters. It relies above all on a system of consultations between football clubs, local police and city authorities to finance “support projects”. The role of the latter is to have relationships, to organize educational and preventive actions, in order to create, again, a very strong supportive culture while marginalizing the most violent.
Unlike many countries, Germany has been engaged for several years in a doctrine of de-escalation.
There is also a repressive component in German football, in the event of a crime. But, unlike many countries, Germany has been engaged for several years – globally and a fortiori in the management of supporters – in a doctrine of de-escalation. Instead of responding firmly, the police go to potentially agitated groups to negotiate a number of things, such as the parade between the station and the stadium or the participation with social workers and clubs in various activities.
These are different management policies, which also respond to different visions of society. French football is still looking for its own policy of supportism and could hardly copy one of those just mentioned, especially because the clubs are not powerful enough – with the possible exception of Paris-Saint- Germain – to keep only the subscribers, and that the “culture of the supporter” does not exist as much in France as in Germany or the United Kingdom.