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 Posted by ESPN Staff
May, 20, 2007

Relegated Nantes descend into confusion

NANTES, May 20 (Reuters) - Nantes's last home match in Ligue 1 was marred by confusing scenes which symbolised the downfall of the once great club.

Their penultimate match of a disastrous season, at home to Toulouse on Saturday, was heading towards a 0-0 draw when it was abandoned in the 87th minute after hundreds of angry fans had invaded the pitch.

'I hoped the game would be able to resume but it made no sense because it probably would have had to be halted again 30 seconds later', referee Bruno Ruffray told reporters.

Eight-times champions Nantes, who have spent a record 44 consecutive years in the top flight, have known for weeks that they would be relegated for the first time since being promoted in 1963.

'I can understand why the fans are angry,' said Nantes chairman Rudi Roussillon.

The French Professional League (LFP) will now make a ruling. It is expected to give Toulouse the points.

'It's always sad when something like that happens,' said coach Elie Baup. 'Normally we should be declared 3-0 winners. That's the rule.'

Around 1,000 fans had marched near the Beaujoire stadium before the game asking for the club's bosses to step down.

Nantes, who have used three coaches this season and have won just seven matches out of 37, hoped for a turnaround when former France goalkeeper Fabien Barthez came out of retirement in mid-December to help them in their bid to escape relegation.

Barthez struggled to adapt and left the club last month after having a fight with a Nantes fan following a home defeat.

For years a provincial side lovingly looked after by unpretentious father figures, Nantes changed dramatically in 2004 when Serge Dassault, the head of a powerful aviation and industrial company, became the club's owner.

For many Nantes lovers, the businessman and the leadership he put into place broke a rich tradition and are largely responsible for the club's decline.

'Dassault killed us', read a banner in the stands on Saturday.

Roussillon did not rule out that Dassault might now sell the club.

'We've had some offers, some not serious, others more serious,' he said. 'We will study them. At the end of the month, we will know where we stand.'

Nantes will visit champions Olympique Lyon for their final match of the season next Saturday.

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