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Exclusive | Marseille super-fan René Malleville: “You can’t not like Marseille if you like OM.”

Olympique de Marseille fan René Malleville is a cult hero to the people of Marseille. After a working life of public service, he now devotes his time to his love of OM. His passionate “Minute OM” appearances on Le Phocéen website have become legendary – the one consolation for fans of an OM defeat being the promise of an expletive-filled rant from Malleville (his contribution following OM’s 6-1 defeat to Monaco – “we were absolutely s****ed – and they didn’t even use Vaseline but sand from the riverbed” – a particular highlight).

Jeremy Smith sat down to talk with Malleville about the club’s progress this season, and to look back at the highlights of his time as an OM devotee.

Before talking about Marseille, I have to ask you how you felt about PSG’s Champions’ League exit. As a French football fan I assume you were 100% behind PSG…?

I’ll tell you something. I’m Marseillais. And I’m 72 years old. I’ve never been anti- this or -that. I’m not anti-Parisian or Lyonnais or Bordelais. All those youngsters who say they’re anti-this or that – yet they’re the first protesting against racism. I wasn’t particularly pleased that Paris lost. Paris Saint-Germain – I couldn’t care less. It didn’t affect me either way. I didn’t have a party the next day, I didn’t go wild on social media. Paris lost, so Paris lost. In any case, they’re not a team – they’re an accumulation of talents.

They cost millions and millions and millions – but that doesn’t make them a collective. I don’t know how many years it’s been that they haven’t gone past the second round and they’ve only gone as far as the quarter finals. That’s it. But I’m not going to celebrate PSG’s defeat as it means absolutely nothing to me. And a team like PSG is not a team – it’s an accumulation of talents, not a collective.

But for the most part the Marseillais were very happy!

Yes they were but they’re a younger generation of supporters – 20, 30 years old. Maybe if I was 30 I’d be speaking differently, but at a certain point, there’s no need.

Back to you now. If you had to explain in a few words, for our English readers who may not know you, why and how you’ve become a famous OM super-fan?

Since the age of 20 I’ve been in public life. I was in politics for 50 years, I was an elected official at Marseille’s town hall at only 29 under Gaston Defferre. I was actively involved in the trade unions, so I was in public service all my life, but at the time there was no social media so I wasn’t known. But I’ve always been in the public eye and I’ve always followed OM too. But then social media came about, and I opened my bar and showed the matches on the screens there. And the journalists who knew me already from the politics, came to see OM, and the social networks spread the word.

And I think I read that you’ve been an OM fan since – well since you came to France at 6 years old, is that right?

No I came to France from Morocco when I was 9. My dad was in the police.

And when was the first time that you went to the Vélodrome and really started supporting OM?

I went a lot when I was 13, 14 years old, as friends’ parents took us. It wasn’t like it is now. Then I got married very young – I was 19 – then I went to the Army. And it was when I came back from the Army at 19 that I started going to all the matches. And since then I’ve always followed OM, I’d go to all the away matches – I’ve always followed OM ever since. I haven’t always gone to away matches – I couldn’t when I had the bar. But I still went to the 1999 UEFA League final against Parma in Moscow, to St Petersburg, to Bolton, to Juventus. We had a great team in the 1970s so I went to lots of away matches, but then I had less time, I was a bus driver, I couldn’t go so much.

You spoke of a few different eras there and Marseille have experienced great highs and lows. There was of course the great era of the 90s – and for me the 91 team was better than the 93 team, but in any case, two great teams. On the other side there were the relegations. But what was your favourite period as an OM fan?

For me, from when Marcel Leclerc took charge in 1965, 66 – the 70s were fabulous years. We had a superb European campaign and were beaten by Ajax who at that time had won the European Cup. We had a super team – Carnus, Bosquier, Gress, Novi – an amazing team. And I tell you – the 1970 team would hold their own in the championship today.

As for 1991 – I totally agree with you. The 1991 team was the best team we’ve ever had at OM. They were much stronger than the 1993 team and the paradox is that we lost against a team that was much weaker than us – Red Star – but in 1993 we beat the great AC Milan who were the favourites. That’s the paradox of football.

I think the 1991 Milan team was stronger too, so beating them in the quarter-final in 1991 was, for me, even more impressive than the win against them in 1993.

True but when you beat them in the final it stays in the memory more than when you beat them in en route to the final. The memorable match – the one at the Velodrome – when the floodlights failed and president Berlusconi wanted to have the match replayed, all the tricks he tried to pull – but we won, and then unfortunately lost to Belgrade having beaten Milan who were probably the best team in the world at that time.

From what I remember, Red Star played for penalties right from the start.

Absolutely. They knew that OM were infinitely better than them. Maybe we were too confident. We played well but the players thought that they were bound to win. While Red Star just tried their luck, played intelligently, and we lost.

