The ultras of Marseille

Tom Williams



Photographer Kane Hulse immersed himself in the fiery atmosphere of the Stade Vélodrome and its surrounding area during a tumultuous time for Olympique de Marseille. Witnessing a calamitous 0-0 draw with Toulouse before a clinical 4-0 defeat to rivals PSG, the excursion revealed the fierce grip ultras have on the football club.

A taxi to your European hotel is often a perfect breeding ground for gentle football related patter, but this OM-leaning cabby took it up a notch. Relaying the sentiment: “I don’t hate Parisians, but I do hate PSG.”

This turned out to be a drop in the ocean for the hate-fuelled mayhem that was about to unravel itself during Kane’s trip. After the bore draw to Toulouse, the then Marseille manager Marcelino García Toral called it quits after a mere seven games. It’s not often you seen a gaffer quit in the modern era of football, normally they are sacked before they get the chance. So what does it take to leave one’s post so early in to a job? According to Marcelino: “intimidation, threats, insults and slander.”

Despite not losing a league game in his brief tenure, the ultras sealed his fate and stamped their authority before the month of October. The disenfranchisement came from exiting the Champions League, unpopular sales of players including Alexis Sanchez, and a more functional style of play. There were also grumblings that his appointment was only due to his personal friendship with owner Pablo Longoria, who despite being a relatively popular figure, was also receiving pressure to resign amongst an environment he claimed was “impossible to work” in.

This is not unusual for the club, with Andreas Villas Boas leaving under similar circumstances back in 2021. The pressure from the ultras is amongst the most severe in clubs across Europe. Their grip on OM’s proceedings extends so far that ultra-groups are actually in charge of administering tickets for the stands, as Hulse witnessed in bars before the game.

Kane found himself situated in the home of the CAOM ultras in the Virage Nord stand of the stadium for the Toulouse fixture. They sit opposite to the orange-laden Virage Sud who tend to veer a bit more extreme in their activities. Before the referee blew the barely hearable whistle, fans around started pulling on balaclavas and whipping out flares. A recent CCTV arrest meant the balaclavas were an extra piece of protection as well as a hostile-atmosphere booster.

After an uninspiring game, players tentatively raised their hands in applause for the ultras, appearing more like lambs to the slaughter than seasoned professionals. The ultras berated the team – lamenting their lack of passion and suitability to wear the shirt. This was the last time Marcelino would manage Marseille. The ultras had spoken.

Photography: Kane Hulse.

Read More