Riot police stepped in when opposing fans fired flares and fireworks at each other ahead of the kick-off of Tuesday’s Champions League home game against Eintracht Frankfurt.
Other sections of the home crowd goaded their Marseille counterparts, with some cheering as flares and firecrackers landed in Frankfurt’s away section.
Similar incidents happened again later in the game when loud bangs drowned out several requests for silence over the stadium loudspeakers. Frankfurt’s traveling support of around 3,000 was held long after the German side’s 1-0 win at the Stade Velodrome.
Frankfurt also issued a statement distancing themselves from an alleged Nazi salute captured on video by a fan before the game.
“Eintracht Frankfurt stands for tolerance and diversity and takes a clear stance in the fight against racism, anti-Semitism and discrimination,” said the team. “The club clearly distances itself from the individual case before the UEFA Champions League game … in which a person performed what was understood as a ‘Hitler salute’ gesture. Anti-Semitic ideas are in stark contrast to the clear and unshakable values of the club and its roots.”
Frankfurt added that the fan “resolutely rejects the allegation of anti-Semitic intentions” and that the club “will thoroughly investigate this incident”.
In the run-up to the game, a large-scale police operation successfully contained the risk of fan violence in the city itself. After dozens were injured in a stadium brawl in Nice last week, authorities were on high alert for what was deemed a high-risk game.
Tensions rose late Tuesday afternoon when dozens of police officers marched a group of Frankfurt hardcore fans – so-called “Ultras” – numbering about 500 down a main street where those with tickets were taken to the game in buses under police escort. Those without tickets stayed on site in a fan zone with police nearby.
Earlier, Frankfurt ultras gathered in one of the city’s main squares, with police blocking each entrance and preventing ultras from leaving until hundreds of riot police escorted them around 4:30 p.m. On the way there was a brief skirmish with locals.
Violent elements from Marseille and Frankfurt got into fan clashes last season and vigilance was heightened in France following last Thursday’s mass brawl between Ultras from Nice and Cologne ahead of a Europa Conference League game.
Marseille police said five arrests were made on Monday night as large groups from Frankfurt and Marseille were narrowly prevented from confronting each other. Dozens of police cars were stationed around the city’s Old Port, and some armed police officers were present. The Frankfurt risk group was then detained by the police for several hours in front of their hotel.
Last week, violent clashes between groups of ultras at Nice stadium resulted in 32 injuries, one of them serious, after an ultra fell from the stands.
That prompted Marseille midfielder Matteo Guendouzi to call his side to calm before the game.
“I hope there isn’t a mess like we saw when Nice played Cologne,” he told France 3 TV.
Away fans from Frankfurt were ordered not to wear club colors in the city before the game and a prefectural decree partially banned the sale of alcohol from 2pm on Tuesday until kick-off at 9pm. However, this was not adhered to, and German fans drank throughout the day.
Similar preventive measures had failed to prevent huge clashes outside the Stade Velodrome when Dutch club Feyenoord visited Marseille last season, as hundreds of Feyenoord hooligans arrived without tickets with the intention of fighting. They wore no club colors and gathered in large numbers.
The old port of Marseille is used to football violence.
It was the scene of raging fighting when, at Euro 2016, Russian hooligans attacked English fans drinking in the many cafes, in scenes reminiscent of fights between English hooligans and local Marseille gangs during the 1998 World Cup.
With its countless side streets and alleys leading from the port to the stadium, Marseille is very difficult to control.
Clashes can occur the night before the game itself when fewer police are present. Marseille ultras fought late-night clashes with their Lazio counterparts in 2018, including last season’s fans of Feyenoord and Greek club PAOK Thessaloniki.
Last September, a game at the Stade Velodrome was suspended after fans clashed during the match between Marseille and Turkish club Galatasaray.
In April, around 200 Greek ultras from the PAOK managed to arrive in buses despite agreed restrictive measures such as police checks.
The day before the game and inside the stadium, clashes broke out between PAOK and the Marseille Ultras and the police. Local Ultras even tried to attack PAOK’s Ultras at their hotel.
The violence in Marseille continued in May when Feyenoord arrived for the Europa Conference League semi-final second leg, some hooligans arriving two days earlier. Their hooligan group, one of the most violent in Europe, numbered 400.
Before that game, they fought against the Ultras of Marseille several times outside the stadium. Marseille groups then attacked riot police as they did after the Galatasaray game to try to reach Ultras who were being held back by police at the stadium.
Frankfurt’s hooligan element, known as ‘Brigade Nassau’, has been active for a long time and clashed with rivals at Polish club Lech Poznan on August 24 in what appeared to be a pre-arranged meeting. Poznan’s hooligan element stopped at a game in Luxembourg against Dudelange on the way to Germany.
Frankfurt’s hooligans have in the past engaged in prearranged brawls with established hooligan groups such as Zenit St Petersburg’s ‘Music Hall’ or have been involved in forest brawls with rivals from Cologne and other German groups.
Clashes with West Ham supporters broke out around Frankfurt ahead of last season’s Europa League semifinals.
The Spanish city of Seville witnessed violent scenes surrounding the final, as some 300 ultras wearing raincoats from Frankfurt attacked fans of Scottish club Rangers as the season ended amid fan violence.