He is a tall, 43-year-old man from Saint-Laurent-du-Var with laughing eyes who for the first time agrees to tell his “priesthood”. A passionate supporter who is the starting point for a giant corner of life in OGC Nice. Supporter Forum: www.ogcnice.net.
says Alexandre Debbache to himself “proud” to create this virtual place, which still lives very well, more than 20 years after its creation, in an era of almighty social networks.
Can you tell us about the creation of this project?
That was in October 2000. I was almost 22 years old. I had just finished my studies. We were 14 or 15 in Ligue 2 (Ed. Note: Division 2) at the time. It does not make me younger. That was the beginning of the Internet. I’ve been connected to it for a year. It was also the era of the Italian rulers. It was a tool to unite the followers. And it culminated in the summer of 2002, when the club was relegated by DNCG. It served as a relay to organize the demonstrations in the streets of Nice and Lyon. Then it normalized on the sporting side.
What carried you above all was the love of the gym …
I’ve always been in the stadium as a supporter. In popular or presidential, I hardly missed a single match. I’m a little bit nerd. It amused me. I fiddled. Back then, we met at the stadium and we found out who was behind the nicknames. Some of the “forumists” were 14 years old. They came to the stadium with their parents. On the forum, we discuss as equals, while in the stadium in real life this may not always be the case. It allows you to not be afraid to debate.
And it’s a project that brought you?
I have made friends who have become relatives thanks to this forum. And it was a springboard to work with the club. We have created the website and we manage it. That’s what I do today, with the company Kick Off Prod, which we created with Cédric Messina. We also produce videos.
Does the club use this forum?
For the club, it is a barometer. It allows for escalating complaints when there are any. Whether it is access to the stadium or ticket problems, for example. We talk more when things are going badly. Big clubs like Lyon or Marseille have completely eaten up fan forums. They prefer to take them to their social network because it generates money. Our union, but it does not make money.
And yet he is still there, while social networks are prevalent …
There are almost 20,000 subscribers and almost 2,000 profiles are still active, that is, they connect, interact, at least once a week. Since the start of the forum, there have been 9 million messages. And there are new registrations. It is the ancestor of the club’s social network. For a decade, there was only that.
How do you explain that?
It’s not really in competition with other social networks. The average age is higher there, between 30 and 50 years. The real difference is that it’s exclusively at the gym. And then there are theme discussions, and it can take several days on the same theme. It still does not fly very high, but it is a little calmer. It’s more of a substantive discussion. It really is something else. In addition, it is sent. I know there are several generations of the same family on the forum.
It is also a meeting place and mutual help …
Absolutely. Foreigners find each other thanks to the forum, and groups are formed, as was the case in e.g. Paris or Montreal. Today, it gives solidarity the opportunity to organize for foreigners to find tickets for the final of the Coupe de France. For those who are far away, it is a real compass. And then we’re still a family club. There is this village side. Everyone knows each other.
And an information channel?
It has also become a “Nice forum”. There is even a classified ad. During the attacks on July 14, some information first emerged. But we want it to be primarily dedicated to the Gymnasium. Controversial and political issues are prohibited. It has no interest.
Yet you claim a form of freedom …
It’s a wild space, and it’s good that this space exists. It’s a bit like the bistro of the 21st century. Afterwards, it must not be a de-stressing. It happened to us to file a complaint of insults, slander.
Who do we find on the forum?
Women, men, groups of followers have their official accounts. Sometimes there are even opponents. But it must be respectful, otherwise we fire them. There are volunteer moderators who take care of that.
Because the forum drives you crazy?
I have a funny story about it. An acquaintance asked me to banish him from the forum because it consumed too much of his time. You can become addicted. We tell ourselves we have to stay two minutes and we stay there for an hour.
Were there any peaks in viewership?
The server was saturated once. It was the last day of the transfer window in 2016. When we signed a contract with Balotelli and Belhanda in the last moments. On the other hand, there has never been any piracy.
Do players use the forum?
At the very beginning of the forum, Jean-Daniel Padovani, who was the substitute goalkeeper, sometimes came to discuss after the fights with the supporters. When “Poussin” Meslin was injured in 2002, a guestbook was launched on the forum. We gave it to him, it touched him. I also know that Luka Elsner came regularly, especially when he was training Amiens. He had thanked the supporters who had paid tribute to his father Marko when he died in 2020 (Ed.note: former defender of OGC Nice). Today no, I do not think it is in the habits of players who prefer to use their personal social network and who in my opinion would not be advised to express themselves on the forum.
Are new features planned?
We need to make a new version for laptops. The interface needs to be improved. I take care of it next to my work. It is a true priesthood. I think it will be ready for summer.
Are you not going to drop it?
I would never stop or throw everything away. In addition, I still post on it regularly.