Paris is Earning

Free Market Football in the City of Light
Share |

Photo by Moacir P. de Sá Pereira

Paris has never had a soccer team befitting its image of itself as the center of the world. For 40 years, Paris Saint-Germain Football Club has failed to live up to the lucrative standard of the rest of the city. Despite underperforming teams and a largely working-class fan base, the club has always seemed like it should give its owners a license to print money. The question then: can you gentrify a team? PSG did what unscrupulous developers have done for decades: They changed the rules, preyed on fears of crime, and cynically played for a newer, richer kind of fan. What follows is an in-depth examination of what happens to a football club when everyone’s eyes have turned to €€. 

(Also available as a five-part series. Start here with Part 1)

“Don’t forget,” Pierre said to me as we walked into a match at Parc des Princes this February, “‘PSG’ means ‘Pas Sûr de Gagner.’” Winning, the joke goes, is surely not a given for the home team. That night, however, PSG did manage to defeat Toulouse FC, 2–1. But the win we watched was a faint light in a season of missed opportunities: PSG finished Ligue 1 four points adrift from the last Champions’ League spot, crashed out of a promising Europa League campaign in the Round of 16, and failed to defend their 2010 Coupe de France victory. Their vanquishers in the Coupe de France and eventual Ligue 1 champions were plucky LOSC Lille, who won their first domestic honors in half a century.1 Respectable, of course, this Parisian performance—top half of the table, qualification for Europe, exciting cup runs—but not quite what one might expect from the only professional soccer team in the capital of France.

This fall, though, the first thing Pierre said to me about PSG was, loosely, “I’m fucking sick of seeing all these fucking Pastore shirts.”

Things had changed at PSG over the summer, and these shirts that now dot the landscape feature the name of Javier Pastore, a 22-year-old Argentinian attacking midfielder prised away from Palermo for a sum of money of uncertain magnitude, but certainly larger than any transfer fee in Ligue 1 history.2 Pastore’s name was only the last and most expensive name added to a team that bought eight players during the summer for a total expenditure in the transfer market of €86.1m. The 19 other teams in Ligue 1, combined, spent €109.9m.3

Has the money been well spent? To the good, just before Christmas, the team was crowned “Champion d’automne” for finishing the first half of the season in first place, three points clear of Montpellier HSC. Of the 30 goals PSG has scored this season, 19 have come from players brought in over the summer: six from Pastore, three from ex-Roma midfielder Jérémy Ménez, one from ex-Juventus defensive midfielder Mohamed Sissoko, and nine from French international Kevin Gameiro, who left FC Lorient in Brittany to return to the region in which he grew up. To the bad, uneven play caused PSG to fail the seemingly simple task of qualifying for the knockout stages of the Europa League. Furthermore, the team’s Ligue 1 lead is softened by a three-game losing streak that featured a humiliating 3–0 drubbing away to arch-rivals Olympique de Marseille. The lackluster performance led to a winter break featuring the sacking of coach and former star Antoine Kombouaré in favor of the more high-profile Carlo Ancelotti, gossip about Pastore’s eagerness to play for a bigger team, and the resolution in the negative of the months-long courting of David Beckham. The winter break ended with PSG’s relying on an extra-time goal to squeak into the Round of 16 in the Coupe de France, edging out amateurs Locminé, who play in the fifth level of French soccer.

But the kickstart to the campaign this fall that has led to the surge in Pastore shirts on Paris streets is only one of two deep changes that PSG has undergone in the past two years. This particular change came rather suddenly in May with consequences—expensive players, world-famous coach—visible on the field. But the other change has had consequences visible off the field, in the stands. Where there used to be a raucous and even threatening atmosphere behind each goal at Parc des Princes, with flares filling the stands with smoke, giant banners stretching the width and depth of the stand, and incessant, tightly organized chanting, now the dispirited crowds are literally fragmented, reflecting both the state’s dissolving their fan associations and the various boycotts by the largely poorer former season ticket holders who are barred entry from the stadium unless they submit to security checks not required of those willing to pay more for their tickets. At a match these days, little more erupts from the crowd than, after each opponent’s name is read over the PA, a flaccid shout of “enculé!”—literally, “fucked in the ass.”

The reasons given for the changes in the stands emerge from the same sack labeled “public safety” that has led to the uncountable daily invasions of our privacy perpetrated by our governments in the name of building a fortress to protect us from some enemy that remains never quite clear. Remember, of course, that this is (PSG fan) Nicolas Sarkozy’s France, which means it is like Bush’s and Obama’s America. But there’s a pleasant side effect to these invasions as well. Just as it does in Bush’s and Obama’s America, bending and breaking society in the name of public safety in France also makes someone very, very rich—a someone who is usually already very, very rich. And in this case, those someones are the brand new owners of PSG.

The new look to the stands and the new faces on the field are versions of the same story, one that fans of American sports, who have complained for years about bought championships and sport turned into mere entertainment, may suspect that they already know rather well. But it’s not just about cash ruling everything around Paris in the case of PSG, because the influx of cash is coupled with turning the stadium into a militarized zone. The new look provides, instead, an acute image of what neoliberalism in the US and European Union promises for our future. In brief, what’s going on at PSG these days not only shows us what’s messed up with sports, but what’s messed up with us. So now the story gets serious, and like most stories involving soccer, this serious story starts in England, with a politician named Margaret Thatcher and a soccer team named Liverpool Football Club.

This is Paris!

Liverpool, as any one of their billion fans in England, the US, and Asia will tell you, were the primary ambassadors of English soccer on the continent in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Their enthusiastic supporters brought back a fashion sense nicked from the finest boutiques in the soccer capitals of Europe, and it caught on as “casual” culture. But the trans-Channel trade was bilateral. Liverpool fans also exported a relationship of devotion to their team that was previously unknown in Paris.4

In 1976, in order to attract younger fans to the still new and unknown team whose matches were still frequented largely by opposition fans, PSG began offering youth discounts to section K. The “ten matches for ten francs” deal, worth less than $10 in today’s money, was a big hit; 500 youths named their part of the stadium, with a nod to most raucous part of Liverpool’s home ground, the “Kop K.” In 1978, the youth seats moved to the Virage Boulogne, so the Kop moved as well, becoming the “Kop of Boulogne.” The scousers took Head bags full of stylish French, German, and Italian sportswear back to England but left in their wake a foundation for the most infamous fans in France, the “kobistes.”5

Before moving on with the Kop of Boulogne, however, here is a brief description of Parc des Princes, PSG’s home ground.6 Though the site hosted various athletic activities for over a century, the stadium as it currently exists was completed as an all-seater in 1972. It is thus just about as old as the team who are its current main tenants, PSG having formed in 1970 from the merger of Paris FC and Stade Saint-Germain.7 The stadium lies just at the city limits of Paris. Behind each goal is a “virage,” or bend: the Virage Boulogne to the south and the Virage Auteuil to the north. Each virage is named after what lies behind it outside the stadium. Boulogne-Billancourt is a dense and economically mixed suburb to the south. Auteuil, on the other hand, is a swanky neighborhood in the 16th Arrondissement of Paris. Along the lengths of the field are the two “tribune” stands, the Tribune présidentielle Francis-Borelli and the Tribune Paris. The Tribune Paris faces the television cameras, meaning the huge permanent rooftop banner that features one of PSG’s most popular mottos, “ICI C’EST PARIS,” is occasionally visible onscreen. The Tribune présidentielle has the nicest seats, which can cost up to 20 times as much as a basic seat in the virage. Generally, throughout the stadium, the tribune seats max out at about six times the cost of the cheapest seats in the virages. Within the geography of Parc des Princes, money dictates where you sit. And where you sit dictates who you are. Or, at least, it used to.

The Kop of Boulogne grew to encompass the entire Virage Boulogne, and separate gangs started to form within it, united under a logo painted on bomber jackets paying respect to the KoB’s English inspirations: a bulldog’s head on a tricolor map of France. Eventually, the most high-profile of these groups will be the Boulogne Boys, who formed in 1985. But rival groups, like the Gavroches and Rangers, considered themselves tougher than the Boys. Then there were even smaller, more radical groups, reducing all the way down to the “indépendants,” autonomous agents so far right that they refused to be part of any association. Though never as monolithic as the press made it out to be, the Kop of Boulogne certainly entertained a share of right-wing demagoguery and a penchant for racist chants, signs, and Nazi salutes. But as long-time kobistes assert in news articles, and as social scientists who study the phenomenon in Paris like Patrick Mignon and Nicolas Hourcade point out in their articles, right-wing politics was only one part of a much larger phenomenon of class resentment. Young men (and the KoB was exclusively young men) went to the stands to watch some soccer, support their team, and get lost in the mass, not be recruited by the Front National. All the same, the violence in the KoB and the media’s fascination with it only got worse and, apparently, more racially motivated over time.

Now this gets tricky… SO FOOT’s dossier, which interviews several kobistes, shows the violence as part of a larger process involving respect for themselves and their team, not merely race-based hatred or psychotic chaos. Police provoke them on an awayday in Tours? They will take their revenge when they come back the next season. Scholarly work similarly tries to understand the underlying motives of the violence without writing the youths off as psychopaths, racists, and/or fascists. Yet, considering that a popular story about soccer hooliganism does not exist without at least one anecdote about how the informant was up for getting down to a malenky bit of ultra-violence, it’s important to note that the violence changed over time—as did the targets and the media response. At first, the violence was against fans of rival teams who sat in the KoB. Then, the rival fans were moved across the field to the Virage Auteuil, prompting the kobistes to form away parties that sneaked through the stands to cause trouble.

But the violence in the stands only turned into “hooliganism”—into an occasion for social and moral panic—after the Heysel Incident in 1985.8 Despite PSG’s winning its first championship in 1986 and coming in second in 1989, attendance was falling annually from the steady levels it had enjoyed during the first half of the 1980s. In the press, the violence at the stadium was considered the culprit. In 1991, while the team enjoyed its worst attendance record since making it to the top flight and floundered financially, PSG was bought by Canal+.9 That fall, the front office moved the away fans’ section to the corner of the stadium and subsidized supporters who, sick of the chaos in the KoB, were willing to move across the field. The exodus sped up in 1994, in the wake of the 1993 match against SM Caen, in which ten CRS (riot police) officers were injured in 20 minutes of rioting following a supporter’s leaping to the field to get his shoe. Fans in the Virage Auteuil, disinterested in the violence inherent in casual culture began instead to consciously stylize their support on the Italian “ultra” model of apolitical fan culture with impossibly giant banners, flares, chants and other expressions of “tifo”—organized and choreographed support of the team.

Leading into the new millennium, then, the supporters were (uncleanly) cut along ideological and cultural lines. Didn’t care much about the match, liked some camaraderie, and were up for a fight every once in a while or a racist chant, even against your own players? Boulogne was for you. Wanted a multi-cultural and hierarchical supporter association with intricate performances throughout the match that showed how loyal you were to your team? Turn right toward the Virage Auteuil. Not really excited about either prospect? Neither were the majority of the people in the stadium, who sat in the tribunes. And if you’re at the stadium, who are you, anyway? In his 2002 report, Mignon provides some statistics on the early 90s. The average crowd is effectively entirely male and mostly youths from the entirety of greater Paris. Ethnic and racial numbers are unavailable—this is France, after all—but immigration statistics suggest that the crowd is very multi-ethnic.10 Mignon writes that the two groups that seemed most obviously under-represented in comparison to greater Paris as a whole were women and people of North African origin.

