Olympique de Marseille fans in Australia headline French football's influence down under
French football is not the most followed foreign league in Australia. Yet, there is a strong migrant community that supports one of the country's oldest and most successful clubs.
Following our coverage of Brazilian football fan clubs in Australia, through Palmeiras and Sao Paulo, Front Page Football goes inside the official Australian fan club of French giants Olympique de Marseille.
The distance from Marseille to Melbourne is over 16,000km with a brutal time difference, but that won't stop Olympique de Marseille fans in Australia from supporting their side in a different continent.
But first, who are Marseille?
The city of Marseille is situated on the south coast of France. It is one of the country's most notorious cities, mainly known for its love and passion for football.
Founded in 1899, Olympique de Marseille, also known as OM, is one of France's most successful football clubs, with many accolades to boast, including 10 Ligue 1 titles.
Historically, the club has been home to many world-class footballers, including Jean-Pierre Papin, Franck Ribery, Dimitri Payet, Didier Drogba, and Didier Deschamps.
Olympique de Marseille remains the only French club to have won the UEFA Champions League, having done so in 1993.
Front Page Football spoke to William, one of the official Olympique de Marseille fan club directors in Australia, to talk about the fan club and Marseille's massive following.
"We have around 100 to 110 active members in Australia," William said.
"I would say 70% of those members live in Melbourne, but we have [a] big following across the country, particularly in Perth.
"It is hard to catch up with a group and watch games, as most of the games can range from 3am to 7am, and people have jobs, whether being a chef or working in the office."
As mentioned earlier, Marseille is internationally recognised for its unique passion for football; however, it isn't the most glamorous city in France.
"I would compare Marseille to Naples in Italy," William said.
"Marseille is not a wealthy city, people are usually poor or middle-class, but the fans are very passionate.
"Residents of Marseille live by the club and winning the Champions League in 1993; it helped the future generation fall in love with the club."
As a football club, Marseille's following does not only extend to its city but others across France.
"We recently played a match against Metz in the northeast of France," William said.
"Marseille fans were not allowed inside the stadium; however, half [of] the crowd were Marseille fans.
"This happens quite often, and it shows that Olympique de Marseille is not only followed by locals but the whole of France."
In February 2021, William and other mutual friends decided to set up a fan club in Australia to unite Olympique de Marseille fans scattered across the country.
"Our fan club was founded on the 17th of February 2021, so it was our one-year anniversary recently, " he said.
"The club started when a few people saw other fans at local football games wearing Marseille shirts, so we thought why not create a fan base in Australia. There are many OM fan clubs around the world, like in Singapore, Tunisia, and New Caledonia.
"We thought there was something missing here, and in Australia, there are over 30,000 people from France, and I bet half of those people are Marseille fans.
"Most of the members have been in Australia for many years. We aren't backpackers, so we can't bleed the same passion of following Marseille back in France due to the time difference and with people working full-time jobs.
"When we created the group, a lot of members personally thanked us for setting it up because there are no other official French fan clubs in Australia."
There are several social events that OM fans in Australia use to engage their members regularly.
"We try to organise events on the weekends in Melbourne, where most of our members live," William added.
"We play pétanque, a sport from Marseille, we have a club shop that has our logos printed on t-shirts and jumpers, and we try to meet up for big games and do a BBQ."
The unique event in OM Australia's short history would be watching the derby against Paris Saint-Germain together as one group.
The derby against Paris Saint-Germain is the biggest game in French football and is not only a battle between two clubs but rather two cities.
"The rivalry between Paris St-Germain and Marseille became popular in 1993 when we won the Champions League," William said.
"Before the 1990s, Paris didn't have a good football team, there wasn't a real rivalry, but now it is more than a football derby, but a geographical derby.
"Geographically and socially, Marseille is a poor city, and Paris is where everything in France happens. Paris is located quite central, where the government is, where the main businesses are.
"Last year, PSG played against Marseille at the Stade Vélodrome with Messi. We organised a meetup in a Melbourne park at 5am. We used a power generator and bought a TV to watch the game, and it felt great."
Many football fans across Australia do not perceive French football as attractive or entertaining; the term 'farmers league' is common when discussions are held about Ligue 1.
William does believe that French football needs to change for more clubs to be competitive in Europe.
"The amount of young French footballers leaving the league affects Ligue 1," William said.
"When they are 16 or 17 years old, they usually get bored of playing in France and get bought by another club.
"Unfortunately, the financial ecosystem in French football is not as strong as compared to England or Germany. I hope it changes."
Through these groups, Australian football can become more recognisable through their passion and pride, even though they live in a different continent.
Football in Australia has always been and will continue to be a bridge to unite people from migrant communities to follow their favourite club. It does not matter what the location or timezone.
For more coverage of Australia's links to football clubs overseas, click here.