Football: World Cup - A city of pride and passion

Glenn Moore in Marseilles describes the scene awaiting England's world party
Click to follow
The Independent Online
Scotland may have been given the honour of the opening match but England's entry into the 1998 World Cup will be no less dramatic. The Stade Velodrome is arguably the most eye-catching of France's rebuilt and newly built stadiums and Marseilles is the country's leading football city.

As observant viewers may have noticed when the boos intruded into the opening ceremony there is little love locally for Paris or for the capital- based national football administrators and media. Marseille supporters are not dissimilar to Newcastle's in outlook, passionate about their football, proud of their city, and convinced the metropolitan establishment is against them.

The city itself rewards investigation. As the Rough Guide states: "You might not choose to live there but it is a wonderful place to visit." The Vieux Port, with its tourist bars and open square, is likely to be the base for England's lager-orientated supporters. That is if the Marseillais allow them to take over the place. The streets off the Canabiere - or can o' beer as it was known by English sailors - may now host the salons of Armani and company but you do not have to scratch too hard on the gloss to find the toughness.

Further afield, Provence or the Cote d'Azur may be favoured by those less enthusiastic about English supporters' refuelling habits or the prospect of navigating their way through the warren of Marseilles' side streets in the dark.

The stadium itself is stunning. A vertiginous three-tier main stand is flanked by three crescent-shaped open stands; 20,000 can occupy the sideline banking while there are 14,000 seats at each end. The ground is sited amid an ornamental park and wide streets with a Metro station within 100 yards.The craggy hills which looked quite beautiful as dusk fell on Thursday will appear starker next summer with the fierce early afternoon sun on them. A 2pm kick-off, local time, will be formidably hot unless the Mistral is at full blast. With no cover, except for the cantilever, sun cream is a must.

While England's other opening round matches are likely to take place in a one-sided atmosphere Tunisia, their first opponents, will not lack for supporters. Marseilles' north African links pre-date Christ and though the bulk of the city's immigration is Algerian, there will be a strong Tunisian presence. They will travel in hope, too. The heat will provide an obvious advantage and the side are not the mugs much of the English media appear to be suggesting.

Glenn Hoddle was very chirpy on Thursday night but he was less ebullient on Friday morning. The news had filtered through that tabloids were carrying headlines such as "Magnifique", "England's dream draw" and "Lucky Hod". Suddenly the expectation, which Hoddle has fuelled, seemed to be getting out of proportion.

Hoddle knows something of the Tunisians and more of their manager, Henri Kasperczak. "He was a manager here when I was playing in France," said Hoddle as he left Marseilles en route for yesterday's match at Anfield. "He was a bit defensive but his teams are very organised, very disciplined." Kasperczak was telling anyone able to hear in the media scrum that he was part of the Polish team who famously knocked England out of the 1974 World Cup by gaining a draw at Wembley the previous October. He could also have mentioned that he played against Tunisia during Argentina 78. The Tunisians lost 1-0, hit a Polish post through gifted playmaker Dhiab Tarak and dominated the closing 20 minutes. They had already beaten Mexico and later drew 0-0 with Germany.

The present team were African Nations' Cup runners-up in 1996 and have already qualified for next year's competition. Adel Sellimi is the best- known player; he is based with Nantes and gave a good account of himself in the Rest of the World v Europe match that preceded the draw. Mehdi Ben Slimane, a chunky but quick striker, plays for Freiburg in Germany but most of their team are based in the domestic game. This is not an indication of weakness as their club sides hold the Arab Champions' Cup and the CAF Cup (the African equivalent of the Uefa Cup).

Two English players survive from the only meeting, the 1-1 draw in Tunis in 1990. Stuart Pearce, who hit a post, and Paul Gascoigne, who received some rough treatment from Tunisia's defenders, will not be complacent. Nor will Hoddle.

Comments