In the virages, the numbers trended in predictable directions: even more male, more suburban, and much younger. But the picture here is not very surprising, and there is simply not much we can say about the supporters as a whole or even about the most ardent of them, casuals in Boulogne or ultras in Auteuil, except that the former were exclusively “white” and the latter not.11 So when Franklin Foer, in his infuriating tome on soccer and globalization, writes about picking a European team if one has “liberal politics and yuppie tastes” and adds that PSG can be immediately struck from the list because it’s a team “with a cloud of virulent racism trailing after” it, it rings incomplete and unfair.12 To my mind, Foer already tips his hand by mentioning “liberal politics and yuppie tastes.”13 But let’s consider his qualification a road marker suggesting our eventual destination. We still have some ground to cover.

The Kop of BoulogneThe Kop of Boulogne

Average attendance at Parc des Princes soared to a (then) record high in 1992 and started a persistent trend upward during the decade, peaking in 2000. Nevertheless, the violence continued, with injuries and arrests especially following the annual Classique between PSG and arch-rivals Marseille. And when there were no Marseille fans about, the fans from the two virages started fighting against each other. But three months after the American investment firm Colony Capital bought the team from Canal+, things began to fall apart.14

After being humiliated by Hapoel Tel Aviv in a Europa League match, 4–2, on November 23, 2006, upset PSG fans took to the streets. One fan of the Israeli team, Yaniv Hazout, was surrounded, threatened, and harassed by anti-Semitic chants from PSG supporters. A police officer of Antillean origin in plain-clothes, Antoine Granomort, went to help out Hazout.15 He then tear gassed the crowd and discharged his firearm once at a sixty-degree angle while getting up from the ground.16 The shot seriously injured Mounir Boujaer and killed Julien Quemener, a member of the Boulogne Boys. Veteran journalist Philippe Broussard, also on the scene, reported that Granomort was racially harassed while protecting Hazout and added that it was a good dozen minutes before the police arrived to calm the situation.

The mainstream press and politicians denounced the hooligans, but soccer fans across France—not just PSG—resenting police presence at their matches, now had a martyr. They held vigils and demanded a full inquiry into Granomort’s claim of self-defense.17 Sports daily L’Équipe, on the other hand, demanded to know why the match was not considered high-risk by the police, despite the obvious opportunity for provocation granted by playing a team from Israel. Le Classique features 2,000 officers to keep the peace, but there were only a third of that number out that night.18 The paper offered two reasons for the negligence: budgetary restrictions and political friction/jockeying between the police department, who were still reeling after the massive civil disruptions around France the previous year, and the French interior minister. The interior minister at the time, who was among the loudest to denounce the violence? The “over-stimulated police chief,” Nicolas Sarkozy.

On March 29, 2008, PSG met RC Lens, a team from the economically depressed north of France, at the Stade de France in the Coupe de la Ligue final. During the match, a 30+-meter-long banner was unfurled in the upper decks for at least five minutes reading “PÉDOPHILES, CHÔMEURS, CONSANGUINS : BIENVENUE CHEZ LES CH’TIS,” or, “pedophiles, the unemployed, the inbred: welcome to the land of the Ch’tis.”19 The response was again swift and reprimanding from the media and the government, whose representative, Nicolas “Président Bling-Bling” Sarkozy, was present during the match. The incident was blamed on the Boulogne Boys, and they were dissolved by the government within three weeks. Though not the key incident in their demise, the scandalous banner was the final gesture that spurred the state into action. The Boys appealed the ban to the European Court of Human Rights, but their appeal was judged inadmissable earlier this year.20

Meanwhile, antagonism between the Kop of Boulogne and the Virage Auteuil had grown worse, with newer supporter associations in Auteuil now willing to react violently to the kobiste provocation.21 On the last day of February, 2010, it was time for another edition of Le Classique on the heels of a disappointing series of performances that saw PSG slip to 12th place, and this day would be, in the words of one witness, “the point of no return.” Marseille fans, protesting their treatment by the police in Paris, had decided to boycott. No matter, as the KoB and Auteuil fans turned on each other before, during, and after the stunning 3–0 loss, leading to around 20 arrests and hundreds of stadium bans.

Before the match, 200 members of the Kop of Boulogne attacked supporters from the Virage Auteuil. The kobistes chased their adversaries toward their entrance into the stadium, and a 38-year-old member of the Kop of Boulogne–aligned group Casual Firm Paris was left in the wake, severely wounded. In the French press, the man, identified at first as only “Yann L.,” was a victim of a “lynchage.” The original reports from the press gave a spin sympathetic to the Kop of Boulogne: while peacefully leaving a bar, Yann L. had been attacked, Agènce France Presse claimed, by youths from the Virage Auteuil.22 But, now presented with a case of Auteuil violence against Boulogne—that is, black-on-white violence—the response took on a new racial component, perhaps most notably in the daily newspaper Le Parisien, which quoted an “expert in stadium violence” who asserted that though the Kop of Boulogne are not “saints,” they have a “code.” The expert added that in the past few years, however, “we have seen, in Auteuil, the appearance of more and more youths from the ghetto [cités] whose sole objective is fighting under any pretext and without respecting the existing rules among the universe of supporters. A man lynched by 20 others! The members of Boulogne would never have done that!23

After two weeks in a coma, Yann Lorence died, throwing PSG into turmoil.24 The government, whose police force had again failed to keep the peace, was still eager to denounce the state of affairs, with Secretary of State for Sports Rama Yade warning that the future of PSG was in jeopardy. The front office immediately cancelled plans for awaydays and refused to sell tickets to away matches indefinitely. Furthermore, the upcoming three PSG matches, both home and away, under the orders of Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux, were to be played “huis clos”: closed to spectators. Hortefeux continued the government crackdown by dissolving five official or de facto PSG supporters’ associations at the end of April: Commando Loubard and Milice Paris of Boulogne, Supras Auteuil 1991 and Paris 1970 la Grinta of Auteuil, and, finally, les Authentiks of Tribune G (beside Auteuil).25 As with the incident in 2006, there was blame returned at the police, with Christophe Uldry, the spokesman of Supras Auteuil, saying that the dissolutions helped evade questions of the effectiveness of the police to handle the violence and racism around the stadium.

But under pressure from the government and the media, PSG President Robin Leproux felt that PSG needed measures to match those of the state. It needed its own crackdown, its own flushing out. The front office started secret work on a “Plan antiviolence.” Details of the plan began to leak, chief among them the cancelation of all season tickets in Boulogne and Auteuil. Responding to the leaks, a thousand peaceful supporters, organized by three groups from Auteuil—Lutèce Falco 1991, Kriek Paris 1999, and Karsud—descended on Parc des Princes on May 15, 2010. “PSG is attacking the 10 to 15,000 supporters who support it the most. It’s a complete purge,” a spokesman for Lutèce Falco said. As “For the survival of the people’s stands,” a pamphlet calling for the protest asserts, “under the pretext of combating violence, the directors of PSG are arranging for our transfer. Worse—our retirement.” The protestors planned on staying at the stadium as long as possible after that evening’s season-closing match against Montpellier, calling Parc des Princes “our second home.”

Freelance journalist and 12-year Auteuil season ticket holder Sami Battikh went even further in his criticism on the news website Rue 89. For him, Lorence’s death was very convenient in that it allowed Colony Capital to do what Sarkozy had earlier promised to do after a young boy from the “banlieues” (here, “rough suburbs”) was killed by a stray bullet in 2005, mere months before the same banlieues erupted in civil unrest: clean this place out with a Kärcher pressure washer.26 “To make sure you’ve cleaned and ‘kärcherized’ the Parc well, what works better than getting rid of the season ticket holders?” asks Battikh, especially when these season ticket holders are the types who “wear their baseball caps backwards.”27 After all, the media initially pounced on the Lorence tragedy in part because it was an incident where the scary, ethnic youths from the banlieues had attacked, en masse, a white fan from the 16th Arrondissement of Paris. PSG would get out their Kärchers over the summer and (white)wash Parc des Princes in order to create a clean space like a “Paris without its banlieue.”

The only crime the vast majority of Auteuil and Boulogne season ticket holders had committed was of buying the cheapest tickets to the stadium. And yet, “We, you, the soul of this club, have been expelled from Parc des Princes by the corporate managers and underlings of an American pension fund,” as the Auteuil supporters continue in their pamphlet. They criticize Colony Capital and its representatives’ caprice in contrast to the long-term, unwavering support of the men in the virages who had continued to buy season tickets even when the team was playing poorly. Their protest did not succeed, and the “Plan antiviolence” was officially announced later that week. In addition to eradicating season tickets in Boulogne, Auteuil, and nearby sections, tickets for the virages would now be sold blank, with placement determined randomly, by a computer. Associations were annihilated at Parc des Princes, and all that remained, scattered randomly between the two virages, were individuals. Simply individuals.

The Virage Auteuil

I wrote earlier that the story of today’s PSG began in England with Liverpool Football Club and a politician named Margaret Thatcher. The part of the story that emerged from Liverpool, the supporter culture, gets decapitated and cauterized in May 2010 by the PSG front office. The part that begins with Thatcher, however, is still very much alive, thank you very much. Its success, furthermore, was made possible precisely because its twin got cauterized.

Though modern soccer hooliganism emerged before Thatcher took office in 1979, in part with her encouragement it became pathologized in the media and halls of Parliament. Her political legacy, then, includes taking advantage of the 1989 Hillsborough disaster to push through a draconian set of policies regarding supporter behavior at soccer matches.28 Still, Thatcher’s role in all of this has less to do with her dislike of soccer and its usually working-class fans than with one of her best-known quotes, which succinctly describes the ideology she exemplified by her words and actions.

In 1987, discussing AIDS and education in the magazine Woman’s Own, Thatcher remarked that, these days, children are being taught to look to the government for help with their problems, like homelessness, “and so they are casting their problems on society and who is society? There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families.” A bit later she doubles down on the sentiment, saying simply, “There is no such thing as society.”29 This radical political view is the centerpiece of neoliberalism, and without neoliberalism, there would be no FIFA in its current form, no money-printing Premier League in England, and, in Paris, no anti-violence program distributing tickets randomly at Parc des Princes between the Boulogne and Auteuil virages.

Neoliberalism is not a new term. Though in the US the term is considered “confusing” by political pundits (who nevertheless used it on Facebook to describe their political views), neoliberalism as meant in this article has no formal ideological ancestral ties with Charles Peters’s advice for Democrats to “distrust all automatic [political] responses, liberal or conservative.” Nor does it have to do with learning to be “sprightly and lampooning” while at Harvard.30 Treating neoliberalism in these terms makes it sound like either a strategy plan for policy writers and campaign strategists in Washington or a past-time for bored and clever elitists dabbling in iconoclasm. These limitations lock up the ideology—and importantly its practice—in wood-paneled corners of western power, making it seem like it’s not terribly important that we all live (US, UK, France) under the increasingly heavy black police boot of neoliberalism. Instead, we must consider this view of the world as something far more central: as the primary ideological engine pushing the west (and the rest of the world remade in the west’s image) since the 1970s.

Nor should neoliberalism be considered as synonymous with globalization; after all, Franklin Foer has already tackled globalization in soccer, which would make this piece redundant. I hope all my readers are already seated when I shock them with the news that many professional teams have many foreign players.31 Now, teams are getting larger numbers of foreign fans and foreign owners, as well.32 The increasing mobility of capital and labor as well as increased technological communication has had completely predictable results. A cheap, exploitable labor force is found in one part of the globe, financed by capital held by a rich part of the globe, and then sold to a third part of the globe with a huge demand for high-profile soccer but with little local supply. This massive international market coexists in glocal symbiosis with the intensely local sentiments of professional soccer, where teams are congratulated for fostering economic improvement around their stadia as well as bringing nearby youth players into their rosters.

