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The Shame of Marseille

Marseille are one of the best supported and successful clubs in French football,

In 1993 they were flying high. Under charismatic chairman Bernard Tapie, a businessman, politician, occasional actor and singer, and TV host they had won the French Championship for the past four seasons and were favourites to do so again,

And, for the second time in three years they had reached the final of the Champions League, and were hoping to become the first French club to lift the trophy.

Shortly before the final in Munich, they travelled to relegation strugglers Valenciennes for a league game.

Marseille were worried about what had happened to them two years earlier. They began the 1991 European Cup final as favourites against Red Star Belgrade, but injuries meant that their starting line-up was weakened by the absence of several names.

In the end they lost in a penalty shoot-out, having failed to break the Serbs down in 120 minutes of normal play. There could be no repeat this time..

At half-time during the Valenciennes match, home player Jacques Glassman pulled his coach Bora Primorac to one side and told him an extraordinary tale.

He claimed that he had been offered money by Marseille player Jean-Jacques Eydelie, a former teammate at Nantes,  and Jean-Pierre Bernès, a Marseille director to take it easy during the match.  

And that was not all. Whilst Glassman refused to accept the bribe (for which he later received a UEFA award), two other Valenciennes players Jorge Burruchaga and Christopher Robert did accept money and Robert’s wife Marie-Christine went to the parking lot of the hotel where the Marseille team were staying to pick up a bag stuffed with French Francs.

Marseille won the match 1 – 0, which was enough to clinch the title for the fifth successive year, and a few days later, they beat AC Milan by a single goal  scored by defender Basile Boli to win the Champions League.

Their joy was short-lived, however. Two weeks after the Champions League final, a criminal investigation was launched, and both Eydelie and Bernès were jailed for active corruption. Marie-Christine meanwhile was charged with conspiracy and a raid by detectives on Robert’s aunt’s house found F25-,000 buried in her back garden.

Marseille were stripped of their league title, which was offered to PSG, who declined it. Even today, the record books show that no team won the Ligue 1 championship in 1992 – 1994.

A year later, Marseille, because of the bribery scandal, but also because of wider financial problems were forcibly relegated to League two.

In 1995 the case went to trial, both Eydelie and Bernès both pleaded guilty, but blamed Tapie as being the instigator of the plot. Even more explosively, Bernès claimed in court that Marseille routinely bribed players from other clubs five or six times a season.

In the end Tapie was jailed and Bernès, Eydelie. Robert and Burrachaga all received suspended prison sentences. Tapie and Bernès were also banned from football by life.

Even today, the bitterness felt by some other clubs as to what happened is still felt in France. In his autobiography, “My Life in Red and White”, published last year,  Arsène Wenger, who was managing Monaco at the time, insists that he would have won more league titles with them had there been a level playing field.

What should have been the biggest moment in the club’s history has, instead, been stained for ever, and Marseille has nver fully got over the shame.

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