Sunday’s Ligue 2 playoff match between Le Havre and Ajaccio – perhaps the most important game in the French second division – was eventful to say the least. The match was end-to-end, had its fair share of goals, and was won in a penalty shootout by the Corsican club, but this match has been the talk of French football for all the wrong reasons unfortunately.
This game was meant to take place on Friday, but had been postponed due to hostility upon Le Havre’s arrival in Ajaccio. Le Havre’s bus was spray painted, and pelted with stones and projectiles. The bus’ windshield had been smashed up, and the vehicle was not able to start up again. Furthermore, the players were subject to violent and discriminatory insults. “Shitty Frenchman (…) cotton pickers (…) dirty arab(s) (…) n*****” were but a few…
The postponed match was marked by four extra time red cards, thus depleting both squads down to nine men each. The first red card was given in the 108th minute to Ajaccio midfielder Mathieu Coutadeur in very unique circumstances. Following Ajaccio’s clearance of a Le Havre shot created from a counter attack, Coutadeur went head-to-head with the referee very aggressively. The French official immediately blew for a penalty and sent him off at the 108th minute. In this situation, the referee was allowed to make such a call due to the midfielder’s action being deemed a shove in the penalty box.
It is unknown what the Ajaccio midfielder exactly said as he approached the French official Franck Schneider, but after the fact, it was confirmed that it was him contesting a decision and insulting Mr. Schneider. Mathieu Coutadeur spoke to RMC after the match, to which he said he was ashamed of his behaviour, but that his “shove” was unintentional and that he approached the referee “vehemently” following a foul that was missed near the halfway mark. He also admitted that he called the official a “thief.” He can find himself very fortunate that his actions did not cost his team the match (or at least not yet). He will however miss Ajaccio’s play-off match against Toulouse on Wednesday, but could risk even worse today in front of the disciplinary committee.
The penalty was eventually converted by Le Havre’s forward Jean-Phillipe Mateta, who celebrated in a “provocative” manner in front of Ajaccio’s fans, by plugging his ears, to which Ajaccio’s players immediately began shoving and pushing Mateta. This escalated into absolute chaos on the pitch, which had starters, substitutes, the staff and officials trying to separate heated disputes for around five minutes.
Once things cooled down, the referee proceeded to give three red cards: two to Jean-Philippe Mateta and Dénys Bain from Le Havre, and one to Joris Sainati from Ajaccio. The match resumed, and despite taking a 2-1 lead with that penalty, Le Havre conceded in the 125th minute when Mohamed Camara scored. Ajaccio went on to win 5-3 on penalties.
Lunacy did not only take place on the pitch. Things escalated between both club presidents in the stand where they were seated. According to France Normandie, Le Havre’s president Vincent Volpe was kicked in the back, despite being protected from bodyguards. There were also projectiles thrown and violent insults made towards Volpe. Agnes Firmin Le Bodo, a Le Havre-based politician, also said that she was forced to leave the stand with the club president and hide in the dressing rooms. She went on to say their players, including goalkeeper Yohann Thuram, were the subject of racist insults.
On Monday, Ajaccio’s vice president Alain Orsoni, released a statement saying he “sincerely feels that club is the victim of media lynching, as well as a permanent suspicion linked to the Corsican environment which is so profoundly and unjustly present at the back of most people’s minds. (…) The supposed severe incidents (reported in the LFP press release), were benign, in reality”.
In light of this pandemonium, the French football’s disciplinary committee has called for an emergency meeting on Tuesday afternoon. Le Havre have asked that they be awarded the victory by default, considering the series of hellish events, that have taken place since Friday.
While French football has made a lot of progress and taken a lot of positive initiatives in the last couple of years, this match represents a piece of terrible publicity. A firm decision needs to be taken because unfortunately all Corsican clubs who have played in Ligue 1 in recent years all have supporters groups who continually act violently and show hostility.
This outcome of this decision will be a major on multiple levels. Firstly, because the winner of this game was meant to play Toulouse on Wednesday May 23rd to decide who is in Ligue 1 and who is in Ligue 2 next season, meaning that the futures of many clubs are at stake. And secondly, in any other major footballing nation, footballing bodies would take a strong stand against this. But French bodies are typically hesitant to punish Corsica both in terms of football and politically, owing to the violent nature of the geo-political history between the island and mainland.
The LFP has to be strong in their decision and properly sanction Ajaccio because, whether they like it or not, the image of French football relies on it. More than anything, a strong decision today would represent progress, discipline and a clean image for French football.