What neoliberalism does, however, is to turn globalization’s idea of a worldwide free market into a “social and moral philosophy.” In so doing, the focus of the market drifts from the economy. Neoliberal rationality “involves extending and disseminating market values to all institutions and social action.”33 When everything becomes a market and every action a transaction, Thatcher’s words begin to make sense: the whole gets broken up into parts, each atom transactable under different terms. Society disintegrates to become, instead, merely individuals as entrepreneurs at all times, constantly rationally calculating costs and benefits to themselves. Those without the means to look after themselves have to answer to the police. And this disintegration is a feature, not a bug; as David Harvey explains, neoliberals believe that “liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms” within a “framework characterized by strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade” provides the best path toward advancing “human well-being.”34

The promise of this ideology seldom works out in practice, as the talk about freedom obscures the gap between the few rich and the many poor that has been steadily increasing after thirty postwar years of having the lower and middle classes enjoy an increasingly reasonable share of the western world’s wealth.35 Liberalism already has economic inequality built into it, but neoliberalism launches it into overdrive and adds social inequality to the mix, no longer insulating “citizens against the ghastliness of life exhaustively ordered by the market and measured by market values.” States must protect, after all, the contracts that they oversee, and little things like democracy tend to get in the way of these obligations. It’s much easier to police and prosecute people drinking non-Budweiser beer at the World Cup, where Budweiser is the only FIFA-recognized Official Beer, in a state that views individuals as merely agents entering into contracts (with the stadium, with FIFA), instead of as entities with moral rights derived from sources other than the market.36

CRS (riot police) at Parc des Princes

When PSG’s “plan antiviolence” was officially unveiled, the front office showed their commitment to both neoliberal ideology and practice. The viragistes whose season tickets were cancelled were forced to understand that, for many of them, their relationship to the team was insufficiently market-based, and the police would help keep the new consumers in line.37 “Lovers of PSG,” “loyal supporters,” “the soul of the club,” the fans call themselves in their calls to protest. The president of PSG, they continue, “forgets that for many long seasons, when the results on the field were pathetic, only the fervor of the supporters and the magic of Parc des Princes allowed PSG to continue attracting people. He forgets that the stadium ‘breathes.’ And that he is in the process of stopping that breathing.” But the rhetoric here seems too romantic. The market cares not for love, loyalty, souls, or fervor. And if the fans claim that it is their spirit that attracts others when the team is performing badly, well, the team will quickly calculate that it is more worthwhile to simply stop performing badly by buying better players in record-breaking transactions, rendering the fans’ sideshow unimportant. It was time for the supporters to see exactly what the front office had in mind regarding the supporters’ future role at the stadium.

The previously leaked news about banning season tickets and random distribution of tickets in the virages turned out to be the first two of six new policies at the stadium. The ban annulled about 13,000 season tickets, creating what Hourcade called “collateral damage.” In 2007, Hourcade speculated that, depending on the time and the match, there were a grand total of between 50 and 400 “hard” hooligans in Paris. And yet recall that no effort was made to separate noxious elements of the virages from simply feverish fans. If you sat in a certain part of the stadium (the cheap seats), you were no longer wanted. The other policies involved dissolving loyalty discounts, allowing women to sit in the virages for free, creating family and kids’ sections in the virages, and regulating awaydays so that the bus ride and match ticket were regulated by the team.38 The team also unveiled its name for the plan antiviolence: “Tous PSG,” or “all PSG,” as in, as President Leproux said during the introductory press conference on May 18, 2010, “It’s necessary to learn to all be PSG, to live together in the stands.”

But PSG’s goal here was not simply making everyone mix and be friends. The goal was to get rid of the old fans and bring in new ones, preferably ones willing to eventually pay more. The first question at the press conference asked what Tous PSG would be all about. “Our priority is to make the supporters of Auteuil and Boulogne coexist,” responded Leproux. “I’d like total diversity in the stands. In the virages, we’ll welcome families to the lower deck and children [youth soccer players from the area] to the upper deck. We’ll also propose a very attractive price plan. Adult tickets will be sold for €12, women will be allowed in for free, and those under 16 will pay half-fare. It’s an investment.”

The attractive price plan, at a limit of four tickets per, was to be available only to customers who first acquired a “carte Tous PSG,” a mostly white card that proves that the bearer went to Parc des Princes, presented a state-issued ID, and let a photograph be taken that would be associated in a database with his or her name. Without the number on this card, only seats in the stands along the touchline, which start at about twice as much per ticket, are available for purchase. The name on the card is subsequently printed on each ticket bought with the card, and the face on the card has to match the face of the person bearing the tickets when trying to enter the stadium. If you wanted to sit in either Boulogne or Auteuil for cheap—but only in those sections—PSG had decided that it wanted to know quite a bit about you.

Finally, the front office started a promotional blitz by launching touspsg.com, which featured a seven-point pledge that the team asked each fan to sign online, thereby letting PSG to take a “new turn”(un nouveau virage). All seven points are variations of the fifth, which states that “We want to be able to come to the Parc with our families, as couples, among friends, to attend matches in a soothing ambience in order to support our team and our colors.” The adjective used to modify ambience, “apaisée,” shares etymological roots with “peace” and “pacify,” which captures the kind of attitude the front office wanted at the stadium with this new turn. PSG then sweetened the PR pot by asking prominent French celebrities to take the initiative to sign online. In the first week or so, over 20,000 alleged fans, “alleged” because of the fact that many of their names were also anti-Tous PSG sentiments, had joined them.39

The former season ticket holders from the virages reacted negatively to the colonization of their corners of Parc des Princes by families and kids. Furthermore, the idea of being forced to join a photographic database of official, allowed supporters, while those willing to pay more could get in without a photograph struck them as offensive. In response to the Tous PSG pledge, some launched a project called “Tous abonnés”—“All season ticket holders”, whose slogan was “No to violence, but not like this!” Obviously, in contemporary fashion, Facebook groups also emerged. Other supporters left in the cold simply called for a boycott until supporters could again choose where to sit, as is the case of Jérémy Laroche and his group, “Liberté pour les abonnés.” This group oversaw, among other protests, a march in March from the Panthéon to the Bastille. The overall resentment among devoted fans can be gauged from a thread called “I signed” on the official PSG forum, where supporter after supporter, in contrast to the original poster, refuses to sign PSG’s “death certificate.”

After the first match under the Tous PSG regime, a summertime match in the exhibition Tournoi de Paris, it became clear that the changes to the stadium were not quite what had been advertised by Leproux back in May. The concourses of the Virage Auteuil, which since 2005 had hosted PSG-approved murals dedicated to supporters’ associations as well as deceased members, were completely whitewashed.40 In the Kop of Boulogne, sedate commemorative plaques to deceased members were also removed. Before these whitewashed walls everything was now arranged to “amuse the Smurfs”: face painting, skills workshops, flags and horns for sale, and a new anthem to the tune of “Go West.”41 The only problem, SO FOOT noted, was that the mascot Germain the Lynx, announced only a week before the Tournoi de Paris, was not introduced in time for the start of the season, as promised.42

“For the survival of the people’s stands,” the pamphlet drawn up the previous May, calling supporters to protest on the last match of the season, had warned that the new policy at the stadium would invite fair-weather audiences made of curious, seated spectators who were interested only in seeing what the match was like from these seats so long reserved for season ticket holders. Tourists on trips to Paris would come. Fans of opposing teams would sit in the virages to cheer on their teams against PSG. The team in this way would “lose its soul.” Instead of ultras, we now would have “families, Mickey, and Pépito.”

Unfortunately for PSG, families, Mickey, and Pépito did not have much drawing power, since the 22,689 who showed up to watch the season opener made for the smallest crowd at Parc des Princes for a Ligue 1 match since the 1993–1994 season.43 A month later, only 19,025 spectators gathered to watch PSG put away newly promoted Arle. It was the smallest home crowd since the 1992–1993 season.

Where were the hard-core? Getting tossed into paddy wagons. Two protests were scheduled, one by each virage, before the first match of the season, and 249 supporters were taken in for questioning. The protesters, considering themselves “orphans” abandoned in a scheme to get rid of the working-class rabble at the stadium, were under strict orders from their associations not to cause a disturbance. The French riot police (CRS) started arresting the Boulogne supporters and then moved to the supporters on the Auteuil side. Fan-journalist Sami Battikh again wrote about his experience for Rue 89, noting how he ended up at the police station, being told that he was part of nearly 250 supporters who had physically obstructed access to the stadium, had ignored orders from the police, and had thrown flares and other objects at the police, actions actually attributable to a few trouble makers on the Boulogne side of the stadium. Battikh, along with the others who were gathered up, were punished with “interdictions de stade”—blanket stadium bans that could last up to a year.44 Half-empty stadium, fans outside getting arbitrarily arrested en masse—it was certainly not a great start to the season.

Remains of the graffiti in the Virage Auteuil

By mid-December 2010, facing crowds about 75% the size of the year before, PSG announced that season tickets would be back starting the following month, available in the virages in blocks of five, with the same seats guaranteed until the end of the season. Furthermore, all seniority was restored to previous season ticket holders, as long as they would still submit to the Tous PSG requirements regarding registering with the team. Tous PSG, which Club President Leproux had described as a “transitional and evolving policy,” had made its first transition.45

Further, PSG decided to permit associations in the stands again, as long as they held to the “Charte 12,” a list of rules and regulations provided by the front office. Filed with PSG would be the association’s bylaws, official registration with the police, and a list of officers. Additionally, the association would provide a list of its members, including their names, addresses, and photocopies of IDs—all to be updated monthly. Expressions against the team, its players, directors, owners, or partners were banned. No more pyrotechnics, including metaphorical ones brought on by drinking alcohol or smoking grass, would be tolerated. Finally, the associations were to “support and promote the actions of the club or of government authorities [pouvoirs publics] in case of behavior contrary to the values mentioned above, particularly in cases needing intervention in the stands.” In exchange, the association would have the privileges of claiming up to 100 seats in the virage of their choice, coming in a half hour before each match to prepare, using a megaphone to coordinate cheers, and unfurling banners.

The return of associations to the stadium, though, was certainly not, in any form, a retreat by the front office. Please reread the previous paragraph to see the immense limitations put upon associations for the privilege of organization within the stadium. The casuals and ultras of the earlier era had been able, in maintaining their anonymity, to suspend their individuality within the flow of the group, which became larger than the sum of its parts; in the concourses it was only in death that your personal, unique name was “spoken” by either being carved on a plaque or spraypainted on a wall. In Auteuil especially, individuality was intentionally sacrificed for the sake of the tifo, the show of spirit: to chant in unison, to hold the right card at the right time, to cover yourself with the giant banner stretching over the entire stand, to be a node forever preparing a response to stimulus from the capo.

Unlike the flowing mass of group action in the virages before Tous PSG, the associations as currently permitted are not at all indivisible. Obviously, associations before Tous PSG were organized and structured; they had membership fees, officers, and income from various association-related memorabilia. But their internal structure was not the explicit business of PSG. So instead of a mass at the stadium, the associations are, now, rather, a series of individual units, a list of photos and names—kept current and limited to 100—considered as a set for policing purposes. These rows in a database have the privilege of being sub-contracted by the front office in order to provide pro-team “atmosphere” at the stadium. They also have the duty, should the police start beating up their fellow fans, to support the state action in the name of public safety.

The first group to cross the line and agree to Charte 12 was Hoolicool, which was a family-friendly organization to begin with and also not located in the virages. Others did not hesitate in calling them “collaborators,” however. About a month later, two more groups, Titi-Fosi and Vikings 27, both also not from the virages, were recognized as official associations by PSG. I had intended on calling the team office to ask if more associations had emerged in the past ten months, but after going to a recent match and only seeing two banners—one from Titi-Fosi and one from the Vikings—I decided there was no point.


At Parc des Princes, the greatest victory is respect.