You were speaking there about the 1970s and, reading some of your previous quotes, I get the impression that you’re quite nostalgic for the football of the past. You’ve even spoken about how at one time you could sit with the players after the match. Do you think football is not as it was and – strange question – but would you say that you’re a football fan or just a fan of OM above all?

When I arrived in France from Morocco at around 10 years old I didn’t know OM and I didn’t really know football because in Morocco it was more about rugby. So it was OM who made me fall in love with football, and I love football in general, but OM in particular. But it’s OM that made me like football because there is such a special atmosphere here. In the 1970s there wasn’t the money in the game that there is today that ruins everything, there wasn’t the same tension in the stadiums. I often mention – and I’m pleased to have experienced this – I remember a Coupe de France quarter final, I think against Angoulême – I forget – the fans were on the pitch, on the corner spot! The referee had to push all the fans back as the guy couldn’t even put the ball down to take the corner! It was amazing. And it’s unbelievable now. Just unthinkable today. And yeah, at the time, we were a little privileged as we were regulars – we went into the dressing rooms after the match, and the players chatted to us, they didn’t make a fuss. And again – going into the dressing rooms is unthinkable today. Unthinkable! It’s a different era, the last century, and yes – I am nostalgic for that period. Football was far simpler then.

And in terms of the fans – I know that you’ve always been very involved with fan culture, you’ve been part of the Yankees and the Dodgers (two groups of Marseille ultras), and with the Marseille socios. And only last week you had a go at the LFP and tweeted the photo of the Marseille fans’ banner in support of Nantes. Do you think that the fans are being left behind with the obsession with money? You’ve said before that it’s the fans who make football, but sometimes they seem now like an after-thought?

In the 1970s there were no supporters clubs, there was nothing. But there was still a crazy atmosphere – and it was spontaneous – there wasn’t a controlled atmosphere, there were no appointed cheerleaders but it was crazy in the terraces. Then Bernard Tapie came, and he understood what was going on, and helped set up the supporters clubs to keep them onside. He was an intelligent businessman and set up structures that he knew that he could manage. Then there were other presidents who were far less charismatic than Tapie and the supporters clubs started to take control.

And now they do what they want, and there’s some things they do that I don’t like. And there’s some things I appreciate, some a bit less, but that’s beside the point. But in terms of the banner in the south stand criticising the LFP for fining Nantes for using firecrackers during their homage to Emiliano Sala – I say bravo! Because the LFP imposing a fine of €16,500 on a club giving homage to one of their players who has died, and letting off some flares – it is shameful – SHAMEFUL! And in those cases I approve of the supporters clubs who take things in hand to condemn things which are unacceptable.

You sometimes get the impression that the LFP don’t actually have any feeling for football.  They sit in an office and dictate football, but don’t understand it.

They only think about the money! Because there are flares everywhere around the world. And in the 1970s – I remember one match – OM vs Gornik in the European Cup – I entered the stadium and it was like a volcano – there were flares, it was red everywhere – I’ve never seen anything like it. I never heard of anyone being injured, never heard of anything like that. But the LFP has found another way to make money. €500 per flare let off – it’s SHAMEFUL! It’s just the LFP finding a way to make money. Because they’re just not that dangerous. There are much more dangerous things than flares which are accepted as normal in the stadiums.

Let’s talk a bit more about your “Minute OM” in Le Phocéen. Last night I re-watched your Minute OM after the Coupe de France defeat to Andrezieux, and then a recent one after the Saint-Étienne victory. After Andrezieux you called the players jokes, you wanted Garcia to be fired, you had a go at Eyraud too. And then last week was a lot calmer, you complimented Garcia for his team selection, you spoke of Marseille aiming for a podium finish. Where do you see Marseille right now? It’s still quite early in the “project”. Do you think Marseille are in a good place to progress, or is this just a small moment of respite?

Last season we had a terrible start and people were calling for Garcia to quit. And at the time I said no – it was Garcia who dropped us in the s**t – it’s for him to get us out. And he did get us out of it because he changed tactics. He started with 4-3-2-1, but at a certain point we said that he needed to change tactics, he did so and we progressed, getting to the Europa League final and finishing fourth. This season the same thing – from the start of the season to the winter break we never had the same team. How can you create a collective when you change your team every Sunday?

And I criticised this. And it’s not because I criticised it that he changed tack – he saw that it needed changing. But for a month now he has been playing the same team – and he’s put his confidence in the young players! I am for the youth policy! I’ve had enough of us bringing back older players. When we brought back Payet – I was against it, when we brought back Mandanda – I was against it. Because I’ve never seen a top 10 European club fight to sign Payet or Mandanda.

