Paris Saint-Germain vs. Marseille: Why Le Classique Is France's Biggest GameFebruary 20, 2013
Sunday will provide the latest chapter in the Paris Saint-Germain vs. Olympique de Marseille rivalry referred to as "Le Classique."
It is Ligue 1's version of "el Clasico" and the matches bring a number of French cultural issues to the fore as well as football matters on the pitch.
This one should prove to be no exception. It not only marks just the second time since 2010 that visiting fans have been allowed to attend the match—the first in Paris.
It will also likely mark David Beckham's home debut, as PSG seek to put further distance between themselves and their bitter rivals.
So why is le Classique France's most important game?
Rightly or wrongly, it is the fans that make the match so special and attract much of its worldwide attention.
Three years ago, one PSG fan was left in a coma and eventually died after a nasty clash between the capital club's two main support groups—the Supras Auteil and the Boulogne Boys.
That ugly meeting sparked over 15 arrests, and since then no travelling fans have been admitted to the fixture.
Until now, that is. This season opposing fans are slowly being re-introduced to the spectacle. Even if it is only 400 who will are allowed to enter each team's respective stadiums this year, their contribution to the atmosphere is massive.
The animosity between PSG and OM extends outside of football. Paris and Marseille are the two largest cities in France and the most influential.
Together the pair are also the most successful football clubs in the country having won in excess of 40 domestic trophies between them.
Both sides are the only French teams to have won major European silverware, too; PSG the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup in 1996 and OM the Champions League in 1993.
The duo dominated French football before Lyon disrupted their domestic supremacy in the early 2000s. Despite that spell, PSG and OM are the only French clubs, with the possible exception of Saint-Etienne thanks to their success in the 1970s, with a truly nationwide following.
The battle between the Capital and the Provinces is dubbed the North versus South derby.
The duo represent Paris, France's capital city; and Marseille, the biggest city in southern France and the nation's third-largest metropolitan area. And more recently, PSG represent the new-found wealth of foreign investment whilst OM epitomise the widespread support garnered only by accumulated success.
Many French people resent Paris due to its political, economic and cultural dominance. Consequently, a large part of the population dislikes its football team Paris Saint-Germain.
As the most widely supported club in the country, Marseille also attract a similar level of hatred and envy.
A non-traditional rivalry
The rivalry is neither the oldest nor the most traditional in Ligue 1, but it is without doubt the most fiercely contested on and off the pitch, dividing loyalties across the country.
The southerners have existed since 1899 whilst PSG only arrived in 1970, and their early meetings did not hint that the pair would become the fiercest of rivals.
However, matches between the clubs became important following the 1989 title decider at the Stade Velodrome after Franck Sauzee scored a last-minute winner that gave OM the title. Since then, PSG's backing from Canal+ and suggested favouritism by Ligue 1's main distributor until the arrival of Al-Jazeera and now BeIn Sport last year, made them resented for their affluence.
The pair's European success raised the stakes and the 1994 bribery scandal involving Marseille and their President Bernard Tapie took the animosity to new levels.
PSG: A chance to re-write history?
Marseille dominated the fixture throughout the majority of the '90s before PSG started to claw back some pride.
Les Phoceens' remain dominant in the fixture with a 31-21 overall advantage over their rivals, but this season represents a chance for Carlo Ancelotti's men to start whittling down that advantage.
Beckham's introduction to the equation backs up the general feeling that Paris are the chosen ones of French football given their representation of the capital. It can't be forgotten, though, that OM too have their own Englishman on show come Sunday night.
A 2-2 draw at the Stade Velodrome earlier in the season left little to choose between the two sides. But with PSG potentially only guarding a three-point lead going into the game, it is a vital clash for Ancelotti's side. Elie Baup's side trail their rivals by five points heading to the capital.