Pitchside

Trouble on French terraces mars entire weekend

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Sunday's Ligue 1 encounter between Nice and Saint-Etienne was more noteworthy for events off the field than on it, with pre-game crowd trouble raising the possibility of a blanket ban on away fan travel in France.

A Mevlut Erding goal midway through the first half proved enough for Saint-Etienne to win 1-0 on the Côte d'Azur, the result helping Christophe Galtier's side get back on track after the agony of their recent derby defeat to Lyon and lifting Les Verts back into the top six.

But Erding's strike was greeted by complete silence at the Allianz Riviera stadium. There were no away fans left inside the ground. They had all gone home before the match even started, although not without leaving their mark.

Poor segregation made it easy for around 250 Saint-Etienne ultras to confront Nice fans inside the ground in the hour leading up to kick-off. Seats were torn out and thrown towards the home support at the brand new stadium and nine people were injured before the police decided to evacuate the away section.

All Saint-Etienne fans - even those who had net yet entered the stadium - were told to get back on their buses and go home. The incidents were caught on camera, so it was a surprise to hear Sainté president Roland Romeyer claim on Monday afternoon that no arrests had been made.

Nevertheless, the authorities have promised to act and French league (LFP) president Frédéric Thiriez said ominously: "That is enough! These few cretins who call themselves supporters don't even realise that they are ruining the image of football.

"Repression is the only solution." He also admitted that a "systematic ban on travelling fans" could be the only answer.

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Xavier Lortat-Jacob, president of the Nice Eco-Stadium, speaks to journalists on the tribune's balcony after the …

French football has not been immune to fan violence down the years, and it can be a complex issue. In February 2010, a fan was killed in a fight with a rival Paris Saint-Germain supporters group prior to the meeting with Marseille at the Parc des Princes.

On that occasion, a blanket ban on away fan travel was applied, but it only succeeded in turning the focus of bloodthirsty young men on followers of their own club.

PSG fans famously clashed with riot police in front of the Eiffel Tower as the club celebrated winning the Ligue 1 title in the city in May, and there has been trouble elsewhere this season too.

In September, Rennes fans broke onto the pitch before kick-off and confronted Nantes supporters at the other end of the Stade de la Route de Lorient before the derby meeting of the sides.

And just two weeks ago, Lyon fans staged a peaceful protest after being banned from travelling to the Rhône derby at Saint-Etienne. But there was still trouble at the game as Lyon goalkeeping coach Joel Bats - in a show of support to the banned fans - hung a club scarf on one of the goal nets, provoking the ire of Saint-Etienne ultras, who broke onto the pitch to remove it.

After the incidents of February 2010, PSG banned some 13,000 supporters from renewing their season tickets. It was a highly controversial measure and the atmosphere at the Parc des Princes - formerly one of the most intimidating in Europe - has been sanitised.

That is a real shame. The noise and colour of the atmosphere at a big game in France can make for a genuinely awesome spectacle - as anyone who has attended a match at venues such as the Stade Vélodrome and the Stade Bollaert in Lens will tell you - and the authorities have a responsibility to make sure that does not go away completely.

Action of some kind needs to be taken, but a complete ban on away fan travel was introduced in Argentina and observers there do not believe it is a solution to the problem of violence within grounds. Back in France, Romeyer put forward his proposal in the wake of Sunday's events in Nice.

"(What happened) is not football. Football should be a fête, a spectacle, fights between fans should not come into it," he told one news channel.

"The Interior Minister, the league, club presidents and fans need to meet and put together a charter and make sure there are serious punishments for those who do not respect the rules."

Those in power may favour more draconian measures, though, as they look to avoid bad publicity in the build-up to the French-hosted Euro 2016.

Andy Scott | Follow on Twitter

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