In the pounding heart of the bustling port city of Marseille, there is a football club that has captured the imaginations of millions worldwide with its unyielding passion, rich history, and undying commitment to the sport.
Olympique de Marseille is not just a football club but a symbol of pride for the people of the city. The two are forever entwined and bleed blue. Founded in 1899 by René Dufaure de Montmirail, the club’s blue and white striped jerseys have graced the Stade Vélodrome, their iconic home stadium, for generations.
OM’s history is punctuated by periods of extraordinary success. The club won its first French league title in 1937 and continued to be a dominant force in French football throughout the 20th century. However, it was in the early 1990s that Olympique de Marseille achieved its greatest glory.
Under the leadership of legendary coach Raymond Goethals, OM captured the UEFA Champions League title in 1993, becoming the first and, to date, the only French club to achieve this feat.
The team featured legends like Didier Deschamps, Marcel Desailly, and Jean-Pierre Papin, who all etched their names into football history.
That achievement, though, would be overshadowed by a match-fixing scandal that led to Marseille being stripped of the Ligue 1 title they won that same season, and relegated from the French top flight.
Marseille, though, were allowed to keep their continental crown, as there was no evidence any of the match-fixing had taken place in European matches. Thus they remain the inaugural Champions League winners. Quite the accolade!
30 years on from that historic triumph, photographer, NatxoTorné travelled to Marseille to experience first-hand the fervour of a city that only breathes football.
All Marsellaise have a particular mania to them
Marseille blew me away. There is something that makes this club and city unique: its people. I’ve assumed Marseille has no citizens. Marseille has hardcore fans living in the city.
The club works as an integrated motor. It doesn’t matter where you come from. Olympique is the vital symbol of Marseille. It’s the genuine representation of its people, the chaos, and the daily contradictions you can experience in one day in town.
All Marsellaise have a particular mania to them. It’s just waiting to see what type of madness grips them in football’s magical city. Marseille needs no introduction when it comes to football passion.
The “Marsellaise” condition requires being talented, fast and creative in daily life. That’s why they love pizza. Stade Vélodrome is good on a night out but bad on the morning after. Trust me.
The Vélodrome is a state of mind
There used to be graffiti on the steps in one of the tribunes where ultras are located saying “Welcome to the Jungle” and it’s as simple as this. The Vélodrome is a state of mind. Nothing seems real.
After living in Argentina, Marseille is without doubt the closest I’ve seen to replicating the South American atmosphere in Europe. And trust me, I know what I’m talking about. The city is called ‘Le petit Bagdad’ and you can imagine why.
I’m from Barcelona, so I feel very pleased and related to the Marsellaise lifestyle. I’ve learnt how to love and understand this city, full of paradoxes, chaos and a natural beauty that can’t be explained in words.
I have always felt like I wanted to be one of them
Jean Claude Izzo wrote “Marseille isn’t a city for tourists. Its beauty can’t be photographed. It can only be shared. It’s a place where you have to take sides, be passionately for or against. Only then can you see what there is to see.”
To me, Marseille it’s about the people. Everything in Marseille seems so hard but admirable at the same time. I have always felt like I wanted to be one of them.
In my mind, there’s a simple connection between being there and feeling good. It’s a bit bizarre and at the same time, because this club, this city and these people are simply different.
It’s part of Marseille’s identity to love Olympique
I think teams that are comparable with Marseilles are probably Athletic Club from Bilbao and Napoli. They are the only teams in real big cities, so their hard-core support is colossal.
You can’t choose a side, you have to support Marseilles or else you are the enemy. It’s part of Marseille’s identity to love Olympique.
It’s like the Mediterranean Sea, it’s been always there and once you understand it, you can see how vital, blue and beautiful it is.
All imagery was taken by the Groundhopping genius that is Natxo Torne who you can follow here
Natxo is an incredible photographer, digital creator, social media and fan culture producer