LILLE, France (AP) — Fans of struggling French club Lille charged onto the pitch to confront, insult, and threaten the players who drew with Montpellier 1-1 on Saturday.
At the final whistle, fans spilled onto the field at Stade Pierre-Mauory. Striker Nicolas Pepe was kicked in the leg by one fan and there were more flashpoints between fans and players as stewards struggled to control the situation. Defender Adama Soumaoro was also reportedly struck.
A line of stewards formed on the side of the pitch to hold back about 200 fans, who were chanting insults at the players and at president Gerard Lopez, just days after Lopez met with fan groups on Monday. They had reportedly assured him they would back the team until the end of the season, but the truce crumbled in seconds.
“You’re dirtying our jersey, you’re dirtying our jersey,” the horde of irate fans chanted at the players.
Lille is next-to-last with only nine games left and fans issued a threat if things don’t improve.
“If we go down, we’ll take you down,” some of them sang, as Lopez shook his head disapprovingly from the stands.
Stewards initially struggled to stop fans from entering the tunnel to the dressing rooms. But finally the fans backed off to the stands.
Coach Christophe Galtier reasoned that the fans had good reason to be frustrated, but said their behavior was nonetheless unacceptable.
“They are fans who lost control, but they are also fans who are unhappy and sad,” Galtier said. “I don’t accept that my players are punched, that my players are treated this way. We will count the points at the end of the season. It’s only one game.”
When Lopez became president, he confidently spoke about his ambition to qualify for the Champions League within a few seasons.
But, instead, Lille — which won the French league and cup double in 2011 — is fighting to avoid relegation.
“My players gave everything and have done so for a certain time now,” Galtier said. “I can understand the disappointment and the anger (of the fans), but my players are also disappointed and angry with themselves.”