History Lesson: Why Does 'Le Classique' Matter So Much?

Sunday sees the latest instalment of the Paris Saint-Germain v Olympique de Marseille rivalry referred to as 'Le Classique.' It is Ligue 1's version of 'el Clasico' and the clashes bring a number of French cultural issues to the fore as well as heated confrontations on and off the pitch. This one should prove to be no exception as it marks the first time since 2010 that visiting fans are allowed to attend the match, even if it is only 400 who will be allowed to enter each team's respective stadiums this year.

Two years ago, one PSG fan was left in a coma and eventually died after a clash between the two main supporters groups of PSG-the Boulogne Boys and the Supras Auteil. That ugly confrontation led to over 15 arrests and since that incident, no travelling fans have been admitted to the fixture for fear of safety and unsavoury episodes have become something of a tradition at these clashes.

So why does 'Le Classique' matter so much? Like all major rivalries, the hatred between PSG and Marseille extends outside of football. Paris and Marseille are the two largest cities in France and thus the most influential. The pair are also the most successful football clubs in the country having won in excess of 40 domestic trophies between them. Both clubs are also the only French teams to have won major European silverware, as PSG landed the now-defunct UEFA Cup Winners' Cup in 1996 after OM had won the Champions League in 1993.

The duo were dominant in French football before Lyon disrupted their domestic hegemony, and despite recent contrasting fortunes PSG and OM remain the only French clubs, with the possible exception of Saint-Etienne thanks to their success in the 1970's, with a truly nationwide following. It is this that lends 'Le Classique' its special aura and creates an atmosphere unlike any other in French football.

The battle of the Capital versus the Provinces is often referred to as the North versus South derby. The duo represent Paris, the national capital, and Marseille, the biggest city in southern France and the region's biggest sphere of influence.

Many French people resent Paris due to its dominance in political, economic and cultural terms. As a result of this, a large part of the population dislike its football team Paris Saint-Germain, a club mainly supported by Parisians and locals. As the most widely supported club in the country, Marseille also attract a similar level of animosity.

The rivalry is not the oldest or the most traditional in Ligue 1, but it is undoubtedly the most fiercely contested on and off the pitch, dividing loyalties around the country. It is the most viewed football match in France and is watched by millions of people. The southerners have been in existence since 1899 whilst PSG only arrived in 1970, and their early meetings offered little suggestion that the two would become fierce rivals.

However, meetings between the pair became important following the 1989 title decider at the Stade Velodrome when Franck Sauzee scored a last minute winner that gave OM the title. Since then, PSG's backing by Canal+ and perceived favouritism by the broadcasters who went on to become Ligue 1's main distributor until the arrival of Al-Jazeera and now BeIn Sport last year, made them resented for their wealth. The pair's European success stoked the flames and the 1994 bribery scandal involving Marseille and their President Bernard Tapie took the rivalry to new levels.

Marseille dominated the fixture throughout the majority of the 90s before PSG started to claw back some pride. Les Phoceens' remain dominant in the fixture with a 22-6 advantage over their rivals when played on home turf, but this season represents a major opportunity for Carlo Ancelotti's men to make a statement of intent and begin to turn the tide against their rivals.

Sunday's game is an enticing prospect and as long as there is no trouble between the fans, it should make for a real spectacle. All eyes will be on PSG who embarrassed themselves in last season's fixture, losing 3-0 at the Velodrome having been heavy favourites to defeat an out-of-sorts Marseille team. This time around though, the big guns are finally here and Marseille's heavy 4-1 defeat to Valenciennes is a good omen for les Parisiens.