As soon as I got here, I started doing research with some other guys in the program trying to find the perfect time to fulfil a dream: a soccer game in Europe. This past weekend was a perfect to go to a Marseille game: a Sunday night game (meaning it was the highlight of the week) in a matchup against the defending league champion AS Monaco. Tickets were bought, plans were made, everything was set.
With all the sporting events I had been to in my life, I was ready for the stereotyped crazy atmosphere of a European soccer game. The game started at nine, but to fully experience the atmosphere we got to the stadium around seven.
But before we could even see the stadium, we knew we were there. The subway was packed with light blue scarfs of Marseille fans and white jerseys. We came off the steps of the subway, and could hear the chants of “Allez Marseille” from blocks away.
As we got closer, it only got crazier. Chants got louder as the streets became more and more packed, and food carts got more often. I have no clue what I had for dinner that night, but I know it was only five euros and it was really, and I got to eat it right in from of the stadium as I watched fans chant and go crazy.
Of course, our first stop was to the merchandise store, and I learned just how intense the Paris-Marseille rivalry is. Across the stadium, there’s a store that sells jerseys and paraphernalia for the team. And as a welcome to the store, they have conveniently placed a Paris Saint-Germain jersey on the ground for fans to wipe their feet.
One thing that I was not ready for and kind of alarmed me, however, was the massive amounts of fireworks just being thrown on the ground. Right in front of the stadium, in the open area with the chanters, fans would throw fireworks and road flares right there around everybody. It was all contained to one area, so I know as long as I avoided that circle I would be okay, but it was still alarming and a shock to see police watch people do that and not do anything.
As we walked around the circle of explosions, we neared security and started to hand out the tickets. We were waiting in line, tickets in hands, as our excitement was growing, when suddenly somebody just grabs my ticket out of my hand. By the time I turned around, the thief was nowhere to be found. Confused, I started yelling at the poor guy behind me, who just looked super confused as this stranger was just shouting English in his face.
Luckily, we had an extra ticket since one of our friends was sick and couldn’t come, but if I learned one thing out of my experience it was that Marseille was never safe from thieves and pick pocketers.
But enough about outside the stadium, let’s get to the actual game. The first thing I immediately noticed was the stands were surprisingly empty. It reminded me a lot of baseball, where the stadiums are built huge to accompany the one or two games a year where they fully sell out and they just deal with empty seats the rest of the season.
But the fans that were there, were there in full spirit. Behind each goal, it was like watching a Madison student section go crazy for a full 90 minutes of action. They were chanting, waving flags, jumping around from the first whistle to the last. I was impressed, to say the least.
The game itself was a lot of fun. Hearing the crowd erupt both times when Marseille scored was breathe-taking, and hearing the silence after both of Monaco’s goals was a pleasure in itself, from an outsider’s perspective. The game ended in a 2-2 draw, but it was still one of the coolest things I’ve done since I got here, and a friend being sick gives us the perfect reason to go back to another game.