PARIS — Marseille accused its own fans of “barbarism” after angry supporters forced their way into the club's training complex on Saturday afternoon, hours before a French league home game against Rennes.
Three hours before kickoff, the league postponed Marseille's evening match at Stade Velodrome — around 13 kilometres (8.5 miles) from the training ground — deeming it unsafe to hold the game with tensions so evidently high.
“Marseille condemns the unacceptable attack the club was a victim of inside the Robert-Louis Dreyfus training centre ,” Marseille said in a statement. “An unjustifiable frenzy of violence put those present on site in danger (players, staff, security staff, employees). Thefts were carried out and vehicles were damaged.”
Marseille estimated the number of fans involved at "a few hundred" and put the damages at “several hundred thousand euros” (dollars). The club said it had proof against those carrying out the acts, adding that official complaints will be lodged “against such barbarism.”
No new date has been set for the match. But seventh-place Marseille's next home game will fall under close scrutiny since it is against bitter rival Paris Saint-Germain next weekend.
Earlier Saturday, a video posted by local newspaper La Provence showed a tree burning outside the entrance to La Commanderie, amid reports that fans were throwing flares and trying to force their way in.
Sports daily L'Equipe's website reported that Marseille's players were present at the time, and that defender Alvaro Gonzalez was hit on the back by a projectile when he went to speak with supporters.
The website carried a photo of a tag just by the entrance aimed at unpopular club president club president Jacques-Henri Eyraud, saying “Eyraud Dehors” (Eyraud Out).
A banner draped from a bridge and another next to a bicycle rental stand also urged Eyraud to quit, and in crude terms.
“Eyraud: You are dirtying our club ... Get Lost!" one banner read.
Eyraud reacted angrily and moved to defend the club itself.
“Three hundred employees are in a state of shock tonight,” he said on the club's website . “What happened calls for the strongest severity against these troublemakers who call themselves supporters, but who destroy facilities and threaten employees and players.”
Veteran goalkeeper Steve Mandanda, the club's long-serving captain with nearly 600 appearances, called for unity.
“Today's events sadden me and are unacceptable,” he said. “ A sporting crisis can in no way justify such an outburst of violence. It's time for calm.”
Without mentioning if something had happened to him, the burly defender Gonzalez added: “We all love this club but what we experienced today must never happen again.”
The latest incident comes nine days after fans turned on the players at Stade Velodrome before a home game against Lens, which Marseille lost 1-0.
One of Marseille’s several supporters’ groups managed to write “Vous Etes Degueulasses” (“You Are Disgusting”) in big letters on the seats in what is usually their section of the stadium.
Another banner read “Vous Nous Faites Honte” (“You Bring Shame On Us”), and there were also posters displayed outside the stadium calling Eyraud a “crook” and urging him to “get lost.”
Marseille is the only French side to have won the Champions League, in 1993, but the southern seaport club arguably has the most volatile and demanding fans in France.
The team has lost its last four games in all competitions, and on Friday coach Andre Villas-Boas said he expects to leave at the end of the season.
Scheduling games could get tricky for Marseille, given it will have played two games fewer than most other teams in the league.
In a separate incident Saturday, local newspaper Le Progres showed a video of Saint-Etienne fans interrupting a training session. The paper said more than 200 fans walked onto the grounds and talks were held with players in a calm atmosphere.
Saint-Etienne is languishing in 16th place ahead of Sunday's lunchtime trip to Nice.
Photographer Daniel Cole reported from Marseille.
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Jerome Pugmire, The Associated Press