French ministry accused of ‘prejudicing Liverpool fans’ following police tactics in Champions League final
The French Interior Ministry has been accused of using stereotypes about Liverpool supporters to deflect organizational failures at the 2022 Champions League final in Paris, by Europe’s main supporters’ association.
French Minister Gérald Darmanin had blamed the fiasco on “thousands of British ‘supporters’ without tickets or with counterfeit tickets”, but this was dismissed by Football Supporters Europe, which was on the pitch at the match, and put the responsibility solely on the authorities.
“There is a cheap and very old prejudice against Liverpool supporters, and I think it has been used for political purposes by the French government,” said Ronan Evain, the organization’s chief executive.
“What we saw on the pitch is remarkably well behaved and calming Liverpool fans given the circumstances.”
The Independent has contacted the French Interior Ministry for comment and is still awaiting a response. They are due to meet with UEFA, local authorities, the police, the final organizers and the French Football Federation on Monday morning, in order to take stock of the debacle on Saturday. The investigation will not only be important for what happened, but also for what happened next, as many footballing personalities were stunned that a marquee final in a major European country could be delayed by 36 minutes due to poor crowd management. It is also the third UEFA final in a year to encounter problems, following last July’s Euro 2020 showpiece at Wembley and the Europa League final in Seville two weeks ago. Some issues similar to these two games have already been blamed.
There is relief among virtually everyone involved that the evening has avoided a real disaster, as many testimonies recounted crushes that saw people having to escape before the game, fans unnecessarily pepper and gas sprayed tear gas, then groups of supporters later attacked and robbed by waiting gangs after the game. There were even tales of people being “chased through the alleyways with corkscrews.”
The evening only added to big questions in France about their football policing, with many fan representatives long predicting something like this would happen, as well as sparking a debate over the staging of the Olympics in Paris in August 2024.
The Independent spoke to many people who visited the Stade de France that day to try to understand how the problems unfolded, and it now seems that the main problem was the absolute inability of the authorities to adapt to a strike by RER B workers on the day of the final. This created a “bottleneck”, then a “domino effect”.
The strike resulted in the closure of the main station, which initially meant that fans who needed to sit in Liverpool were routed via a secondary route to RER D. This has only four corridors, while the entry point usual has 12.
The problem was that nobody changed the plan, which meant that thousands of fans were stuck in this area alone, immediately creating huge congestion three hours before the game.
“We got off the train at around 6.30pm and headed down to the ground which involved an underpass of a motorway,” said Phil Blundell, a regular at Liverpool matches. “We were led slowly through the underpass, up a ramp maybe 200 yards past the stairs, but it was a slow bottleneck.”
Other fans who declined to be named said the same. The Independent there was already considerable physical discomfort by then, with individuals literally trying to escape for breath.
The situation was all the more useless as the space coming from the RER B was clear. It was only after an hour that the authorities realized this, but by then it was too late. There was too much congestion, which supporters and the FSE say led to “panic attacks” and “scary situations”.
Several sources explain that it was at this time that the decision was made to stop the control, in order to facilitate the flow of people.
“The bottleneck was a ticket check that was dropped maybe at 7:30 p.m.,” says Mr Blundell. It was subsequently that many ticketless fans – including a considerable proportion cited as being local youth – managed to gain access to the perimeter. As one source noted, “chaos brings chaos” and “bad actors.”
“Yes, there were fake tickets, fake accreditations and touts”, explains Mr. Evain, “but it’s like any final”.
The key to mitigating it is good organization, which was sorely lacking here. Many who attended the Euro 2016 final at the same stadium pointed to the steel rings around the Stade de France and the huge perimeter, features that were also missing on Saturday.
There was a lack of stewards and volunteers, as well as signage, leading many fans to seek advice from FSE workers. Worse, there was a complete lack of communication. None of the announcements inside the stadium were shared with those outside, with fans only learning via their phones. Some fans already inside had to come to the fence to let others know the game was delayed. This is considered essential to calm people down. Beyond that, fans just didn’t know where to go.
Although it was emphasized that there were relatively few problems at the Madrid end of the Stade de France, the geography on this side of the stadium is not as problematic, but still saw “massive queues” with hundreds of Spanish fans missing kick-off.
A Liverpool supporter who declined to be named said: “I would say again that there were a small number of Liverpool supporters with fake tickets – either their fault or the fault of the person who sold them – but every time a fan scaled a fence they were shouted at, even dragged down.
In other words, there was a lot of self-monitoring, which goes against Mr. Darmanin’s assertion. This was necessary, as official police were also lacking or unnecessarily aggressive.
“It’s difficult to make the connection between two positions,” says Mr. Evain. “How does a high number of counterfeit tickets cause congestion around the stadium two hours before? It doesn’t add up. Yes, there were people trying to get in, trying to jump the turnstiles. It was very close to Wembley 2021 [the Euro 2020 final] in this regard. The police are not necessarily prepared to react to this, as it is very different from the habits and behavior of normal fans.
Blundell paints a similar picture.
“The main problem, for me, was that the inhabitants decided to enter. The majority of people who jumped on the walls, it was them. To Madrid [in 2019], I think I did four ticket checks including the turnstile. Here, no one checked until the turnstile. The ultra-violet pen used to determine the authenticity of a note was not used. It was impossible for them to quantify counterfeit notes because they did not control them.
The police’s overzealous responses are seen as all the more surprising and unwarranted as the fan zone earlier in the day had passed off safely, with only one minor incident at a bar.
Police have also been criticized for an intimidating cordon around the full-time Liverpool end as there were no problems during the game and then for being absent from the Stade de France afterward. the game.
It was here that there was the greatest potential for actual violence, given that there are many stories of fans being attacked.
“Last night’s post-game was the scariest I’ve ever experienced,” pundit and former Liverpool player Jim Beglin said on social media. “Organized gangs started attacking fans who were leaving. We ran a thug gauntlet on our way to the subway. Not a policeman in sight. I have witnessed so many ambush attacks on unsuspecting participants.
The midfielder’s wife Thiago Alcantara similarly said: “Constantly threatened by gangs of thieves, who tried to attack us and slipped into the stadium without a ticket. For this, many supporters were removed from the game, triggering avalanches of people.
Some at the top of the sport and in other national associations have meanwhile raised concerns about the French federation’s approach to supporters, as well as the lack of UEFA staff and volunteers during the such events.
It is for all these reasons that the FSE said Mr Darmanin’s statement was a “cheap political move to deflect responsibility”.
UEFA sources insist that every aspect of the final will be reviewed.