Finishing up this description of Tous PSG, however, requires addressing the most powerful means by which the team has sold the new policy to the general public. Intitially, Tous PSG was supposed to guarantee that Parc des Princes be attractive to families, Mickey, and Pépito. But quickly the focus changed, and now the program primarily guarantees that the stadium will be a “place of respect.” Though introduced as a plan to reduce violence in and around the stadium, Tous PSG is now the proof of PSG’s public commitment to curbing racism, anti-Semitism, and homophobia.46 This newfound commitment may seem odd, considering the front office’s somewhat relaxed earlier attitude regarding the persistent racist chanting, the existence of an all-white virage, and occasional violence by kobistes against racial minority supporters from Auteuil. Remember, the team only decided that it needed a new ticket policy after a bunch of Auteuil fans from the “cités” (read: uncontrollable black/brown youths from the suburban ghettos) “lynched” a white fan from the Kop of Boulogne.

What had started as generalized violence at Parc des Princes in the early 1980s became hooligan violence coupled with racism in the 1990s. Then, in 2010, in response to an act of racial violence, the team proposed an anti-violence policy that then morphed into a policy devoted to anti-racism. But the protests by shut out ex-viragiste season ticket holders have nothing to do with racism at the stadium. The motto of fan group Tous Abonnés—“No to violence, but not like this!”—shows where the fans’ concern was: canceling season tickets and instituting an ID policy was a move by the team to kick out the lower-class members. Regardless of race or previous record of violence, they were all now presumed guilty of racism, anti-Semitism, or homphobia.

The protesters—and this includes fans from Auteuil, who had been direct victims of racist abuse—believe that their real crime is of being, simply, “the people.” Throughout their protest literature, they describe their virages as “the people’s stands” or “the working-class stands”(tribunes populaires). Ironically, considering that people of non-European backgrounds make up a disproportionate percentage of the lower classes in France, shutting out the working class has a side effect of shutting out the very people who would be targeted by the racism that the project that shuts them out is supposed to protect them against. So instead of addressing the class dynamic of creating a ticket and ID policy that only affects those who want to buy cheapest tickets, the front office’s focus on public expressions of anti-racism conveniently place the team in combat with the fact that, despite French promises about égalité and fraternité, racism certainly still exists in this Republic.47

But politicians’ and functionaries’ preaching a concern with eradicating racism is one means by which neoliberal policies hide their interest in maintaining economic inequality.48 Attracting both American-style “liberals” and libertarians with its professed commitment to individual rights, neoliberalism promises a world free of racism, homophobia, and anti-Semitism—but not of poverty. In this world, after all, as Wendy Brown writes, “all dimensions of human life are cast in terms of a market rationality.” Thus, as market mentality overcomes morality, race makes less sense as a technology for discrimination and more as an incidental cause for celebrating difference and identity. Eradicating discrimination, then, from the job market to the atmosphere in Parc des Princes, remains an alleged priority of both the neoliberal right, represented by Sarkozy and his UMP party, and the neoliberal left, represented by the Parti socialiste and their presidential candidate (and Ligue 2 fanatic), François Hollande.49

At Parc des Princes, PSG asked the most high-profile anti-racism group in France, SOS Racisme, to help run security at matches for the 2010–2011 season.50 At one match, there were about 30 activists in the stands, keeping track of any racism they heard or witnessed, in order to catch the perpetrators red-handed. One activist, a former Auteuil supporter, reported that, on the one hand, there was no racism at the Parc. Other other hand, there was also a distinct lack of atmosphere of any kind. The absence of racist incidents at the stadium led the SOS Racisme workers to start instead patrolling mores at Parc des Princes, by reporting if suspiciously large groups were forming, or if people were smoking pot.

As official partners of PSG, SOS Racisme consults on and can suspend supporter associations. This close relationship between anti-racist activists and the team was consummated at the February, 2011, match against Toulouse that began this article. Calling it a “Day of Respect,” PSG and SOS Racisme played a video about treating everyone at the Parc with respect and then had a moment of corporate tifo: a card trick that served to unify the entire stadium in its commitment to anti-racism. Finally, signs around the stadium and little cards on every seat displayed a six-point plan for showing respect. Anti-violence was pushed to a corner on the card and not mentioned at all in the video. The front office’s class discrimination against the old viragistes was never mentioned.

SOS Racisme’s high profile at Parc des Princes is akin to the UMP’s and PS’s cheering for racial diversity. Obviously, eradicating racist behavior is a good idea, but these campaigns make it look like racism is the only problem left to solve at the stadium, now that the market solution of Tous PSG is in place. A former season ticket holder from Auteuil might be overjoyed that Parc des Princes is now completely racism free. But when he sees that he has been priced out of a season ticket, or that he has to submit to having a special photo ID issued to him just to get his old seat back, all he can do is mumble an acceptance of the free market and some words about supply and demand. In pursuing a strictly anti-racist agenda, PSG has entirely ignored the class component of the protests and concerns of its former hard-core fans, while ensuring that the market for tickets seems inevitable and natural. And occasionally, conveniently for PSG’s owners, in the completely natural free market, an increase in demand leads to an increase in ticket prices.

But most importantly, Tous PSG proved that the team was serious about improving its negative reputation. It was ready to rehabilitate the brand. Franklin Foer sniffed that, for someone with “liberal politics and yuppie tastes,” PSG had been off-limits because of the “cloud of virulent racism” trailing after it. Tous PSG was the giant electric fan, blowing that cloud out to the stinky, working-class suburbs whence it came. It is maybe time for the neoliberal, yuppie glory hunters to reconsider their love of Barça. PSG is ready for them and their piles of currency—in fact, pretty soon, if the team’s new owners get lucky, maybe only this elite will be able to afford a night of sport in gay Paree.


A capo tries to lead cheers in the Virage Auteuil

On August 2, the newspaper Libération featured a special section devoted to Qatar’s tight relationship with France. One headline announced that France has been “the Emirate’s best friend since 2007,” highlighting the close relationship between Sarkozy and Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, two unscrupulous, ambitious peas in the same pod. As Libé explains, Hamad was the first Arab Head of State to visit and congratulate Sarkozy on his presidential inauguration.

The friendship has spread throughout the French ruling class, with French politicians of the right and left more than willing to fly off to Doha to earn honoraria at various seminars and conferences. The French-Qatari axis was even alluded to by Michel Platini, current president of UEFA, who said that Sarkozy told him that “it would be a good thing” if he were to vote for Qatar to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup.51 But during the glad-handling, some money exchanges hands, as well. Since Sarkozy’s ascent, Libé explains, “the Qatari investments in the French economy and in luxury Parisian real estate have exploded.” And why not? in 2009, the French parliament exempted Qatari real estate investments in France from capital gains tax. Qatar buys French: airplanes, arms, construction, services…

And now Qatar has bought French again: on May 31, PSG confirmed that 70% of the team had been sold to the Qatari Investment Authority, the emirate’s sovereign wealth fund, for a sum between €30m and €40m.52 Sarkozy’s buddy now owns Sarkozy’s team with Sarkozy’s help. The President and First Fan was the Qatari team’s “12th man” in negotiations for the sale, which included some casual conversation on the subject when elevating 31 year–old Crown Prince Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, who heads many Qatari sports concerns and is already the new “prince du Parc,” to Grand Officer of the Legion of Honor, the second-highest degree of the highest decoration in France.53 And Sarkozy snarled at those who critiqued the sale; again, according to Libé, Sports Minister Chantal Jouanno was almost kicked out of her position by Sarkozy after she calmly told radio reporters that she would have preferred French owners.

Seeing a depressed brand in PSG—an underachieving team from a global cultural center in an undercapitalized league—QIA, which had been tied, previously, to several English teams, saw an opportunity for growth, and, equally importantly, a chance to work on its sports profile against the worldwide muttering at Qatar’s winning the World Cup.54 Président Bling-Bling’s home team was ready to “devote itself without restraint to bling-bling soccer.” The neoliberalization of PSG was now complete: first the mass of fans in the stands was converted into individual consumers. Next, the government had intervened to push through new owners who would let the team participate in the big-time transfer market. PSG would no longer be a step on the way to Spain, Italy, or England.55 It would now be a destination, the site where world-class soccer players would play their most world-class soccer. And after former player Leonardo had been hired as sporting director, the gossip around the summer transfer market suggested that many of the top names in soccer might be soon applying for their Métro cards.

So how did the fans respond to all this? PSG “is attracting mobs,” declared Radio Monte Carlo in August, reporting that queues 30 meters long appeared at the box office within 15 minutes of opening. The team sold 13,000 season tickets, which included completely selling out the 6,000 season tickets reserved for the virages. Last season, PSG ground out an unbeaten run at home that lasted from November to May to help boost attendance. This year, the averages are even better. And the nearly full stadium of ticket buyers has generally left happy: PSG’s current point total, 40, was a summit reached only after over 3/4 of the season was played over the past two years. Not half. Everything’s coming up Pastore.

Yet the ex-viragistes continued their protests. Liberté pour les abonnés announced at the start of this season that Parc des Princes “was a full yet soulless stadium.” As long as Tous PSG remains in place, they continue, the discrimination against the people’s stands, enacted by the team in concert with the Ministry of the Interior, remains in force. And though Liberté pour les abonnés welcomes the sale of the team to the QIA as well as the Qatari efforts to raise the profile of the team, a big team, they remind us, is nothing without a big public. Magazine Les Inrockuptibles also ran a feature on several boycotters over the summer. Their tales are all of loss of and mourning for, sometimes rendered physically, both their second home and the awaydays across France and Europe. One former kobiste reports losing 8kg over the course of the season. In his view, no longer being able to go to Parc des Princes has caused him to lose “a part of [his] body.” The testimonials remind me of reading about veterans still fighting the last war, stubborn in their positions, even as everything around them erodes away. Some of the fans, as long as not serving stadium bans, do sneak into the tribunes and look toward their old haunts in virages and chant at the new fans, “Tous PSG! Tous enculés!

And what are the fans who stay at home missing? Is Rue 89’s characterization of Parc des Princes as now for “consumers” correct? Most likely. At a recent home match, a 1–0 loss to AS Nancy-Lorraine—their first loss at home since the season opener—I watched the action behind the goal from the Virage Auteuil.56 The stadium was certainly practically full, but there was nearly no ambience outside of the virages. Early on, the most unified howls revolved around a young fan who had brought a vuvuzela into the stadium and blew it from time to time, earning disdain and reminders that we weren’t in South Africa. Past that, the tribunes felt silent. The virages were also disorganized and intermittent with their support once the match began. The upper deck of Auteuil had a man daringly standing on the ledge with his back to the action, acting as a capo and trying to organize cheers, but without a megaphone. Even typical chants, like heckling the opposing goalie on goal kicks, fell to only scattered fans.

The lower deck of Auteuil was a mélange of youths in PSG shirts and scarves, fooling around, occasionally chanting or swearing at the action on the field, and smoking hash. Many seemed to be on dates and only rarely focussed on the field. One young man, dressed in the shiny, puffy down jacket with fake fur trim that comprises a contemporary Parisian uniform, spent much of the match trying to reach a speaker with his expectorations as his girlfriend cheered him on. A middle-aged man, wrapped in a PSG cape, stomped the length of the first row, trying, in Portuguese-accented French, to get the everyone around him to cheer on the home team. Eventually, he ran out of steam and matched the rhythm of the game with a predictable series of muttered single-word obscenities. The more elaborate streams of cursing involving grandmothers and the like he saved for occasional salvos spat toward the Nancy fans some 80 meters away.

