Behind the scenes at Marseille vs. Manchester UnitedBy: Andy Slater | February 25th, 2011
Ever wondered what happens behind the scenes at a big European match? Theoffside was granted exclusive access to normally unseen areas of the Stade Velodrome for yesterday’s game giving a great insight in how a massive match is put together.
Thanks to Heineken, the Champions League’s major sponsor, we were given unique access to the places often off-limits on match days to savour the atmosphere and activity before this illustrious game.
Watching the contest on television, you may have been forgiven for focusing solely on the twenty-two players on the pitch (despite the uneventfulness of the game) and rightly so; football matches are about the players.
But when two of Europe’s biggest clubs meet in a match broadcast to millions around the world, the entire event usually happens so smoothly and seamlessly that we rarely consider the people putting it together.
Arriving in Marseille city centre, there was a real buzz of anticipation – hordes of Marseille fans in replica shirts, waving banners and scarfs. While they were heavily outnumbered, Manchester United followers had still made their presence felt with supporters’ clubs’ flags draped outside bars; though for high profile games such as this, away fans are heavily segregated by police for safety.
The atmosphere had brought the town to fever pitch with packed restuarants and cafes and the colours of aqua blue and blood red dotting the usually restrained gallic streets. There were clear differences between the French and English pre-match meal – no fry-ups here but plenty of crepes and baguettes for the hungry masses.
A little over 58,000 supporters were in attendance, just 800 short of the record figure set against Newcastle United in 2004. This meant a tough job for the 400 stewards and security staff who have ensure safety inside the stadia, check for forged tickets and prevent inopportune pitch invasions – tricky at Marseille as large moat-like ditches cut off the stands from the field itself.
Set around that field perimeter as well are of course the pitchside TV cameras utilised for capturing corners, throw-ins and action of the bench for the most part. But these must all be laboriously connected to the television vans that edit the footage in realtime and broadcast it around the globe.
For a match like this, countless networks are involved from Italy’s RAI to Middle Eastern channel Al-Jazeera, whose pitchside reporter studies the teamsheet before going live, below:
Those networks focusing heavily on the game are obviously England’s ITV and France’s TF1 who are the host broadcaster for the game. This means their TV director will decide when to change from camera to camera during the game to best capture the action and give the viewer at home a flavour of the atmosphere inside the Stade Velodrome.
Inside TF1’s vehicle, there is a whole wall of screens which show views from the cameras in the stadium, what’s currently showing on the channel and the pundits warming-up to speak live.
The TV director needs lightning-quick eyes to spot something significant happening on one of the screens while his technical team need to effortlessly switch between them, sometimes going through four or five cameras within thirty seconds of gameplay.
But you can’t have the pictures without the sound which is controlled in a separate part of the van. In here, the correct balance between the commentators, the crowd and the shouts and screams from the bench will be sought as well as making sure every single microphone is set-up correctly.
For ITV, sound is key in making sure that amid the deafening roars from fans and the chatter among officials on the field, the viewer in England can hear pundits Marcel Desailly and Andy Townsend well, pictured below with ITV presenter Adrian Chiles.
The sound and screen areas are both linked to the stadium via hundreds of metres of cables which must be meticulously connected and marked by each TV station. TF1 are helped by being the host broadcaster in that they plug their equipment in the cables built-in to the stadium but a broadcaster such as Spanish-based TVE needs to spend hours installing its own wires and equipment.
The majority of these will be located in and around the press area where commentators and print journalists will sit in front of small TV screens, crammed together with each trying to keep track of the action on the pitch.
In front of this area lie most of the major cameras for covering the match with the operators perched on the edge with a fantastic panoramic view on the whole stadium. The main camera to view the game will be situated here so the camera-men need strong shoulders and steady hands to keep track of the ball.
At the very back of the press seating is the motion capture cameras which focus on specific players to track their movement and passing. If you’ve ever seen the stat pop-up that says Wayne Rooney has run 6km and wonder how someone worked that out, this is your answer.
We then headed down to the hallowed players’ tunnel and dressing rooms. The atmosphere was almost church-like with hushed whispers around the media teams setting up cameras for the post match interviews. You enter the main players’ area by walking down a corridor lined with former icons of L’OM; Papin, Voller, Tigana and even Drogba and Ribery.
