Yesterday evening I went to my first home match of the new season where OGC Nice were taking on Rennes and facing not only the curse of a returning
player in Rod Fanni but also a returning manager in Antonetti. Watching the players line up at the start, I had forgotten that Rennes are one of the biggest sides, in terms of the height of their players, in the 1st division while we’re one of the smaller sides.
The first half started in a lively enough fashion, and with the ground at almost capacity, the fans were very vocal. But it then descended, possibly thanks to the heat, into a bit of a boring kick-around. Incredibly, Nice scored just before half-time: a real screamer from Ben Saada. This was cancelled out two minutes later when Nice conceeded a penalty in a hand ball, goal mouth bundle.
The second half was much livelier, but neither team looked capable of scoring again and Nice were unable to profit from their numerical advantage once Rennes were reduced to 10 men. The draw was a fair result. To my mind more worrying was the number of scouts sitting behind us watching and taking notes on the players. I know the transfer window hasn’t closed but, please, hands off our players, particularly Remy and Apam.
There are two glaring differences between watching Premiership football and the French first division: alcohol and away fans. Yesterday’s match took place at 17:00. No one would have gone for a drink before the match though it’s entirely possible that fans may have stopped off on the way home to share a glass of wine and discuss the finer points of the match. This means I’m not leaping to my feet every five minutes during the match to let someone get past me to go to the toilet. Nor am I overcome by alcoholic fumes from those in the neighbouring seats.
There are away fans at the match. Generally, there’s so few that it’s possible to count them. They are segregated on their own in a corner of the ground and guarded by a couple of stewards. These will be the fans that have travelled to Nice on the Stade Rennais coaches. The biggest away crowds are generally Marseille and St Etienne. Equally, there will be a number of away fans sitting with the home fans. You would never be allowed through the home-side turnstiles of a Premiership game wearing a strip from the opposition. If you did, you would immediately be ejected by the stewards. Here there’s no problem, the French, largely family, crowd is very laid back.
In conclusion, while the standard of football in the Premiership is superior to that of the French, alas the behaviour of the fans is not. I much prefer the easy, non-threatening ambiance of French matches.