On the other hand, security had a soft touch in our section, and no one was sitting—in contrast to my experience in the tribunes, where standing was rare. The match began with everyone waving their scarves, and some fans had collected all the nearby pre-match programs to tear them up into kick-off confetti. All the youths joined in singing the team’s “Go West” anthem. But after half-time, the biggest fan expression seemed to be that, over on the Boulogne side, the team-provided “FIERS DE NOS COULEURS” (“Proud of our colors”) banner stretching across the entire virage had been torn down to read just “DE NOS COUL,” punning on “from our asses.” The similarly huge official banner on our side, which only read the name of the team we were supporting, was also slowly torn down during the course of the second half, prompting security to make their sole entrance among the seats. So while the stadium wasn’t dead, when I compare what I saw around me with photos of tifo from before Tous PSG was instituted, or with stories from ex-viragistes, especially about the tenth anniversary of Supras Auteuil, I can hardly believe that it is the same stadium.

Once Nancy jumped ahead with a goal scored 30 meters before our eyes, whatever passion remained was stamped out of the whole stadium. The team never quit, blowing open goal after open goal, but the fans certainly did. With ten minutes left in the match, we could finally hear, over the silenced home crowd, the 50–100 Nancy supporters who were literally penned into the corner of the stadium. A handful of fans from the German border were making more noise than the 40,000+ locals. With five minutes left, the stands started emptying out. Save the delirious Nancy fans, who were rewarded with players’ shirts after the match, and a few men near me complaining about how useless Gameiro is, the seats were completely empty five minutes after the final whistle.

PSG is in first place, and qualification for the Champions League seems almost a given. But the uneven play over the first half of the season sows a bit of apprehension. If PSG is losing at home to the likes of Nancy, it is possible that more losses are in the cards. And should the team fall from first or even slip out of the Champions League spots by tumbling to fourth, will Parc des Princes maintain its level of 85%+ capacity? Will the presence of Pastore stop being a big draw if he can’t find the net against Nancy while mumbling that he has aspirations that are bigger than little PSG? No one yet knows these answers, and it will be exciting to see them develop, but as Parc des Princes becomes, more and more, “consumer”- instead of “supporter”-oriented, it also starts feeling more and more American. And this, certainly, is not good news.


FROM OUR ASSEZ

For at least a year, the US sports columnist who has most successfully leveraged the frustrations of the common sports fan has been hammering away at how the live experience of sports “sucks.” The ubiquity of “65-inch HDTVs” has made, in his opinion, fans less inclined to go see the real deal. The real deal costs money and involves dealing with negatives like traffic, strangers, bad sightlines, and a lack of statistical information on the fly.57 In short, he maintains, there’s a ton of value added in watching at home: it’s easier on the checkbook—er, credit card—but it’s also more comfortable. One has greater control over the environment, like the option to drink imported beers from glass bottles past the seventh inning if one feels eager to do so.

In October, Bill Simmons invited the CEO of Ticketmaster, Nathan Hubbard, to his podcast to talk about this growing disinterest on the part of fans to bother buying tickets to sports.58 “We have a fan experience problem,” Hubbard responded, saying that “casual fans” have “so many other options” these days that Ticketmaster, along with teams, has to “innovate on the experience.” The solution, for Hubbard, is to “personalize the experience for everyone,” to “sell the right experience” at the right price to the right person, thereby building “a lifelong fan” who remains loyal to the individual attention.59 In between jokes about domestic violence and nostalgia for Pearl Jam, Simmons and Hubbard speculated about how this “right experience” can be achieved.

Everything relating to the fans’ relationship to the team is now defined by the market. They don’t consider going to the live games worth it. Their time is better spent playing Angry Birds on the couch. Ticketmaster, in turn, looks to the market for an answer. The solution for them is to attract casual fans (not “football casual,” as in hooligan) by individually negotiating the sale of each ticket with them. In providing various add-ons and deals for other tickets, Tickemaster can give a sense of value individually designed for that specific casual fan. There is no such thing as a generic “season ticket holder” anymore, as each person has a different recorded buying history and set of incentives to which he or she responds—their “digital fingerprint,” in Hubbard’s words—that tips them to buy the tickets they do. At one point, Hubbard told Simmons that those running teams are now “brand managers,” and teams have to maximize their brand’s appeal to casual consumers. That is not at all new in the US. What he avoided mentioning was that, in a typical neoliberal turn, he is treating each individual customer as his or her own entrepreneurial brand manager as well. One individual consumer’s brand needs, say, a 50% discount on U2 and Disney on Ice tickets added to the Clippers season tickets in order to make the cost of the basketball season tickets worthwhile.

But things get complicated when you square this casual fan experience issue with the situation regarding PSG. Simmons and Hubbard tout hyper-individualization as a solution to crumbling ticket sales—as a way to get someone back to the stadium. But Parc des Princes had been posting a reasonable annual attendance average for over a decade. No huge collapses appeared over the past two years, as they had in the US. So PSG, with the Tous PSG ticket policy, willfully decided to henceforth attract only individual casual fans. Taking advantage of a public safety situation and sensationalist media coverage, they blew up a good thing and wiped the slate clean. The exiled former fans could only come back once they reregistered as casual fans, no longer eligible to be a part of the soul of the team.

The Tous PSG bet is that a sports team can be profitable catering only to casual fans, rendering history and association insignificant. Maybe it took an official stance against racism to lure back fans disgusted by the racist provocations at the stadium. But sweeping racism from the stadium did not require the radical makeover of telling 13,000 fans they were no longer wanted in the cheap seats. Further, all those fucking Pastore shirts suggest that, in a metropolitan area of 12m, it is not impossible to find 40,000 glory hunters every other weekend. Former Club President Leproux’s calling cheap tickets for children an investment sounds like Hubbard’s plan to commodify individual identities in order to build a “lifelong fan” with a sellable experience, or, another way, a lifelong casual fan who comes because it’s “worth it,” not be cause he or she feels the “need” to support the team. The team is not interested in keeping you, specifically you, around for life. They’ll find another you, if they need to. That other you will hopefully earn a bit more and be willing to pay a bit more for your ticket. But in the meantime, you’ll suffice. Luckily for the new owners, PSG does not yet have to worry about how it will sell most of its tickets for every match. On the cold, grey, drizzly day I walked into Parc des Princes to have my photograph taken and get my Tous PSG card, however, I gave them my digital fingerprint for when they will.

Professional sports is a business. That is not the problem here. Unlike many soccer teams that emerged organically from, say, railroad workers kicking the ball around after hours (Manchester United) or young rich men who hoped that having their own team would impress local high society women (Flamengo), PSG was, always, first and foremost, a business proposition with a side trade in civic pride.60 Dissolving the fan associations and creating 40,000 individual consumers at Parc des Princes, however, shows us what happens when everything becomes a business, when our entire lives are lived within the logic of the market.

Against those 40,000 individual consumers buying tickets for each match and the money pouring into Qatari wallets from those ticket receipts, the passionate pride of the boycotting ex-viragiste as the “soul” of the team is simply out of joint. In one sense, it’s quaint in its naïve old-fashioned way. But it maybe also holds a share of a promise for those of us who refuse to accept that the current state of affairs is also the only possible state of affairs. If one believes that “another world is possible,” to borrow a phrase, then realizing the other world benefits from studying social structures, like these supporter groups, that resist the neoliberal paradigm.

In holding out the boycott, the ex-viragistes maintain their unwillingness to become individual consumers, even though every successful season for PSG along the lines of this one (so far) will further marginalize the former members of the Kop of Boulogne and Virage Auteuil. At the same time, fans get more accustomed to the invasions of privacy and lockdown mentality demanded by Tous PSG. The market has become universal and normal—other forms of engagement, like a romantic one, have become relics.


Fans leave early, anticipating a home defeat to Nancy

Paris has never had big-time soccer, at least not on a level befitting its greatness as a city. While teams from Marseille, Lyon, and even highway rest stop Saint-Étienne have found glory on the international stage, Paris has always been a bit of a joke. Writing in 2002, Patrick Mignon gives several reasons for this hiccup. First, in countries like Spain and Italy, you have intercity rivalries with socio-economic consequences that get played out by proxy on the soccer field; Madrid’s efforts to dominate Barcelona, and the Catalan resistance to those efforts gets played out in the economy, in politics, and on the soccer field. In France, Paris is a city simply without peer, and the other cities must remain content jousting for domination of their small regions.61 As a result, Paris becomes synonymous with France in the republican imagination, leaving the city without much of a specifically “Parisian,” as opposed to “French,” identity.62 Further, until the late 1970s, Paris did not have a central, popularly elected mayor, which, Mignon suggests, limited civic schemes that could unify the city in terms of leisure pursuits.

Finally, “Paris is not a city made of real Parisians.” Very few people who live in the capital have roots that run as deep as they do elsewhere. The Arabic word “bled” has come to mean, in French slang, both a useless place in the boonies as well as the ancestral hometown, and it seems that Paris attracts people who are willing to leave behind their bled, be it in West Africa, Maghreb, Brittany and the rest of France, the overseas departments of France like Guadeloupe, or Spain, Portugal, Italy, Eastern Europe, or every corner of Asia. The world, in brief. Those who arrive here do so expecting to advance socially or economically—not necessarily plant new roots. Mom and Dad don’t live here, so neither should their soccer team play here. As a result, Mignon concludes, there is no history of “passionate or loyal” support for Parisian soccer teams. “There is only the attraction of the spectacle and of the excursion that is going to Parc des Princes, but more in the style of the ironic flâneur than in that of the loyal supporter.”

In the end, of course, it’s the ironic flâneur/flâneuse and his or her earning potential and disdain for sentimental, sanguine fervor who is courted by PSG. Screw the real fans, as long as the fucking Pastore shirts keep leaping off the shelves.63 Onwards to the future with this new fanbase, 40,000 armies of one.64

All autumn, a rumor kept bubbling up that, though now almost certain not to come true, provides a clean way to close this occasion for thinking through the problem of sports without fans in a world without society. In mid-September, the story broke that newly installed Sporting Director Leonardo was interested in signing 36-year-old David Beckham once his contract with the Los Angeles Galaxy expired on New Year’s Day. Leonardo told the BBC that Beckham “is more than a football player—he’s a brand, a pop star. I would always consider him.” The story continued to pop up from time to time, with other people offering their opinions on the dream move for PSG.

Beckham is precisely the sort of player PSG would be trying to sign, now that they have a pretty good team on the field, because his main attraction—his value—lies off the field. Journalist Tony Karon brings up Beckham when writing about the growing popularity of soccer in East Asia, where fans are more attracted to teams with global brands, like Manchester United and Karon’s own Liverpool, than to their local leagues or teams. For Karon, Real Madrid’s 2003 signing of Beckham was a sign of the Spanish front office’s interest in growing in this market. Beckham’s “real appeal is as an icon, the handsome, soft-spoken, family man… with a global pop-idol appeal… To put it unkindly, while Beckham’s contribution to Real Madrid’s performances on the field will always be eclipsed by the likes of Zidane… he has no peer when it comes to selling the club’s shirts to teenagers in Asia.”65

Though Beckham, for family reasons, decided not to bring his brand expansion show to France, the interest shown by the PSG front office in courting him showed, yet again, how willing PSG was to turn its back on the soul of the team. The soul can keep on marching, protesting, and boycotting as a mass. This mass, refusing to split up individual consumers and eager to remain a part of something bigger, remains important only to the police hired to make sure they do not get too rowdy outside the stadium. Only when they are willing to start buying tickets again, at inflated prices and with Tous PSG cards in hand, will they be welcomed back. Until then, the neoliberals in the PSG front office, believing in the permanence of the market, will sneer at the protestors, confident that nothing will ever change except the bottom line.


