Football: Marseille are to be relegated

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THE French Football Federation last night relegated Marseille to the second division and barred the club president, Bernard Tapie, from French football for life over last year's Valenciennes match-rigging affair.

The federation president, Claude Simonet, announced punitive measures on the club and the players involved in last year's scandal after a day-long hearing followed by almost four hours of deliberation.

Marseille, European champions and the most expensive club ever assembled in France, were relegated to the second division from next season, although Simonet said they would not be barred from playing in European competition if they qualified.

Tapie had his licence as a football director withdrawn. Simonet said he would not be given a licence for future activity in French football. He added that the former Marseille general secretary, Jean-Pierre Bernes, would also be barred for life and the three players involved suspended until 1 July, 1996.

But the three, Jean-Jacques Eydelie of Marseille and Christophe Robert and Jorge Burruchaga of Valenciennes, would be allowed to apply to play outside France from 1 July this year if Fifa, the world ruling body, agrees.

The disciplinary measures followed last May's Valenciennes- Marseille league match when Eydelie handed over 250,000 francs ( pounds 37,000) to Robert's wife after asking Robert, Burruchaga and a third Valenciennes player, Jacques Glassmann, to lose the match.

Eydelie said he was given the cash by Bernes. Glassmann refused to go along with the plan and 'blew the whistle'. Earlier in the day, the federation postponed today's French Cup quarter-final in Marseille against Montpellier after receiving threats from the club's fans.

The federation's sanctions incensed a crowd of Marseille fans gathered outside the federation's Paris headquarters.

In Marseille, supporters reacted angrily to the news. 'They've hit us hard. We're going to do the same,' said Michel Tonini, president of the Ultras supporters' club. 'We're going to go to Paris to fix this lamentable affair. We hate these old men who think they can play with Marseille with impunity.' Jacques Pelissier, chairman of the central supporters' club, said he was devastated by the news. 'I can understand them punishing the men involved but it's not right to condemn a club.

'Even with a European cup next season, there's no getting out of it financially. They are making us die a slow death.'

The Marseille defender Basile Boli, scorer of the winning goal last May when Marseille beat Milan as his team became the first French club to win the European Cup, said: 'It's very hard.'

Under French football regulations, there is no appeal against the federation's ruling, although an aggrieved party could take the matter before the French Olympic Committee.

Marseille's financial director, Alain Laroche, said Tapie would take the issue to the civil courts. When under threat in the past, Tapie has resorted to every legal move possible to avoid sanctions.

Relegation to the second division would mean that Marseille's star players would be forced to leave to help the club survive financially. Boli and Didier Deschamps are already rumoured to be moving to join Italian teams at the end of the season.