They left OM then came back with no one else fighting to sign them, and we’re stupid enough to spend €30m on a bloke like Payet, or Mandanda, whose race is run and has come back to spend his pre-retirement here. So I’m for giving the young players a chance. And right now Garcia is giving chances to Kamara, to Caleta-Car, to Ocampos, to Lopez, to Sanson, to Thauvin – players who are 25, max. You have to give youth the priority. That’s how you build a project for the future – by putting talented youths at the centre of things and giving them an opportunity. And when they grasp that opportunity with both hands, all the better. Garcia hasn’t done anything special – he’s just understood that you don’t change a winning team, and that you should give the keys to the truck to the youngsters.

Talking of youth, you have Lopez, Kamara – but why is it that clubs like Lyon, Rennes, Metz – even PSG although they don’t stay there – bring through youth products and Marseille never really have?

Because for a number of years the youth development centre has proven incapable – because at OM it is the agents who dictate everything. I’ve condemned this in the past and I’ll repeat it. It is the agents who are in control – and the friends of my friends are my friends – so it is the son of whoever, the cousin of another, who gets to play. And as long as the agents rule the roost, the youth development centre is incapable of doing its job.

And how does it work in terms of links with other teams? Because a couple of years back I wrote an article on Consolat (now Athlético Marseille), and they said that there was very little relationship between them and OM?

At the time the president of Consolat was Jean-Luc Mingallon, who is a very strong character and didn’t want to be mucked around. Marseille wanted to link up with Consolat and for Consolat to drop to their knees in service of OM. And Mingallon – a strong guy who had led his club to the National – wasn’t prepared to be used like that.

Back to today’s Marseille team. Balotelli is of course a big part of the improvement in results. I never understood why Garcia never played Germain and Mitroglou together as Germain cannot play up-front alone. But now it’s working very well with Balotelli. I think Balotelli is a player made for OM.

Absolutely! In terms of Germain and Mitroglou – Mitroglou is not a top-class striker. He was signed at the last minute of the mercato last year – so we just took whoever, and it never worked. But Balotelli – the guy is made for Marseille. And he says that he wants to stay at Marseille. Why? Because he’s mad! He’s crazy! And the Marseillais spirit is mad – it’s a crazy life! I adore Marseille and its boiling atmosphere, there’s always something going on in the city. And that’s all the supporters ask in the stadium too – to have something to get excited and passionate about.

And to do that you need players like Balotelli, like in the past we had Mozer, Förster, Papin, we had Völler, Skoblar, Magnusson – we always had players with strong personalities, who knew how to get the public behind them. Balotelli arrived and scored more goals in one month that he did for Nice in the first half of the season. And he’s a madman – like last week, celebrating his goal by taking a selfie – only he could do that. When Thauvin scored the other day he celebrated with him by pretending to have a limp. But Balotelli – that guy is mad and is made for Marseille. If we had bought Balotelli in the summer, we’d be on the podium right now.

Why wasn’t the deal done in the summer? Because of Nice? Eyraud?

From what I understand it was mainly his agent Raiola who was a bit greedy. I was disgusted this summer because we were told in the first few days of the mercato that we’re signing Balotelli, and we were all really pleased. But the directors stuffed up because as the mercato went on, it became clear that Balotelli wasn’t going to happen. But they kept making us believe that Balotelli was coming because they needed to sell season tickets. They were all sold by the middle of August and then they said we couldn’t sign Balotelli. So they really played us for fools, and I didn’t appreciate that.

On that point, one of the things that marks you out from other fans is that you have had direct contact with Eyraud. And normally when people get access to a club president, they end up toeing the party line. But you’ve continued to tell things as they are – so if you’re happy with Eyraud you say so; if not, then you won’t. The fans appreciate that but has it ever caused problems between you and the club?

When Eyraud arrived for the 2016/17 season – he arrived in August, September, and in November he called me and said that he’d like to meet me for lunch, to discuss the past, the present and why not the future. So I said fine, and he invited me for lunch at the Inter-Continental. And he asked me what I thought and – with my usual frankness – because 50 years of politics taught me you have to be that way or you’ll be seen as dodgy and never get anywhere – I said “if you want OM to succeed, you need to fire him, him and him; keep him, him and him – so keep this director, get rid of that guy from the youth development centre, but keep that one and that one in the set-up”.

So we finished our lunch and two months later he had done the exact opposite of what I’d suggested. He fired the guys I said he should put his confidence in, and kept the ones I said he should fire. I’m not saying all my suggestions would have worked – but since then we’ve never seen each other again, he’s never contacted me again, and I criticised that kind of thing in my Minute OM. I’ve never seen or heard from Eyraud since – and I don’t care! I’m a supporter. In my Minute, when I talk, I say what I think of the club, what I think works, what I think doesn’t – it’s all fine. I’ve been here for 50 years. People leave – but the supporters remain!