  1. Though the game of soccer is rather straightforward, the larger structures of the game veer toward the far more opaque. In France, the best 20 teams—the top flight—compete in a league called “Ligue 1,” where each team plays each other twice, home and away. A team gets three points for a win, one for a draw, and none for a loss. At season’s end, the bottom three teams by points are sent (relegated) to Ligue 2, which sends its three best teams up (promotes) to Ligue 1. The top three teams in Ligue 1 qualify to play in the prestigious UEFA Champions’ League, which features the best teams in Europe. The next few places earn qualification in the less prestigious UEFA Europa League. In addition to the above leagues, there are two cup tournaments in France: the Coupe de France, which is open to all teams in France, and the less prestigious Coupe de la Ligue, which features the 44 professional teams in the country. Winning either cup can also qualify a team for the Europa League, so figuring out who qualifies for Europe can often get tricky. These competitions all happen simultaneously from August to June. Additionally, the preceding, it must be noted, is a simplified summary of the situation. “UEFA,” incidentally, is the European organization that organizes European soccer. It makes up part of FIFA, which is the global organization. ↩

  2. Players typically change teams in European soccer during two “transfer windows,” one in the summer and one in January. First, the teams negotiate a transfer fee that the new team will pay the old. Second, the new team negotiates, separate from the transfer fee, a wage structure with the player that is usually reported in terms of a weekly salary, though it can also include any number of complicated bonuses and clauses. Thus there are three parties that must consent to a transfer: both teams and the player. The situation can be further complicated because of “third-party ownership,” which means that a corporate entity has a stake in a player’s success and owns a portion of his rights. There exist also, as in US sports, agents who advocate for their players, convince them they should be making more money at a more prestigious team, and take a cut of the wage package. And it is Pastore’s agent, current person of interest Marcelo Simonian, who may have extorted half of the estimated transfer fee that was supposed to be paid to Palermo by PSG. ↩

  3. These huge sums still do not even include what each player earns, which in top leagues is usually a multiple-year contract that pays from tens of thousands of euro a week and makes up a huge chunk of the expenses of the team. The money quoted above is already startling, and this is in midsize-time France. In England, Spain, Italy, and now Russia, transfer fees and wage packages have reached levels that could cause many a one-percenter to regret his career choice. Carlos Tévez, for example, has no role at his current team, but no other front office is willing to pay his transfer fee or his more than £140k/wk. wages. Similarly, Anži Maxačkala, who only won promotion to the Russian top division in 2009, is paying Samuel Eto’o €20m a year to live in Italy, train in Moscow, and play in provincial Maxačkala, on the shores of the Caspian Sea. ↩

  4. Peter Hooton, lead singer of The Farm, tells a story of going to Paris for the 1981 European Cup Final, in which Liverpool beat Real Madrid. Tourism took a back seat to finding a rumored “Adidas Centre.” ↩

  5. Most of my history of PSG supporters comes from three sources: a 2007 “dossier” on the Kop of Boulogne published by SO FOOT (reprint) and two scholarly articles about hooliganism in France, “Une autre exception française : un football sans hooligans ?” by Patrick Mignon and “Hooliganisme, ultras et ambigüités en France” by Nicolas Hourcade. My history here is intentionally breezy: the goal is to sketch out how PSG reached the events of 2010 so that it is interesting and illuminating. ↩

  6. I had hoped for a more whimsical history to the name of the stadium. France, after all, did not hesitate to put the Little Prince on the 50-franc note. Alas, the princes the stadium is named for are literally pre-Republican princes who used to hunt in the area. ↩

  7. The first season of the French top division, 1932–1933, had four teams from metropolitan Paris. But by the 1960s, the only way to get big-time soccer in the capital would be by merging a virtual Parisian side with a side already in the top flight. The 1970 merger between Paris FC, which was a team that only existed theoretically, and their second-division neighbors two turns of the Seine to the west, in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, offered a breakthrough. Backed by Parisian money, the team won promotion in its first season but then split into two teams, Paris FC (again!) and PSG. Paris FC merged with AC Montreuil and remained in the top flight, while PSG was demoted to the third division. Still filled with talent, PSG fought its way back up through the divisions by 1974 and has never looked back. Paris FC, on the other hand, was relegated the same year. A season ticket to third-division Paris FC starts at €50. It tops out at €150. PSG season tickets for 2011–2012 start at €230 and top out at €2140. ↩

  8. On May 25, 1985, Liverpool met Juventus in the Heysel Stadium in Brussels for the European Cup Final. Liverpool fans rushed the Juventus supporters, and 39 Juventus fans died. As indicated in the punishment for the disaster—banning all English teams from all European competitions indefinitely—the simple explanation is that the Liverpool fans were out of control psychopaths. Even the UK government reacted this one-sidedly, with the Prime Minister calling, as the first order of business in the aftermath, for legislation that “makes it an offence to be drunk or to possess alcohol on football coaches, on entry to grounds and in most areas of grounds.” This scapegoating ignores that Heysel was falling apart, that the tickets were misallocated, that the police were not prepared, and so on. After all, it’s easier to just say a person or group was “insane,” “the embodiment of evil,” or “a few bad apples.” If a manichean approach to outliers and limit cases is your speed in social histories, you’re reading the wrong article. ↩

  9. Similar to Rupert Murdoch’s Sky, Canal+ (or “Canal Plus”) is a cable company that features a family of premium channels with original and imported dramatic and sports programming. Watching sports in France without a subscription to it gets pretty tricky, and like motels in the US advertise HBO, two-star hotels in Paris will have the Canal+ logo in their window. Finally, the final consonant in “Plus” is pronounced, meaning that the channel’s name rhymes with the 1984 movie in which Kevin Bacon is legally forbidden from dancing until, against the backdrop of the crumbling American farm, he teaches Chris Penn to do so to the beat of “Let’s Hear It for the Boy.” ↩

  10. In France, it is illegal for the state to collect data or make lists based on race or ethnicity. Anyone who recalls the opening of Inglourious Basterds can guess why this is not a terrible idea. And so while the system is under attack and may soon change, like a reporter covering the RNC, I still have to rely on indirect evidence when asserting the diversity of the crowd at Parc des Princes. I might as well say, “trust me.” So, well, trust me. ↩

  11. Mignon points out that Boulogne was “white” because of the “ideological commitments of some [certains] of its occupants.” A handful of racist bullies set the tone for a quarter of the stadium. ↩

  12. The whole pick-a-team exercise unsurprisingly lands on “Barca”[sic], which “elegantly fills this vacuum” of being a team for the snooty set by having “self-consciously announced its sophistication” over the course of its history. Of course, when Foer decides to release a new edition of the book, he should have a chat with Real Madrid’s Marcelo about Barça’s reputation regarding racism. ↩

  13. This is too easy, but it bears noting: Foer sets his petard for later hoisting by asserting, a mere five pages into his book, that “In the end, [he] found it hard to be too hostile toward globalization.” This makes him, and those who share his ideology, incapable of considering what has happened to Parc des Princes in the past few years a Bad Thing. ↩

  14. The following stories are neither representative nor isolated. That is, they are three of the highest peaks on a wave of racial violence and intolerance that has characterized elements of the PSG fanbase for decades. In fact, when discussing this article with a fan who used to sit in the Virage Auteuil, still carrying scars from getting rushed by kobistes, he wondered why I did not also include the 2001 fighting between visiting Galatasaray supporters from Turkey and PSG supporters, which caused the match to be temporarily suspended. Hopefully my examples will suffice, but this Wikipedia page also has near year-by-year reports on violence for those with extra-prurient interests. ↩

  15. “Of Antillean origin” is among the legalistic French euphemisms for “racial minority.” ↩

  16. The angle is important because ballistic tests found that the gun was actually fired horizontally, corroborating the story about Granomort’s firing his weapon while standing as an aggressive, not defensive, move. Nonetheless, the case against Granomort was dismissed and appeals were not granted. ↩

  17. Further fueling the ire of the supporters, on June 2007, Granomort was dismissed from his post for fraud, having invented a story about a ransom in order to use his stepfather’s ATM card. ↩

  18. Broussard, don’t forget, in supporting Granomort’s version of events, still notes that it was a dozen minutes before even a second officer arrived to back up the attacked policeman. ↩

  19. The second part of the sign is the title of the top grossing French movie of all time, Danny Boon’s winning comedy about a post office manager transferred from his comfortable life in Provence to the frightening, unknown north, where the locals, the Ch’tis, speak an incoherent dialect called “Ch’ti.” The movie was released a few months before the match, and in one scene, the manager’s subordinates take him to see RC Lens, where they sing the miner’s anthem “Les Corons.” In English, the movie is available as Welcome to the Sticks, which is how the offensive banner is often translated. ↩

  20. A year ago, five men were found guilty of “provoking hatred or violence during a sporting event” and had various fines and suspended sentences awarded in penalties. They all earned stadium bans of at least three years. ↩

  21. Scuffles between the virages had been largely limited to awaydays, and the Kop of Boulogne groups first targeted Tigris Mystic, which dissolved in 2006 in consequence of the attacks. The violence reemerged in this fateful season after a kobiste unfurled a flag with a Celtic Cross among Auteuil supporters during a trip to Bordeaux, and this time the kobiste ire was trained on the Supras Auteuil, who responded in kind. ↩

  22. “Yann” is the Breton form of “John” and is, hence, rather common in France. “Yannig,” then, is analogous to “Johnny” and often Frenchified to “Yannick.” ↩

  23. This outrageous quote from the unnamed “expert” was righteously attacked separately in contemporary blog posts by SO FOOT’s Paul Lurcenet and Action Antifasciste Paris. Both posts assert the falsity of the original, reported story of Yann L.’s attack while leaving a bar and insist, instead, that he was at the head of a group of kobistes terrorizing members of Auteuil. ↩

  24. Five men were immediately detained, representing three of the supporter organizations which would subsequently get dissolved by the state, but only one, Jérémie B, a forklift driver and part of the Auteuil-friendly tribune group Authentiks, was not immediately released. A year later, the investigation had stalled, and I have been unable to find any new developments as we approach the second anniversary of Lorence’s death. ↩

  25. Hortefeux additionally dissolved a supporter association of OGC Nice and one of l’Olympique lyonnais. This brings the total up to 9, if we include 2006’s victims, the Boulogne Boys and FC Metz’s Faction Metz. All of the associations were dissolved because of violence. ↩

  26. Kärcher was not exactly excited about the free publicity, and sent, as the New York Times reports, letters to all 12 French presidential candidates in 2007 asking them not to use the brand name when discussing what should be done in the French suburbs. ↩

  27. In December 2009, during the farcical debate on “National Identity” used by Sarkozy’s party to shore up right-wing support in advance of the regional elections, Secretary of State for Families and Solidarity Nadine Morano said at a town meeting that what she yearned to see of a young French Muslim was that “he love his country, he find a job, he not speak ‘verlan,’ and he not wear his baseball cap backwards.” Verlan, like the aforementioned cap, is a reversing, but this time an argot of reversed syllables. ↩

  28. Liverpool was playing in an FA Cup (analogous to the Coupe de France) semi-final against Nottingham Forest on April 15, 1989, at Hillsborough, the home of Sheffield Wednesday. A mass of Liverpool fans, delayed in traffic, tried to enter the stadium at once, and they were all directed to the same pen, where 96 people were crushed to death. The 88-page Taylor Report, commissioned by the government, laid most of the blame for the disaster at the feet of the police, finding that unruly or drunken fan behavior was a secondary cause. The report’s recommendations mostly dealt with improving communications between police and the team as well as better enforcing a maximum number of people per standing-room-only terrace. The government’s response, however, was to turn soccer stadia into “all-seaters” and making standing up during a match an offense. With smaller stadium capacities, ticket prices rose. In his ethnography of Paulista and Mancunian fan reaction to the commercialization of their local soccer teams, Sam Dubal suggests that the post-Hillsborough reality “Perhaps unintentionally… allowed the public ritual of football to be transformed into a profitable business.” My quibble with Dubal’s perspective makes up the current part of this article: it is a folly to think that there was anything “unintentional” about the fact that changes in professional soccer ordered in the name of public safety also happened to turn the sport into a giant, profit-generating engine. ↩

