Marseille is a strange place. If you arrive, as I did, by train from London in the middle of winter the first thing you're struck by is the light. The light is so powerful in contrast to the grey tones of London that it feels like you’ve just added the best filter possible to your iPhone photo.
The second thing I noticed was the men in beautiful tracksuits. Within seconds I spot a man in a brand new tapered Marseille Adidas tracksuit. A few minutes later I see another wearing a tight fitted Manchester United Champions League branded tracksuit. I’m sure only the players have access to this kind of training kit, so how has it travelled from the grey and foggy pitches of Carrington to the bright sunshine of Southern Europe?
The men and children in Marseille wear football tracksuits (mainly Adidas branded) as if they were businessmen on Liverpool Street, wearing 5-piece Paul Smith suits to their banking jobs. The pride is bordering on arrogance. Actually, scrap that.... Adidas football tracksuits are cool. They're probably the coolest clothes ever. Arrogance justified. I’ve now seen about 25 tracksuits within half an hour of getting off the train. The city has an obsession and it's passing it on to me.
As I spend more time in Marseille I’m convinced Adidas football tracksuits may just be the coolest clothes ever invented. I myself cannot get away with a tracksuit, which whilst in Marseille feels like life's greatest fuck you to me. I stand in the changing room of the Marseille club shop staring into the mirror and shaking my head. Not for you!
Tall slim men wear tapered black three striped trousers ALWAYS with matching tops. ALWAYS MATCHING. I spot a brand new pink Bayern Champions League tracksuit, then a Chelsea tracksuit I've never even seen before. The clothes used by footballers for their day-to-day training are turned into fashion pieces that should be slotted into a catwalk show. Chelsea tracksuits suddenly became a theme. Lots of Chelsea tracksuits worn by young black men by the port and up through Centre Ville. Is their obsession with Marseille-born out of the same reason I am here today? I’ve travelled over 700 miles to France to watch Marseille play Monaco with my mates. And I’ve done so because of Didier Drogba.
When Drogba joined Chelsea (the club I’ve supported all my life) he looked almost disappointed to be there. All he spoke of was his sadness at leaving Marseille, leaving behind the Velodrome and the Ultras was not a decision he took lightly, the bond he described with the fans would never be matched. He spoke of leaving Marseille like someone had prized him from the bed of Emily Ratajkowski. The strangest thing about the love he spoke of towards Marseille was that he only played there for one season. Love is strong but sometimes short.
Didier Drogba became a hero of mine at Chelsea, he would dive and bully and batter in goal after goal. The whole time having a relationship with us, the fans, that no other played bar maybe John Terry seemed any willingness to develop. When the Stamford Bridge crowd become lazy and quiet Drogba would run up and down the Matthew Harding end in the middle of a game willing them to sing up. In an era where money became the defining feature of my club, he showed his heart and soul to the supporters in a way most other professional footballers never do.
The way Drogba spoke of Marseille made me fascinated with the place. My club and I had a bond with Didier but he still spoke of his season at Marseille with such love. I had to take a trip to meet the beautiful 'other' woman he spoke of.
Outside the Velodrome on match day and you find your two piece peak. Generations of Marseille fans bring generations of Marseille training tracksuits to the Mecca of football in this city. As the sun goes down over the Velodrome, the smell of Merguez sausages and tear gas from Le Gendarmerie waft through the air. The big white ball of hope is the backdrop and Marseille tracksuits are the uniform. Everyone is wearing a tracksuit! Am I the only one not? Moroccans, Ghanaians, white French.... it doesn't matter where you're from or who you are... I even notice at least 20 Chelsea tracksuits in the crowds of people. Didier has brought a bond between Marseille and Chelsea supporters. Marseille win the match with last minute Andre Ayew winner and the ultras rush towards the front of the stands to celebrate. They are the same as their heroes and the tracksuits are a way of showing that. This is the heart and soul Didier Drogba had brought with him to London and these are the moments in football that fill me with love. When the goal hits the back of the net the line between supporters and players disappears and nobody cares. We are all just men who love football and tracksuits.
As I leave the city built on an inner city tension and excitement that London doesn't have I now hold Marseille in my heart, just like my hero Didier Drogba. I can now see why he spoke of the place with such love and for me, the tracksuits are a massive part of that. I never stop spotting new tracksuits. Juventus, Real Madrid, Dortmund… The tracksuit list goes on. To most people, a matching two piece Adidas tracksuit is not significant, but in Marseille, it means something special. In Marseille, it stands for passion, for unity, for energy and for the universal desire to look cooler than your mates.
Back in London, the early morning commuters throw me side eyes and judged stares. A Blue Marseille training tracksuit it seems is not as welcomed on a Monday morning Piccadilly Line train as on the streets of Marseille. I now know how Didier felt…
By Patrick Hough.