Why the return of Paris Saint-Germain's ultras is such a big deal
Since the start of the season, Paris Saint-Germain have made a great deal of progress on a sensitive topic close to the hearts of many at the capital club.
The six weeks between the start of October and November were very positive as far as the atmosphere at Parc des Princes -- and on the road for that matter -- is concerned.
PSG's 0-0 home draw with Marseille in Le Classique in late October might not have lived up to expectations but there was one clear highlight from the match for those who attended: the home supporters.
As well as season ticket-holding ultras, regrouped in the Auteuil end of the stadium since the French champions and the Paris Ultras Collective (CUP) first agreed a Parc des Princes return after a six-year absence earlier this month, approximately 200 additional ultras attended the OM game.
Quentin Polin, a journalist for popular PSG news and TV service Canal Supporters, told ESPN FC he believes the ultras' return is "an absolute necessity, something primordial."
He added: "They are not known as the 12th man for nothing. The issue of PSG's ultras is of particular importance. In the past, opponents were often more scared of the intimidating atmosphere created by the ultras than the team itself. These days, PSG have strong players but no ultras."
The ultras' return for the 2-0 home win over Bordeaux at the start of October, although a momentous occasion at the time, ultimately proved to be a false start because a number of senior figures in the CUP were denied entry by Paris police officers.
The boiling atmosphere created for the OM clash suggested PSG are entering into a new era with their supporters and the impassioned following for the 2-1 Champions League win away at FC Basel earlier this month backed that evidence up.
"For me, it is impossible to truly love PSG without the ultras," Polin said. "Going to Parc des Princes, until just recently, had become a candy-coated experience. That is why it is really important that the ultras return."
There have been -- and still exist -- difficulties between Les Parisiens, the CUP and Parisian police but despite those issues, the club and the fans are moving in the right direction.
Why were the ultras banned in the first place? Before Qatar Sports Investments (QSI) acquired PSG, fan violence -- among many things -- was rife and it was damaging the image of the club.
Things came to a head in February of 2010 when, shortly after Marseille beat PSG 3-0 at Parc des Princes, supporter Yann Lorence was involved in a violent exchange with other fans of the club outside the stadium.
The 37-year-old was left in a critical condition and hospitalised but was pronounced clinically dead the following month because of the injuries he sustained that night. Lorence's death forced then PSG president Robin Leproux to take action to avoid the risk of a repeat event in future.
Therefore, all season tickets at Parc des Princes were revoked and all ultra groups were exiled in what was known as "Plan Leproux." Although some did not stay away for long and bought seats elsewhere, many had not set foot inside the stadium until the Bordeaux or Marseille matches.
"We know why Leproux did what he did and, in my opinion, it was right decision," Polin said. "That sort of thing cannot be tolerated. However, the recent signings, big stars and foreign players ... they do not know the real Parc des Princes!"
Now that the ultras are slowly returning to their spiritual home, it is a big boost for PSG and the players after years -- not to mention the entirety of QSI's reign until this season -- without the truly fervent home support former incarnations of the team enjoyed.
Before "Plan Leproux" came into effect, Parc des Princes was one of the most intimidating stadiums to visit in Europe. It would be difficult for teams to play PSG away from home, while the hosts would draw on the energy of their fans and often perform better than the sum of their parts.
Many will have been unaware of the fact that PSG have such committed supporters as they will have only seen the team play since QSI's arrival. Having the ultras back at Parc des Princes not only improves the atmosphere but also proves the club had dedicated fans before the money arrived.
Now that the ultras have their foot through the door and the club are on their side after realising that they cannot do without their most loyal and vocal fans, it is one element of PSG's everyday life that is witnessing some progress with the jury still out on what is happening on the pitch.
Jonathan Johnson covers PSG and the French national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @Jon_LeGossip.