NANTES, France (AP) — A supporter from Nantes died on Saturday following a fight that took place before the club's 1-0 win over Nice in the latest outbreak of violence to mar French soccer this season.
Nantes said in a statement overnight that the fan was “fatally injured” close to the club's stadium. According to the L’Equipe newspaper, the fan was a member of the Brigade Loire, Nantes’ main group of diehard fans.
“In circumstances which are the subject of an ongoing judicial investigation, the 31-year-old collapsed, hit in the back," the club said. "Despite the intervention of emergency services, the fan could not be saved.”
The eight-time French champions said the public prosecutor’s office has launched an investigation into voluntary manslaughter.
Nantes public prosecutor Renaud Gaudeul said the incident took place shortly before 8 p.m. local time, when several VTCs (private hire vehicles) carrying Nice fans on their way to the match were attacked by groups of Nantes supporters.
“The very first forensic investigations show that the victim had a wound on his back, possibly caused by a bladed weapon,” the prosecutor said, quoted by French media.
Local newspaper Ouest France reported that the suspected assailant initially fled the scene before turning himself in at a police station. Gaudeul said on Sunday that “a VTC driver” showed up at the Nantes police station and was taken into custody on charges including voluntary manslaughter, adding that the suspect was a 35-year-old man.
French sports minister Amélie Oudéa-Castéra expressed her “great sorrow” in a message posted on X, the social network formerly known as Twitter, as the French league sent condolences to the fan's family and the club.
“My thoughts are with his family, his loved ones and his friends in the stands,” Oudéa-Castéra wrote.
Nantes coach Jocelyn Gourvennec, who was appointed this week, said he only found out about the supporter's death after the match.
“I can’t imagine how you can go to a soccer match, sometimes with your family, and be between life and death after a match," he said. “It’s inconceivable. The players talked about it a lot in the dressing room, they were very touched.”
The French soccer league has been making headlines for all the wrong reasons this season following an upsurge of violence in stadiums over the past two campaigns. According to Interior minister Gerald Darmanin, more than 100 police officers were injured in soccer-related incidents last season.
In October in Montpellier, a match was stopped in added time after fans threw a firework from the stands that landed next to Clermont goalkeeper Mory Diaw. The Senegal player had to be taken off on a stretcher, but was not seriously injured.
A new nadir was reached a few weeks later in Marseille when the bus carrying Lyon players was stoned by fans outside the Velodrome stadium. The windows were smashed and then-Lyon coach Fabio Grosso was left with his face bloodied, an injury that required stitches.
Supporters were also targeted, five police officers were injured and nine people placed in custody, according to Darmanin.
Another episode of violence broke out in Montpellier last weekend when a bus transporting Brest fans home was attacked as they left the southern city following a 3-1 win for the away team. Their bus was hit by rocks reportedly thrown from a motorway bridge.
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The Associated Press