  29. Though Thatcher might not have referred to herself as a neoliberal, it seems that any current work describing neoliberalism at some point has to reckon with this expression of hers, as well as with her remark from 1981, while again complaining about policies geared toward “the collectivist society,” that “Economics are the method; the object is to change the heart and soul.” ↩

  30. That said, it is certainly right to consider The New Republic a thoroughly neoliberal rag, just not for the reasons espoused by David Brooks, for whom neoliberalism competes formidably with bone, cartilage, meninges, and neurons in the constitution of his own, proper spine. ↩

  31. Perhaps the most important aspect of “globalization” in the world of soccer players involves two words that appear nowhere in Foer’s text: “Bosman” and “transfer.” Transfers are, of course, how players move from team to team. As for Bosman, in 1995, with the Bosman ruling, the European Court of Justice found that EU nationals within the EU enjoyed freedom of movement and freedom of association. Teams could henceforth not refuse a player’s desire to leave his team once his contract had expired (called a “Bosman” or “free” transfer). Additionally, the court banned quotas affixed on “foreign” players from other EU states. Despite FIFA’s reliance on markets blasted open around the globe relating to the soccer industry, they have been fighting the Bosman ruling for over a decade, most recently by pushing for the “6 + 5” rule, which allows a team to start only five foreign players. This rule has been rejected by the European Parliament, in lieu of UEFA’s “home-grown players” rule, which requires a minimum number of players on a squad who have trained in-country since they were young, without discriminating based on citizenship. UEFA’s rule may end up getting knocked down by the European Court of Justice as well, but that’s for the future. As a point of similarity, in the US’s Major League Soccer, the right to have an international player on the roster is a commodity that can be traded from team to team, as long as there are no more than 144 total international players. For the two Canadian MLS teams, legal US residents count as “domestic” players (of course!), though both teams must also roster at least three players eligible to work legally in the former Dominion. ↩

  32. Both sides of this coin have played a role in a set of stories that have warned of grave threats to the future of the Premier League in England this past fall. The increase in foreign fans has led a representative from Liverpool, which has a massive international fan base, to speculate about whether his team would be better off if it could negotiate its international TV rights on its own, like Real Madrid and Barcelona do in Spain. The increase in foreign owners, on the other hand, has led to fears that they may want to rid the Premier League of relegation. ↩

  33. My main sources here are five. Most easily accessible—it’s a free web page—is Paul Treanor’s definition of neoliberalism, though Treanor focusses too heavily on the economic side of things. Wendy Brown’s “Neoliberalism and the End of Liberal Democracy,” reprinted in Edgework, emphasizes, on the other hand, the pernicious move of the market into politics and morality. Of my sources, this essay is the most satisfying march through neoliberalism. Another of Brown’s articles, “American Nightmare,” shows how neoliberalism prepares the American public for neoconservatism. David Harvey’s brief history of the subject is an engaging read that covers neoliberalism’s various manifestations around the globe, in contrast with Brown’s focus on the US. Harvey’s account also describes how neoliberalism attracts American “liberals” through its focus on individual rights. Finally, Michel Foucault’s lectures on the birth of biopolitics describe German and American (and nascent French) neoliberalism as a response to strong state policies of the 1930s and early 1940s in Europe and the US. Foucault’s work is from 1979, so it is a bit dated, but it directly addresses the history of neoclassical economic theories. Gary Becker, for example, whose ideas of human capital are important to the neoliberal reconfiguration of labor, is only referenced by Foucault. ↩

  34. Harvey begins his story about neoliberalism with the overthrow of the socialist Allende government in Chile. Volcker Eick traces the neoliberalism of FIFA to an incident a month after Allende’s death on September 11th, 1973. Chile was to play the USSR in the second leg of a World Cup qualifier on November 21, at the Estadio nacional in Santiago, which had been used since the coup as a prison and torture area for Allende supporters. The new regime, Pinochet’s, convinced FIFA that the stadium was usable for the match, but the USSR boycotted and, hence, lost, 1–0. A year later, FIFA’s general secretary, who oversaw the decision to play the match at the Estadio nacional, João Havelange, would be elected president of FIFA. Havelange turned the organization from one that was “not notably corrupt, only racist and Eurocentric” to a ruthless business enterprise whose primary goal seems to be honoring the massive sponsorship and exclusivity contracts companies sign for FIFA’s only real event, the World Cup. ↩

  35. As Harvey writes, “An open project around the restoration of economic power to a small elite would probably not gain much popular support. But a programmatic attempt to advance the cause of individual freedoms could appeal to a mass base and so disguise the drive to restore class power.” ↩

  36. Brian Phillips notes FIFA’s increasing disinterest in democracy by pointing out that “The past four World Cups to be awarded… have charted a line straight down the Democracy Index, from South Africa (30th place) to Brazil (47th) to Russia (107th) to Qatar (137th), where political power is hereditary and homosexuality is a crime.” ↩

  37. The 2011 law regulating police power in France, “Loppsi 2,” contains many provisions relating to new powers of the (police) state to regulate soccer supporters. The state can prohibit the movement of an individual or group of soccer fans if the state feels that there is a public safety risk, and stadium bans were extended. Parts of the law were judged unconstitutional, but not the sections relating to soccer. Only the PCF, the Communist Party of France, responded, with a letter to the legislators exclaiming that “we are not all hooligans!” Mignon has criticized the escalation of police repression as misguided, and it is, if one assumes that the goal is peace in the stands with the supporters who care about being there. That’s not a safe assumption, however. ↩

  38. Before reacting with shock at the casual sexism of the point regarding wome, recall that the French government has no issue telling women that they are wearing too much clothing in public. On the other hand, ultimately, this free seat is offered to women and “compagnons Pacsés,” or companions of the ticket buyer in (gender-agnostic) civil unions. ↩

  39. These low numbers are damning, in the opinion of the protesting ex-season ticket holders, because they show that the pledge is just a PR blitz designed to marginalize them as psychopaths no longer wanted by the team or its fans willing to sign the pledge. If they were so unwanted, many more would have signed the petition. Furthermore, they view the fact that the online web counter tracking pledges had six places to be indicative of the hubris of the team, thinking it could collect over 100,000 supporters who want a pacified park. Even though the list included several unprintable spoof names, as one supporter noted, in this case, it’s only the sum of signatures that matters, not the individuals. Finally, the site is notably no longer online. ↩

  40. In this way, Battikh’s warning about the kärcherisation of Parc des Princes proved itself entirely valid. ↩

  41. The Village People song, made popular by the Pet Shop Boys in 1993, has become a standard soccer anthem and chant, as its rhythm can be easily manipulated to express an opinion from “Nayim from the halfway line” to “Steh’ auf, wenn du für Deutschland bist.” Its popularity led to its providing the framework for the anthem of the 2006 World Cup in Germany, “Stand Up! (Champions Theme),” and this version was played at every World Cup match. If the idea of the adoption of a Pet Shop Boys cover of a Village People song about escaping to an idealized gay Arcadia by a bunch of soccer fans does not strain one’s credulity enough, watch Howard Greenhalgh’s excellent video. ↩

  42. PSG started the 2010–2011 season hosting AS Saint-Étienne and SO FOOT’s writeup closes with a reference to the banner unfurled by the visiting stéphanois, which read, “Thanks to Leproux, it’s like we’re at home.” Without megaphones or cheer leaders, the local fans were disorganized and embarrassed themselves in their support compared to the visitors from the south. ↩

  43. All of my attendance figures throughout come from the unwieldy but comprehensive Stades et spectateurs. ↩

  44. The “IDS” is an especially nasty kind of sentence in its bureaucratic excess. As Battikh notes in his candid description of his interactions with the police, which includes pdfs of his charges and sentencing, the IDS involves having to report at a police station every game night at kick-off and then again 45 minutes later. Even though his own IDS was only for a month, Battikh counted up six evenings he would be spending with the cops, including the night of August 26, 2010, when, despite the fact that PSG was in Tel Aviv, Battikh still had to make two trips to the police station. One of the Auteuil supporters appealed the IDS and, a year later, had it overturned and was awarded €1,500 in damages. ↩

  45. Still, consider this: at the time of the announcement, the team had earned 17 points at home from nine matches. The previous season, at the same moment, it had 18—but that did not include a 2–1 victory over defending champions Marseille. So despite a similar form and a Classique already in the bank to boost the average, attendance was way down: the first nine matches of 2009 averaged 36,801 spectators; a year later, 27,788. The effect of a lack of season tickets in the virages was also notable by the fluctuation in attendance from match to match. In 2009–2010, attendance slowly slipped over time except for bumps indicating matches against big teams. The attendance also rallied in the match against FC Girondins de Bordeaux, which was the first open home match after Lorence’s death. The following season, attendance ping-ponged, hitting highs only for the two high-profile matches against Marseille and Lyon. ↩

  46. Racism appears in soccer around the world, though the spotlight is usually put on Europe, where there are player pools that are both racially and culturally diverse as well as exceptionally high-profile. This article is not about racism in soccer, but I will say that soccer’s universalist anti-racism puts it at odds with the pluralist goal that would hypothetically engender anti-racism. After all, race is handled differently in different cultures, and cognates can be a slur in one language and a term of endearment in another. Considering, though, that both neoliberalism and anti-racism are universalizing projects, they go together rather nicely. ↩

  47. In a country where head shots are expected to accompany job applications and where, even in the absence of a head shot, an applicant’s name and address can usually tip their race, it should not be a surprise that racial discrimination, despite being illegal, plays a huge role in employment. Reports surface from time to time indicating that an employer will choose the ethnic French candidate over the colleague from Maghreb or West Africa four out of five times. ↩

  48. A critique of American “neoliberals” like William Julius Wilson and the Clinton braintrust makes up the 1993 epilogue of Michael Omi and Howard Winant’s important work Racial Formations in the United States. To them, “Neoliberals deliberately try to avoid racial themes, both because they fear the divisiveness and polarization… and because they mistrust the ‘identity politics’ whose origins lie in the 1960s.” In a footnote, they explain that their understanding of the term “neoliberal” comes from Charles Peters’s and Philip Keirling’s 1985 edited volume A New Road for America: The Neoliberal Movement. As mentioned, there is a consonance between Peters’s sense of neoliberalism as he laid it out in his manifesto and the sense in which I use it in this article. The Democratic Party, even/precisely in its Clintonite “new” phase, is working on decade number three of being a completely neoliberal operation in its actions. Still, Omi and Winant’s gloss on neoliberalism is more or less the exact opposite of what I am arguing, which is why I bring it up. For them, neoliberalism hints at a non-racism that is color-blind. In this article, the non-racism is very much not color-blind, because color-blindness would subsequently eradicate a person’s (racial) identity. ↩

