Several thousand children were invited by OM to the Stade Vélodrome for Thursday’s Europa League match against Villarreal, to compensate for UEFA’s closure of Virage Nord, the club announced. According to a club spokesperson, there should be between 4,000 and 5,000 children aged 8 to 14 on Thursday in Virage Nord. They are all licensed in football clubs or sports schools in the city and region. They will be installed at the bottom of the Virage Nord, which can normally accommodate a little more than 13,000 spectators.

OM were sanctioned by UEFA with the total closure of the Virage Nord by revocation of a reprieve, after the lighting of several smoke bombs in the previous round against Shakhtar Donetsk. The UEFA disciplinary regulations provide that children can be invited free of charge to matches behind closed doors.

“Football is a celebration. So a suspended platform is an aberration. Having these children, these little ones, I say bravo for the initiative,” Marseille coach Jean-Louis Gasset said on Wednesday. “Without a stand, it’s a disaster. The children’s eyes sparkle when they see the players. They dream of wearing this jersey. So we like to see them come towards us,” he added.