Going back to the past, you mentioned earlier some of the OM legends. I wanted to ask you two things – firstly who is your all-time favourite OM player, the one who excited you the most? And secondly, as we’re an English site, I have to ask you for your thoughts on Chris Waddle – what he brought to Marseille, his relationship with OM’s fans?

For me, the best, most stylish player we’ve had – unfortunately he was injured and so it limited him a bit, to my great regret, was Enzo Francescoli. But apart from him, the best player, the real “crack” was Skoblar. Because Skoblar – people speak of Papin, but Papin needed a season to adapt and he came to training an hour before the others and finished an hour later – he worked like mad to be a great goalscorer. But Skoblar – it was innate! He was a natural-born goalscorer! However he received the ball, he scored! He’d receive the ball from Magnusson, or from Loubet on the other side, however he received it, he scored! 44 goals in one season – the record has never been equalled! I adored that player – and still do. So for me, apart from Francescoli, who could have been the best OM player, for me the best is Skoblar.

As for Waddle… Marseille idolised Waddle! Because – well, because he was mad! When Tapie bought Waddle we were unsure… But he became a star – only Tapie can find players like that. But Waddle made the Velodrome dream – he got everyone on their feet. Remember he scored that goal and didn’t even remember scoring it – against Milan in the 1991 European Cup quarter-final – he scored then took a knock to the head and didn’t remember scoring! But he was a fantastic lad! Waddle on one side, Pele on the other – Papin couldn’t help but score goals!

And I don’t know if you can see it, but there’s a mini-series we’ve filmed for Facebook – Chris Presque Waddle (Chris Nearly Waddle) – [featuring René Malleville as his agent!]. It’s about a lad who is obsessed with Waddle, who has a Waddle mullet wig, dresses like Waddle did – and it’s quite popular right now on social media. Chris Presque Waddle – have a look on Facebook – and if they continue with the series there’ll be five or six episodes. But we had an amazing time with Waddle, who put his stamp on his time here. There are guys like him, like Mozer, Bosquier, Carnus – they’re guys who marked their era, whether for their technique, their guts or their charm. But if you make people laugh but then don’t score or assist… But Chris Waddle – he was a clown, but he also had an insane talent!

Our readers will really appreciate that! I wanted to end with a question that you’ve touched on already. But can you explain what OM represents for the city of Marseille?

OM is one of the main factors in Marseille being as renowned as it is. I’ve always said that Marseille is 2,600 years old and yet OM is an integral part of the city, and when people tell me “I like OM but I don’t like Marseille” I tell them to f**k off! You can’t not like Marseille if you like OM, and if you don’t like Marseille, you don’t like OM. There are some – I’m not one of them – but there are people who live for OM, who never go out, who deny themselves, so they can save money for season tickets, to travel to away games. And no one has the right to insult those people by coming up with rubbish on the pitch! I’m talking about the players – and the directors too. People like Tapie understood that, Leclerc too. They were great, great presidents.

There was also Pape Diouf but he wasn’t the owner – Tapie and Leclerc were owners. These guys understand the Marseillais spirit, understand the city – you have to love the city to be able to love OM. For many Marseillais, OM represents everything. And even for people outside the town – when I owned my bar, every two weeks a coach arrived from Mons in Belgium, 1,500km there, 1,500km back – every two weeks!

You have to really love the club to do that. And it cost them a fortune. And that was all they did – they didn’t go out, they didn’t go to the theatre, the cinema. There was a guy who came from Aveyron too, there were guys who came from all over the place. Guys who lived only for OM – for them OM was above everything!

Even above their family, for some – I know one guy who lived in Pau. He loved OM and Marseille so much he said to his wife “let’s go and live there”. She said no so he divorced her! Even for me, now I’m retired – OK I have contracts with the radio and with Le Phocéen – but all my life revolves around OM! Along with my kids and grand-kids of course. Before I had my work, my bar, I was a bus driver. But after that, I wanted to do something so I started doing debriefs on the radio, on Le Phocéen – and I’m happy, because while I’m talking about OM I’m talking about something which brings pleasure to the Marseillais, the people of Marseille recognise me, they see me as a true Marseillais even though I was born in Carcassonne.

There you go – OM is a huge part of the life of Marseille. For me there are only two clubs in France who could come close – Saint-Étienne and Lens. Lens and their supporters have a special place in my heart because I remember, when we were demoted to the second division after the Tapie scandal, our last match was at Lens, and at the end of the match all the Lens fans stood and sang to OM “it is just an au revoir, Marseille”. And hats off to them for that. I’m certain we’d have done that. Saint-Étienne and Lens supporters are proper fans.

J.S.

 

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