  49. I share Adolph Reed’s “suspicions about antiracism’s status within the comfort zone of neoliberalism’s discourses of ‘reform.’” Describing the situation in the US, he remarks that while Americans celebrate racial diversity as a “fulfillment of democracy,” the poor are excluded. Ascriptive statuses like race, which depend on who one is and not what one does, are the sole criteria by which neoliberals measure equality. In his work, Reed cautions against the ease by which people treat race and class as “fundamentally distinguishable,” instead of as “equivalent and overlapping elements within a singular system of social power and stratification rooted in capitalist labor relations.” My approach here is also influenced by Reed’s occasional co-conspirator, Walter Benn Michaels, who takes Reed’s “suspicions” and turns them into certainties in his two most recent books. In 2009, he wrote specifically about the new commitment to eradicating racial inequality in France, where “leftists” find that their commitment to anti-racism gets a very welcome audience in French boardrooms and in the supposedly right-wing presidential administration. All the same, Sarkozy occasionally shows an incomplete attachment to the anti-racist demands of neoliberalism, like in declaring multiculturalism a “failure” or in sacking Abderrahmane Dahmane, his “diversity” adviser, over disagreements on Islam. But although Sarkozy considers multiculturalism and national identity incompatible, for Michaels “national identity and diversity are complementary rather than contradictory; they are both technologies first for obscuring and then for legitimating economic inequality.” For the record, I don’t think Sarkozy is a racist; I think he has antiquated views on culture and identity that are inconsistent with the world his economic policies presuppose. Furthermore, I think that Michaels is right in arguing that, as long as the UMP and PS fight identity battles over who is the racist and who is the misogynist (this time around), the poor of France, which already disproportionately features women and racial minorities, will continue to get socially and economically isolated. ↩

  50. SOS Racisme first made their name at Parc des Princes with a sting operation in 1999, testing if a racial minority could get into the Kop of Boulogne. Mamadou Gaye was at first denied sale of a ticket for the Kop out of concerns for his safety. Then, ticket in hand, he was again denied entry into the Kop of Boulogne by stewards. ↩

  51. It would take a million WALL-Es a million years to sift through the garbage and graft surrounding the the World Cup vote from December of 2010. Needless to say, giving the tournament to Qatar is a decision that is “hard to understand” at best. While remembering that FIFA in its neoliberal phase has a greater interest in protecting sponsorship contracts than in defending democracy, here is a nice place to point again to Brian Phillips’s article on corruption and murder in FIFA. I suppose in the previous sentence one could infer that there was a “non-neoliberal” phase of FIFA where it was (or will be) interested in defending democracy. That would be a terrible misreading. ↩

  52. Lest one think the Qatari government was done spending there, they then dropped €90m two weeks later for the rights to televize two Ligue 1 matches a week in a surprise move for their Francophone al-Jazeera channel, set to launch in France and worldwide this year. The Qatari monarch’s dream, apparently, is to turn his nation into a world power by “freely investing in the key sectors of the globalized world: information and sports.” Furthermore, another wing of the massive Qatari wealth machine, the Qatar Foundation, which is dedicated to education, spent £125m over the summer for five year contract sponsoring the jersey of FC Barcelona. Barça’s shirt had never had a sponsor before, leading romanticizing fans like Foer to crow about the team’s “purity” and its showing “that it resides on a higher plane than the base world of commerce.” Instead of receiving money from a sponsor, Barça donated €2m a year to UNICEF and wore its logo on their shirt. Crippling debt has a funny effect on moral purity and one’s attitude toward “base commerce.” But overspending in response to the pressure of maintaining a global brand is just part of our globalized world, right? ↩

  53. The longer view of the sale, in which Colony Capital retains, for now, a 30% stake, involves the the future of the stadia around Paris, as PSG has long been rumored to move permanently from Parc des Princes to Stade de France on the other side of town, which would add over 35,000 extra tickets per match. Before France hosts the European championships in 2016, Parc des Princes will be expanded and upgraded, forcing PSG to the national stadium for a season, which will also be an opportunity to kick the tires regarding a permanent move. Parc des Princes is owned by Paris but managed until 2014 by Société d’Exploitation Sports-Evénements, which is a subsidiary of Colony Capital. Colony figures there is still a pile of money to be made from the stadium beyond having PSG as its (near sole) tenants, and they are hoping for state aid in expanding the stadium. On the other hand, the state is eager to have a permanent resident (like PSG) in the Stade de France, in the nearby suburb of Saint-Denis, to get out from under the huge fees they owe the operators of the stadium, VINCI. VINCI’s largest shareholder after its employees? The Qatari Diar Real Estate Investment Company, wholly controlled by the QIA. As Libé explains, in untangling all of this, “small world.” ↩

  54. Pace Malcolm Gladwell and his thesis on the “psychic benefits” of team ownership, many, many owners consider their sports subsidiaries as wealth producing entities. PSG was owned until this year by a investment fund, after all; it was explicitly in the business of making money. For every team with a petulant boy-king owner treating it like a game of Football Manager, there is a team run by a faceless front office watching the bottom line. Of course, PSG was founded by investors eager to have top-flight Parisian soccer and eager for the psychic benefit of bringing such a thing to the capital. Furthermore, of course, the Paris FC splinter happened precisely because some investors felt a team named “Paris Saint-Germain” was insufficiently Parisian—hence not providing enough of that psychic benefit. These days, however, PSG exists to make its owners even richer. Luckily for fans of good soccer, the new owners seem convinced that the best way to make money off the team is by turning it into an international brand—like Manchester United—by ensuring a string of success in domestic and continental competitions. ↩

  55. David Ginola left in 1995 for Newcastle, George Weah left in 1995 for A.C. Milan, Youri Djorkaeff left in 1996 for Inter Milan, Leonardo left in 1997 for A.C. Milan, Nicolas Anelka left for Arsenal in 1997 and then again in 2002 for Manchester City, Ronaldinho left in 2003 for Barcelona, and Gabriel Heinze left in 2004 for Manchester United. Players leave all the time at all teams, of course. The point of this short list is to show that PSG has a history of being a “selling,” not a “buying,” team. ↩

  56. Behind me was an old kobiste, maybe in his early 50s, with a “Kop of Boulogne” sweatshirt underneath his parka. He drunkenly slurred and swore for much of the beginning of the match before shutting up and swaying, with his pants undone, staring in silence at the chances PSG kept missing. I was eager to get his photograph, but he looked positively catatonic after half-time, and it all felt wrong. ↩

  57. I haven’t lived in the US for a while, but I have trouble believing that US fans are staying away from $20 tickets to baseball because they have “65-inch” televisions hung on the walls of their modest homes. I’ve never even seen a television that big in a residence, but the Sports Guy is the voice of the Joe the Supporter, so I’ll defer to his measurements. ↩

  58. Beyond talking about 65-inch HDTVs, this episode of the BS Report has an especially 1% vibe to it, including an out-of-touch failure of a joke about Occupy Wall Street. ↩

  59. “Experience” is a good warning word that one is about to be dealing with the apotheosis of the focus on the individual. It no longer matters what a thing is (or what a thing means) in comparison to how someone experiences it. Who cares if the Clippers lost? If the fan’s experience of the loss was good, another ticket will be bought. ↩

  60. OK, Flamengo’s first team was a rowing team, and soccer only came in later with the arrival of disgruntled ex-Fluminense players, but, Hollywood! Its origin story sits ready-made for the silver screen! Late 19th-century high society location shoots in Rio! Rowing practice montages with the Sugar Loaf Mountain in the background! Act now and you can have it in theaters by the Rio Olympics! ↩

  61. London might consider itself without peer in England, but Mignon points out that it is also much larger as an urban entity than Paris is, and, as a result, can support many, many professional teams. The Premier League is currently 25% London teams, for example, and there are London-based professional teams throughout the various lower divisions. ↩

  62. I have been criticized by Parisians for saying that Paris is in the “northern” part of France. Nonsense, they tell me. It’s in the center! I give up, mumbling to myself that feeling again trumps cartography. ↩

  63. I am, of course, precisely this kind of consumer of PSG. They’re not my team in France, but I don’t hate them—the only French team I hate is Arsenal. I don’t go to a match unless I find someone also eager to go, which has been surprisingly difficult within my social circle. I’m not sure that the team wants to attract fans other than those like me, however, and that’s the fear here. Just because I don’t breathe soul into PSG doesn’t mean others shouldn’t have the opportunity to do so under more egalitarian terms. ↩

  64. Mignon elsewhere rightly points out that it is interesting that PSG has never had a sell-out season, suggesting that the project of big-time Parisian soccer is incomplete. Parc des Princes is small, considering the market it serves, but the tickets just don’t move. If PSG win the league this year, though, next year may be a sell-out. I know I am considering season tickets just to have guaranteed spots for the Champions League. ↩

  65. Michel Platini repeats this sentiment when critiquing the proposed move to PSG, saying Beckham is not the player he once was and that the transfer is merely one to sell more shirts. ↩


Share |

Comments

Great article !

I am a former Authentiks, the funky division.

This article has aptly summarized the history of the Parc stands the last decade. We went from a reference in Europe for the atmosphere at any stage. What a waste !

Congratulations for this article, Mr.P. PEREIRA DE SÁ.

Hi Moacir -

Good writing and very enjoyable to read. I disagree with the sentiment of the writing, though, if I understand correctly your overlying theme that profits are secretly trumping local supporter interest in the club. Please let me explain.

Full disclosure: I am an American who loves Italian calcio. I am an AC Milan supporter (how predictable, right?!), Fox Soccer cable subscriber, and purchaser of AC Milan merch. In other words, I am the new market for European football in the last couple of decades. That being said, you will understand that I have been overall very happy with the evolving world of football - without it, I would not be able to watch, keep in touch, gossip and otherwise enjoy supporting a team that plays 5,000 miles away from where I was born and raised.

At any rate, I'll try to keep this short and hope for a reply. There is a necessary dichotomy that needs to be addressed in this large milieu of "neoliberalism" economics and its influence on football. (A) Globalisation on the one hand, and (B) local or domestic resources on the other. These two things are both at odds with one another yet still share their core philosophy and origin. Of course, this shared core philosophy is Profit. You have to market Manchester United merch to Koreans who love Kim Sun Park, otherwise you're missing a huge opportunity to generate revenue to maintain enormous team wages which in turn complete the cycle by supporting continued success and brand appeal. And it's the same people in the front office that decide to expand PSG or any other club locally and globally, so it all comes down to the market strategy of the club, which will always orient towards bringing in the cash.

This article almost exclusively focuses on the local element of the equation. Which is fine, and really, it's a fascinating story that I was not at all familiar with outside of the larger elements that filtered through to my area of the world. Yet through all of these examples provided of how the government and the club itself have eliminated and alienated the querrulous and energetic segment of supporters, isn't it veryh obvious that this is all done to make money? And then furthermore, aren't the figures from your attendance graphs supporting the model? Attendences are near record highs, and the same seats that were priced so that unemployed hooligans could attend en masse are now priced for middle-class family outings. Presumably this means more concessions and more merch gets moved at Parc des Princes as well?

Finally, this is all presented (the main theme) in this story as hiding behind social renewal - ending violence and racism - when in fact it is all profit-driven. But, I think it's disengenuous to pretend like profit-making is "hidden." It's very obvious, very much the overriding main concern of any top flight football club in the last few decades. I guess I just don't see why it's protrayed as an emerging theme that can only be understood after connecting the dots with how the local ultras are treated. The story is simpler than that. Just look at EUFA's Fair Play (haha, not to get side-tracked, but what a joke) or any of the other obvious signifiers that the economics of football is the predominant force at play now.

Maybe this was purposefully skipped over - or rather, just alluded to: but it seems like PSG is being set up to be profitable and maintain a worldwide presence. Yes, the soul will undoubtedly be stilfed since this "soul" has been synonymous since the beginning with querrulous youths... but eventually won't alot of those querrulous youths grow up, earn jobs and... be one of the bugious attendees at Parc des Princes? Thus the model for the owners and the front office will be successful.

Again, thanks for writing this, I did enjoy reading it! I just (to summarize) feel that the profit-driven nature of PSG's world is presented wrongly like it's hiding in the bushes insidiously, while in effect, it's very much not hiding. It's driving in a Mercedes up to the stadium for a $300 box seat.

Well, this was fun. I put all of the sources I consulted in the article into a collection on Zotero, if there's any interest in “further reading” or double checking my translations, etc.

Otherwise, thanks for all the support (and criticism), and I hope that the next one will be even better.

Don't know how you can improve from this. Stunningly good.