What happens when a club is at odds with its own fans? Well, that’s exactly what happened to PSG between 2010 and 2016.
Imagine having your football club taken away from you. You can’t attend games, you can’t cheer on your team, you can’t venture on away day travels. The club still exists, but you play nothing more than a passive role from afar, loosely supporting from the periphery.
For Paris Saint-Germain’s Ultras, this was their reality between 2010 and 2016. Six years of oppression, implemented by the government and the club itself. Taking away the one thing they cared about above all else.
Before 2010, the terraces at the Parc des Princes would come alive. Deafening chants bellowed across the stadium as the smog from lit flares pervaded every corner of the pitch. Unlike in England, where clubs have one designated Kop end, PSG had two. Housing two very different sets of fans.
On the one side, you had the Kop of Boulogne, a typically right-wing section of the fanbase. On the other was Virage Auteuil, home to the more politically left-leaning fans. The two supporters groups would avidly chant throughout matches, declaring their love for PSG but also rivaling one another.
It was in the aftermath of games where things would often spill over. Fights broke out between the supporters, with many sustaining serious injuries. It appeared that even their shared love for PSG wasn’t enough to prevent political ideals clashing in a very real and violent manner.
And so, in 2010, ‘Plan Leproux’ was put into action. Named after club president at the time, Robin Leproux, the objective was to placify match day attendances by banishing 12,000 PSG Ultras from the stadium.
Rather than trying to communicate with supporters and reconcile their differences, this hard-line, no-nonsense approach only encouraged the Ultras to continue making their voices heard. A plethora of lawsuits followed, filed by the fans for unfair dismissal.
While both Kops laid bare, an eerie silence befell the Parc des Princes every other weekend. The Ultras would congregate outside the stadium, chanting and demonstrating their support, but the atmosphere simply wasn’t the same.
The Ultras’ next move was to go and support PSG’s women’s team. This too wasn’t easy, but with a smaller stadium and less policing, fans would often scale the metal fences surrounding the ground and cheer on their side. It didn’t matter what your gender, age, race or religion was, if you donned the colours of PSG, the Ultras would sing your name.
“In misfortune or glory, always true to my colours”
To make matters worse – at least, from an Ultras’ perspective – the club was purchased in 2011 by Qatar Sports Investment. With the new ownership keen to project a positive global brand image, they saw no need to revoke any ban on Ultras attending matches.
With a huge influx of cash now being pumped into the club, star names were signed to help improve both PSG’s domestic and European standing. Ironically, two of these stars would lead the charge for getting the Ultras’ ban lifted: Blaise Matuidi and Edinson Cavani.
Both players recognised the importance of the club’s fans, and the emotional connection they could build with the team at a time when PSG were seeking to reach new heights. A campaign was started in the media and, shortly after, formal conversations opened up between the club and its Ultras.
Finally, after much negotiation and promises, the Ultras were allowed back into the stadium for the first time in 2016, for a match against Bordeaux. There were mistakes made on both sides, but fortunately, common sense and passion prevailed, with the Ultras continuing to light up the Parc des Princes ever since.