Saint-Etienne fans attack players after French team’s relegation

Saint-Etienne fans attack players after French team's relegation

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In the latest episode of fan violence in French soccer, supporters of Saint-Etienne stormed the field Sunday and attacked players with flares immediately after a loss that relegated the once-mighty club out of Ligue 1.

Saint-Etienne was hosting Auxerre at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard in the second leg of a relegation/promotion playoff that went to penalty kicks following a 2-2 draw on aggregate. After Auxerre goalkeeper Donovan Léon made a save on Ryad Boudebouz, Birama Touré converted a penalty to win the shootout, 5-4, for Auxerre and move that club into Ligue 1.

Touré and his teammates had barely begun to celebrate when a large number of Saint-Etienne fans ran onto the pitch. Saint-Etienne players hurried to the locker room tunnel, but some appeared to be injured before they could make it to safety. Police reportedly used tear gas to push fans off the field.

As the game ended, Saint-Etienne released a statement sharing “the immense pain and sadness of all those who love the Greens.”

A short time later, the club issued another statement saying it “strongly condemns” the pitch invasion and “will initiate the necessary legal proceedings.”

Saint-Etienne has not spent a season in the second-run Ligue 2 since 2003-04. The club set the Ligue 1 record with 10 titles, but the most recent came in 1981. Paris Saint-Germain, the league’s reigning powerhouse, tied that record this year.

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Sunday marked the end of a French season that has been plagued by violence. Saint-Etienne was ordered to play its final regular season game behind closed doors after a loss to Monaco was interrupted by flares and other unruliness from the stands at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard. For similar reasons, Saint-Etienne had to host Clermont in November in front of empty seats.

Elsewhere in the league, Marseille midfielder Dimitri Payet twice was hit this season by water bottles thrown by opposing fans. One of those episodes saw fans from host Nice storm the field as a melee broke out that drew in team staffers. In both cases, including a subsequent visit by Marseille to Lyon, the matches were abandoned before full time.

The incident at Lyon prompted France’s sports minister to declare that fan violence was “destroying the image of the league in France and internationally.”

“What happened in Lyon is unacceptable,” Minister of Sports Roxana Maracineanu said. “… We cannot allow players to be assaulted in this way.”

Several weeks later, Lyon and Paris FC were thrown out of the French Cup after hooliganism spilled onto the pitch during a game.

Earlier this month, Violence between fans of host Marseille and Dutch side Feyenoord required police intervention ahead of a Europa Conference League semifinal. Before Saint-Etienne and Auxerre squared off Sunday, UEFA said it would review security measures in the wake of a chaotic scene Saturday at the Paris-area Stade de France, where Real Madrid topped Liverpool in the Champions League final.

French officials blamed the pregame skirmishes, which were met by police with tear gas, on Liverpool supporters who had traveled from England only to discover they were holding counterfeit tickets.

“Violence has no place in the stadiums,” one official said.

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