As it was match day, the official requested no photos in this section of the ground; especially as the players were trying to concentrate before kick-off. This means the next four photos are copywright Dominique Pipet from his excellent capture of this area on a non-game occasion and are published with his permission.
As we passed by the Manchester United dressing room, kitman Albert Morgan closed the door so as not to disturb the players pre-match routine. Moments later, TV cameras entered the space to film the team going through their rituals before they headed out for the warm-up.
The dressing room is a vast, state-of-the-art room containing fitness machines, the customary showers and individually designated benches for each player.
Once the game is over, the key figures from the match and both managers will stand in front of the cameras for interviews with a suitable backdrop of sponsors behind them.
These interviews appear live on TV but are actually filmed a few minutes before they shown as it would be impossible for every TV station to have their chosen interview at the ideal time for their channels after the game. The players must also stayed in fixed places as each network is allocated a certain position around the interview area or “mixer” as its sometimes called.
The tunnel itself sees the players walking underground the field before emerging out of an area usually covered by grass but which pops up to allow them to climb a short of steps before emerging as miners from the ground into the fervent stadium atmosphere.
A Champions League banner had been installed at the exit of the tunnel to add a touch of colour to the spectacle.
The passionate Marseille fans were in evidence over an hour before kick-off with their banners and clearly in a cheeky mood!
The Virage Nord stand pictured above and below is complete with banners from the main Marseille supporters groups with each having its own unique history with evocative names such as “Fanatics” and “Dodgers 92″.
We were then shown where the coaching staff will sit for the game on seats which are as comfortable as they look and would keep Deschamps and Ferguson as relaxed as its possible for either of them to be during the 90 minutes.
The players then come out for their warm-up, the Marseille fans cheering them as if a goal has been scored.
Manchester United, and in particular ‘keeper Edwin van der Sar, receive whistles and boos which at the pitchside level sound thunderous and off-putting even when they’re not being aimed at you!
His opposite number in the Marseille goal though, Mandanda is greeted with warm applause as he prepares for the contest.
The L’OM fans are in fantastic voice with their chants echoing round the stadium creating an electric vibe that pulsates across the ground.
They issue a final “farewell” to the Red Devils before kick-off by booing United’s players off as they make their way back down the tunnel for final game preparation.
We were also given an insight into the brilliant hospitality that Heineken exclusively provide at Champions League games when we were shown their exclusive “Champions Club”.
Heneiken organise the whole evening, providing complimentary food, drink and entertainment for its many and varied guests to make the match extra-special.
Kick-off time soon rolled around and as we moved to our seats, we spotted a familiar face to many United fans – though perhaps not a welcome one – in the form of joint United chairman Avram Glazer. If proof were needed of this match’s importance, the fact that the head honcho was in attendance was all the evidence you needed.
Both fans were in excellent voice as the players entered the arena; with the L’OM supporters bringing a touch of sparkle to the proceedings.
Despite being based in a small corner of the stadium, sandwiched – though partitioned – between two banks of Olympique Marseille supporters, the United fans still made themselves heard.
They even reminded the home fans of a certain Frenchman who used to be the star attraction at Old Trafford; a banner reading “Eric” written on the tricolour said a lot with a little.
The regular Champions League anthem signalled that it was now time to do business with the main event underway and all the background work behind closed doors reaching fruition.
The match may have been an anti-climax – although the return leg is delicately poised to say the least. But the fans stayed noisy for the whole game despite the barrenness of real chances and were still optimistic despite the first half.
Didier Deschamps was constantly out of his seat, trying to communicate to his players – and the forth official for that matter.
Despite Marseille beginning the second 45 with slightly more attacking intent, neither side could breakthrough and the match ended a rather underwhelming 0-0 draw with the L’OM’s M’bia and Vidic of United particularly impressing.
The biggest cheer of the night probably came with Mathieu Valbuena made his long awaited return from injury to come on as a subsitute but not even he could carve out a clear cut opportunity. We spotted the man who now replaces him on the treatment table, as it were, when we saw injured strike Andre-Pierre Gignac being driven away from the ground.
Like Gignac, we made our way home; knowing that while the final whistle didn’t signal that the work of all those behind the scenes was over, they had already proved what an effecient but often invisible machine they are as few hundred people from different parts of the Europe come together and work in conjuction with each other to put on a show that the world can enjoy.
Special thanks to Heineken for playing a major part in theoffside having this chance to see the wider picture, you can visit their website attached to the Champions League here