‘Forever the First” is the French football giants’ slogan, and Nicolas Millet‘s first and only thought is capturing the explosive atmosphere generated by the Marseille Ultras.
His pictures on his first official photographic assignment at Marseille caught all the drama on the terraces. “I knew then that football photography was my dream job,” he said.
Olympique de Marseille have been graced by a string of world class players, Jean-Pierre Papin, Didier Deschamps and Didier Drogba among them, while Chris Waddle went there and filled his boots.
They were the first French side to win The Champions League, in 1993, spawning the legend “A Jamais Les Premiers”, “Forever the First”, and Millet has been obsessed with Marseille since taking his own first steps.
“I have always been a big fan of Olympique de Marseille,” said 28 year old Millet. “This is a tradition here, all my family are fans and I have supported them since my birth.
“I think I am little crazy about football because I’m interested about everything.
His first game at The Velodrome came in 2006, Marseille v Nantes, which he went to with his father and elder brother.
“Marseille won 2-1,” he recalled, “but the most memorable moment was when Franck Ribéry scored one of the best goals of his career from the middle of the pitch.”
He lists the whole team as his favourite players, especially when they attended a training session at his local club. Millet was mesmerised, managing to get the entire team to sign his Nike Mercurial boots. The treasured keepsake did not last long, however.
“One day my father threw them in the trash,” he said. “He thought they were just old boots that I had written on.”
Despite his adoration for all things Marseille, there is praise for perhaps an unlikely source of inspiration behind his desire to become a footballer. He names Wayne Rooney as his idol, “the best player of all time’, he says.
“I saw Rooney score an incredible goal and I said to myself: I want to be a footballer like him,” he said.
That goal came in Rooney’s first season. A young and impressionable Millet saw it happen and he put together a collection of Rooney related memorabilia: replica shirts, posters and boots.
Millet proved a young footballing hero himself, when, as a 13 year old playing for an u-15 side in a tournament at Barcelona, his team found themselves in a third place play off with the hosts themselves. It finished goalless and went to penalties, with Millet selected to take what proved the decisive final spot kick.
“I don’t know why but the coach chose me for the last penalty,” he said, “and of course the two teams were successful with their efforts except the final penalty taker for Barcelona. It was now my turn and if I score we win against THE Barcelona. I was 13 and had played only 30 or 35 minutes during the entire tournament and all the pressure of my team is on me. I showed I had the courage, took my best shot and we won it!”
The memories flow for Millet. Drogba and the 2003/04 season are an early highlight, while for the 2016 Euros in France the English and Irish fans left an impression. “I always have their songs in my head,” says Millet.
“The things that attract me are all the feelings that football can bring to everyone,” he said. “Football can make us happy, angry or sad. It brings us closer, while some people live only for their club.”
He took up football photography by chance when his brother befriended a leader of a fan group and Millet, who was already interested in taking pictures, was accredited to cover the match between Marseille and Lyon in 2019. He was allowed to cover the first 10 minutes only, but tucked in amongst the other professional photographers, Millet went unnoticed by security and shot the whole match.
It presented him with an unexpected opportunity for some exclusive shots as well, for when the smoke from flares led to play being suspended for several minutes, and other photographers took a break, Millet kept firing away.
“For me, it’s the moment to take a picture,” he said, “and I took my best one. At this moment I knew that football photography was my dream job.”
“I am happy when people say to me they can feel the ambience,” he said. “I want to capture the moment when the people are happy, angry or sad for their team. I want to take the moment when 68000 people sing together, and capture the happiness when the team score.
“Here we say at the Olympique de Marseille that the mangers and players come and go, but we, the supporters, stay.”
If you enjoyed that, you may also like Hertha BSC football fan culture, where photographer and supporter Kasimir Weichert focuses on fellow fans of his beloved ‘Die Alte Dame’, the culture around the club and within the historic Olympiastadion Berlin.