The French are football-mad and none more so than the Marseillais. And Olympique de Marseille (OM for short) is central to the city's cultural landscape. Its local fan base is enormous and it regularly clocks up the highest match attendances in France.
Click here to book a hotel in Marseille
In fact OM has even named one of the stands at the Stade Vélodrome, where the team is based, after one of its most enthusiastic supporters, the first time ever a fan has been so honoured.
Patrice de Peretti - affectionately known as Depé - became a legend after pledging to attend every match stripped to the waist, whatever the weather: he watched OM play in Berlin during temperatures of -12 degrees Celsius / 10 degrees Fahrenheit. He died in 2000 at the age of 28 of a ruptured aneurysm.
Built in the south of Marseille in 1937, the Stade Vélodrome is thus named because of the cycling track which encircled the pitch until 1971.
The two long stands to the east and west of the pitch commemorate French athletes from the early 20th century, a runner (the Tribune Jean Bouin) and a cyclist (the Tribune Gustave Ganay).
Local fans prefer to sit in the curved stands at the north and south ends of the pitch: the Virage Nord named after Peretti and the Virage Sud, also known as Chevalier Roze after a nobleman who distinguished himself during Marseille's plague epidemic of 1720.
It has increased the seating to 67,000 as well as equipping the stadium with a dramatic wave-shaped roof. Pictured: an architect's impression of the new Vélodrome
The Tribune Gustave Ganay has been fitted with a roof and a VIP room. Its seating has been reconfigured and enlarged (23,000 places) to bring it in line with UEFA standards and the rake adjusted to improve the spectators' view of the pitch.
The two Virages now have enlarged seating, greater leg room and roofs. And the Tribune Jean Bouin, has been razed and rebuilt from the foundations up.
The new Vélodrome opened its doors in August 2014 and the project has been highly controversial. To cover the very high cost of the renovation, the city asked Olympique de Marseille to pay an annual rent of a whopping 8 million €uros a year, plus a percentage of the gate take.
OM refused point blank, saying it simply could not afford this rent and that it would bring the club to its knees. It threatened to reschedule the entire 2014-2015 season as away matches. The fans, needless to say, were furious. A compromise has since finally been struck, with OM paying a reduced rent and an increased proportion of the gate take for the next three years until the end of the 2017-2018 season.
Founded in 1899, OM - whose motto, "Droit au But", means "Straight to the Goal" - is the most decorated club in French football history and still remains the only French team ever to win the UEFA Champions League, in 1992-3, when Olympique de Marseille beat AC Milan 1-0 in Munich.
Its reputation was blighted in 1994 by a dramatic match-fixing scandal involving the club's then-President Bernard Tapie, but OM has long since bounced back and in 2010, 2011 and 2012 won the Coupe de la Ligue, or French League Cup.
To buy tickets for a home match - ideally against OM's arch-rival, Paris Saint Germain, a traditionally lively confrontation usually referred to as "Le Classique" - visit the Olympique de Marseille official website (you will need to register first).
If you are already in Marseille, you can buy match tickets at the Vélodrome itself of course, and also in the city centre at the OM boutique, 31 rue Saint Férreol, 13000 Marseille, tel: (+33) 4 91 59 90 78 (note that the OM boutique at 44 La Canebière does not sell tickets). Alternatively, there is a premium phone line (within France): 3229.
Tickets for the Virages are available on subscription only and are extremely hard to come by. Seating arrangements are likely to fluctuate over the next months in order to accommodate the continuing construction work on the Stade Vélodrome.
Olympique de Marseille has the largest club in Europe especially for disabled fans, Handifan Club OM. Its volunteers will meet fans at the car-park areas reserved for wheelchair users, guide them to their seats and remain available in case of need until the match is over.
A section of the Tribune Gustave Ganay is reserved for handicapped fans and since the renovations they can also sit in parts of the Virages.
Handilib is a company offering a taxi service for wheelchairs (reserve at least two weeks before the match). Tel: (+33) 4 91 11 41 00. Anyone not needing to drive is strongly advised to travel to the stadium by public transport (see below).
Many sports bars all around the city will also be screening the match live: look out for the blue and white OM sticker in the window and the words transmission en direct. In September 2013, another new football bar, the OM Café, opened at Marseille airport (Terminal 4, ground floor), so you can even keep tabs on a game while you're waiting for your flight.
In the off-season, you can console yourself with a tour of the Vélodrome. This lasts between 60 and 90 minutes and takes in the stands, dressing rooms and dug-outs as well as part of the construction site. Optional extras include a glass of champagne in one of the boxes and a visit combined with a ticket to a match, when there is one. There are, officially, no tours in English, though you may strike lucky with your individual guide.
Visits are offered on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays (and every day during school holidays). They leave at regular intervals, but you can pre-book a ticket on the OM site. This facility does not appear to be available on the site's rather sparse English-language area, but is offered in the French-language area. Scroll down to the bottom of the page. The basic tour is called the "classique".
A couple of glass cabinets tucked away in the corner of a huge store selling OM merchandise (pictured left), the euphemistically named OM Museum (Musée de L'OM), in the Tribune Jean Bouin, gives new meaning to the concept of exiting through the gift shop.
You can see a wall of the hand- and foot-prints of members of the 1996 team, some tarnished trophies, Chris Waddle's and Raymond Goethals' jerseys, Fabien Barthez' gloves (plus, bizarrely, a packet of someone's cigarettes) and get your name printed on the back of an OM jersey. At least there is no admission charge.
It's also possible to watch the OM squad in training at La Commanderie (aka the Centre Robert-Louis Dreyfus) on the outskirts of the city.
Days when these sessions are open to the public are announced on the OM website: again, the Commanderie page is in the French-language area only. The training diary ("agenda") is posted at the bottom right of the page and is updated at the beginning of each week. "A huis clos" are closed sessions; "ouvert au publique" are open ones.
According to officials at the stadium, you can just turn up at the Commanderie without a reservation. However, local fans strongly recommend booking in advance, as space can be tight. The sessions last around two hours and there is no entrance fee.
Where: The Stade Vélodrome, 3 Boulevard Michelet, 13008 Marseille. Tel: (+33) 4 91 71 40 50; La Commanderie (aka the Centre Robert-Louis Dreyfus), 33 traverse de la Martine, 13012 Marseille.
Where to stay: Book a hotel near the Marseille Stade Vélodrome
How to get to the Vélodrome: Bus 21 (direction Luminy) from La Canebière. However road traffic will be heavy on match nights so a better bet would be metro line 2 (stop Rond-Point du Prado), then a short (550 metre / 600 yard) walk.
If your seats are in the Tribune Gustave Ganay area of the stadium, travel one stop further to the last stop on the line, Sainte Marguerite Dromel. It is not advisable to take your car.
Access to the stadium has changed following the renovation work. Click here for a detailled access map.
How to get to the Commanderie / Centre Robert-Louis Dreyfus: Metro line 1 (stop La Fourragère). Then bus 10 (direction Les Caillols Hôpital; stop Les Liberateurs). From there, it is a 20 minute walk to the training centre.