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Fan violence rears its ugly head as Nice, Marseille game abandoned after players attacked

Punches are exchanged in an ugly brawl involving players and fans during the Ligue 1 game between Nice and Marseille at the Allianz Riviera stadium in Nice, France, August 22, 2021. /CFP

The much-anticipated arrival of Lionel Messi at Paris Saint-Germain should have been the perfect time for Ligue 1 to raise its profile. However, while the six-time Ballon d'Or winner awaits his debut, the French topflight still managed to make headlines around the world once again, albeit for the wrong reasons. 

On Sunday night, the explosive game between Nice and Marseille was unceremoniously abandoned after home fans threw projectiles and invaded the field, injuring several players during a violent brawl.

The incident started in the 75th minute when Marseille midfielder Dimitri Payet was hit on the back of the head by a bottle launched from the stands at the Allianz Riviera Stadium. The French star, who had been targeted by the Nice fans every time he took a corner, threw a bottle back into the crowd, resulting in a throng of home supporters rushing onto the pitch, and an ugly melee ensued.

A heavy police presence keeps a close eye on the Nice fans in the South Curve following the pitch invasion during the Ligue 1 game between Nice and Marseille at the Allianz Riviera stadium in Nice, France, August 22, 2021. /CFP

The referees and stewards tried to intervene and stop the conflict from escalating further but to no avail. Punches were thrown, and even Marseille manager Jorge Sampaoli attempted to join the fight at one point but was held back by his coaching staff.  

French media outlet L'Equipe said at least three Marseille players, Matteo Guendouzi, Luan Peres and Payet, were injured in scuffles with the invading fans.  

Play was held up by 90 minutes as both teams retreated to the tunnel to allow the situation to calm down a little bit before the home players returned to the pitch to warm up. However, when it was decided to restart the league tie, with hosts Nice 1-0 ahead, Marseille players refused to come out, forcing the referee to abandon the game.

Home supporters invade the pitch during the Ligue 1 game between Nice and Marseille at the Allianz Riviera stadium in Nice, France, August 22, 2021. /CFP

According to a video clip posted by Ligue 1 broadcasting rights holder Amazon Prime, Marseille president Pablo Longoria yelled at officials in the tunnel, "We will not play! We will not play!" 

"Our players were attacked! We decided, for the safety of our players, to not restart the match because their safety wasn't guaranteed," Longoria later explained in a press briefing. 

He said the match officials had also agreed with his opinion. 

"The referee confirmed to us that safety wasn't guaranteed. He didn't want to restart the match. But the league decided to restart," Longoria said. "That's unacceptable for us, and that's why we decided not to restart the match and to return to Marseille."

Marseille player Alvaro Gonzalez confronts Nice fans during the Ligue 1 game between Nice and Marseille at the Allianz Riviera stadium in Nice, France, August 22, 2021. /CFP

Nice president Jean-Pierre Rivere was also in a bad mood. "It's disappointing that the match ended this way," he said. "Everyone saw what happened. Our fans threw bottles; we can't deny that. But I think that, unfortunately, what sparked things off was the reaction of Marseille players to throw back the bottles. After that, it snowballed." 

Rivere also pointed the finger at the Marseille security. "I don't think they should have got involved on the pitch, and they certainly shouldn't have hit our players because two of our players were hit. But that's not the argument here," he said. 

"I didn't really understand the decision by our Marseille colleagues of not wanting to restart. Everyone advised them to restart; there were 15 minutes left. I talked to the supporters ... they guaranteed me there wouldn't be any more problems." 

Nice's football club president Jean-Pierre Rivere (C) during the Ligue 1 game between Nice and Marseille at the Allianz Riviera stadium in Nice, France, August 22, 2021. /CFP

According to Ligue 1 rules, an automatic 3-0 victory will be awarded to Nice as Marseille refused to carry on the fixture, but Marseille is likely to appeal such a result.  

It was not the first time in the new season that Marseille's game was marred by fan trouble. Their opening win at Montpellier was also briefly held up when fans pelted the pitch with bottles.