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Benfica lift stadium ban on Marseille fans hours before game

Marseille’s Europa League quarter-final first leg trip to Benfica will have been in the French side’s supporter’s diaries for weeks. Fans have booked flights, accommodation, and taken time off work to go and support their side in a huge European clash at the Estadio da Luz.

But on Tuesday those fans, many of which were already in the Portuguese capital, found out their tickets had been cancelled. They will have spent hundreds for nothing more than the privilege of watching their team in a bar in Lisbon.

But, just a few hours before the game, Benfica have finally agreed to remove the ban.

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Marseille players train at the Estadio da Luz on Wednesday. Photo by Icon Sport

Why were Marseille fans banned from the Benfica stadium? 

To be fair to Benfica, it appears that the decision was taken out of their hands by the Portuguese authorities, who believe the fixture presents a risk of violence.

Benfica said that authorities had warned them of a threat to public order, “namely through the perpetration of acts of violence associated with sport involving fans of both clubs, as well as with the security forces.”

But the Portuguese club were also critical of the decision, writing that the ban “jeopardises the spirit of the European competitions by depriving them of the presence of the fans of Marseille and Benfica.”

Marseille also criticised the ruling, stating that the club would do “everything in its power in the interests of its supporters to ensure that they attend Thursday’s match in Lisbon.”

“OM will continue its efforts until it has won the case for its supporters, whose behaviour has been exemplary this season in the European Cup,” they added.

The decision appears to have been taken based on recent outbreaks of fan violence around games involving the French club. Last October, Olympique Lyonnais manager Fabio Grosso suffered a serious eye injury in an attack on the team’s bus by Marseille fans.

Similarly, Marseille and Feyenoord fans were involved in a violent clash before a Europa Conference League semi-final between the two clubs in 2022.

However, it has been speculated that the Portuguese authorities’ decision to ban French fans was also in response to a ban placed on the second leg in France – French Minister of the Interior Gérald Darmanin took the decision last week to ban Benfica fans from that game.

French authorities lift ban on Benfica fans

That ban on the second leg was lifted earlier today, ahead of the first leg. The Minister of the Interior’s office wrote on Thursday afternoon that, “at the request of Gérald Darmanin, there will be no travel ban on Benfica supporters in Marseille on 18 April.”

The move increased pressure on the Portuguese authorities to do the same and remove the ban on today’s game.

That pressure was already high given Marseille president Pablo Longoria’s statement last night that he would not attend the game out of solidarity with the French fans.

“I cannot accept that our supporters, who have made enormous sacrifices to come to Portugal, cannot access the away end to attend a gane that we are all looking forward to in this very difficult season,” he said.

“And if we were to reach that point (that the decision is upheld), I would not attend tomorrow's (Thursday’s) match out of solidarity with our supporters but also in opposition to the unfair nature of this situation.”

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Marseille manager Jean-Louis Gasset and forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang give a press conference at the Estadio da Luz on Wednesday. Photo by Icon Sport

The National Association of Supporters, a French body which protects the interest of football fans in France and was instrumental in removing the ban on Benfica fans for the second leg, said on Thursday afternoon that they were working on getting the ban on Marseille fans lifted.

“We continue to work and we continue to look for a solution for welcoming Marseille supporters into the stadium this evening in Lisbon. Let's stay confident.”

The ban on Marseille fans is finally lifted

And then, just after 3pm UK time, the good news finally came. “We now have confirmation that the Benfica club is reversing course,” they wrote on Twitter (formerly X).

“OM supporters with tickets will be able to attend the match this evening. Have a good quarter-final everyone. And don't waste all this work: follow the instructions.”

Deputy of the French National Assembly and Marseille supporter Sacha Houlié wrote on X: “I thank the Minister of the Interior Gérald Darmanin for committing to authorizing the movement of Lisbon supporters, thus allowing Marseille supporters to enter the stadium this evening! Thank you for hearing our requests!”

And so there is a happy ending to this story. One thing is for sure, if the match between Benfica and Marseille is anywhere near as dramatic as the fight to get the French fans into the stadium, then both sets of supporters are in for a treat.

Jamie Barton

A freelance football writer and podcaster, Jamie has appeared on/in the BBC World Service, PA Media, Charlton Athletic FC and Empire of the Kop, among others. He's attended matches all around the world, from Tranmere to Tokyo, and once had his bus home from the 2022 Champions League final in Paris delayed by 28 hours.

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