Daniel Zambartas spoke to some of those who experienced the horrors of the French capital themselves as they simply tried to cheer on the Reds in the Champions League final.
In Paris, everything was the same for Liverpool and Real Madrid – the same passionate fans, the same desire to watch their teams in club football’s biggest match and, crucially, the same good behaviour from the overwhelming majority. That didn’t stop them from being tear gassed and pepper sprayed for no reason.
The negative media since the match has nothing to do with the result. Many fans with tickets did not even get to see the result unfold. This is not about the match, but about fans being put in an extremely dangerous and distressing position due to poor organisation and disgraceful behaviour in dealing with what unfolded. This is about defending Liverpool fans who have been wrongly blamed, not only by French politicians but also UEFA, who accused fans of turning up late to the game.
The Anfield Wrap’s Neil Atkinson was one of those present in Paris, and his description of what he experienced is nothing short of horrifying. “I was kettled before getting in. I was held twice for reasons I still don’t understand. There were no security checks. It was clearly chaos – there were lots and lots of long queues. When I walked past turnstiles or gates, I could see how awful it was and how long people had been waiting for and the gates were closed.
“It took me two hours to get from the train station into the ground, which was supposed to take 15 minutes. It was pretty horrendous. There was a moment in the underpass where I had several people around me who felt unbelievably faint, we couldn’t go the toilet or have a drink of water which I very much needed at that point.”
Sounds harrowing, but relative to some other fans Atkinson’s experience getting into the ground was not as horrendous, albeit it still fairly unpleasant. But it was when he got into the stadium that he realised something was horribly wrong. “The area around me was unbelievably empty,” he added. “There were people who I knew would be sitting around me who just didn’t turn up, at that point I knew something dreadful was going on because there were huge numbers of people outside.
“So, when they announced on the screen that kick off was delayed due to the late arrival of fans, I knew then that was an absolute lie, and I knew it was really badly organised outside. Then I was in a situation where, I’m waiting for people to turn up and the people that did turn up had clearly been tear gassed and attacked.
“Coming out the ground, was the most scared I’ve ever been coming out of a football stadium. It’s hard to put into words how unpleasant it was around the ground. We went down an underpass that looked marked for a metro station, but it was full of riot police that just wouldn’t let people through, so we had to turn around and get away. On the way back up we were telling me people not to go down there. It later transpired that this was where a lot of the gangs operated but also where the police tear gassed and baton charged people who simply thought that was an exit.”
In Kyiv a few years earlier, when again Liverpool had just lost to Real Madrid, there were absolutely no issues getting out of the ground. I met up with the group of people I was with and within minutes we had walked back to our apartment. Ironically, fans had more reason to be angry (some were) with the goalkeeper, whose mistakes had single-handedly cost the Reds the match, but the behaviour from fans was still exemplary. There is no reason why it would have been any different this time, and there is no evidence that it was.
The organisation and handling of the situation was disgraceful, yet the fans response prevented this from becoming another sporting tragedy. While violence from football fans is never justified, some of those being attacked by French police defending themselves would have been understandable. But by all accounts this happened only sparingly and the behaviour was excellent – it should be praised, not blamed.
French Minister of the Interior Gérald Darmanin claimed that “a massive, industrial-scale and organised fraud in fake tickets was the root cause of the delay to the match”. While there would certainly have been a few trying their look with counterfeit tickets, Darmanin claimed that as many as 70% percent of the tickets presented at the Stade De France were not genuine – between 30,000 to 40,000. He also labelled it to the “root cause” of the chaos.
This has been proven to be a complete lie. Thanks to an official review by the New York Times, we now know that “the exact number of fake tickets intercepted by stewards manning the entrance gates was far lower – 2589, to be exact”. This level of falsification is hardly surprising from someone who argued that Liverpool fans were “big problems at Wembley a few years ago [at the EURO 2020 final] – a match in which the Reds were not involved and which would likely have seen few Scousers in attendance.
If any more proof that this man is clueless is needed, he also said in his hearing that the fan park was open in the morning. But Atkinson confirmed on Sky News that he was meant to be on stage at 1pm, but it still wasn’t open even then. Lastly, why weren’t fake tickets an issue in Kyiv or Madrid? Why only Paris? This is a complete fabrication, so much so that one French media outlet designed a front cover with Darmanin sporting a long Pinocchio-style nose.
Samy Azzam attended the Champions League finals in Istanbul, Athens, Kyiv and Paris, and has been a season ticket holder for almost 30 years. “We were kept in the queue outside a closed gate for two hours,” he said of his experience in the French capital. “No announcements, no nothing. In amongst us was a group of local youths. They were trying to climb the fences, some successful but further along from us. They then smashed through a fence to the left of us but that got shut down quickly.
“As the minutes progressed so did the pressure from the sheer weight of the fans behind us trying to get in. It was frightening as hell. Kids were crying, a woman started screaming about Hillsborough and people kept shouting to get back. For the most part they did. I almost left but decided to stay. Then two lads tried to grab someone’s bag – they got gripped by our fans and they ran out.
“Then incredibly one gate opened. Just one turnstile for thousands of fans pushing in from three directions. Honestly, it was awful. One by one people got in and as the crowd outside got smaller we got rushed by a sizable group of locals who wanted to cause chaos to rob us and try to get in like so many of them did throughout the evening. Riot police of course charged, indiscriminately batting at whoever and some people fell to the ground.
“Once we got into the stadium, we were all totally worn out. Just ruined really. And then after the game we had to get through a gauntlet of local youths continually running in groups at crowds of Liverpool fans. The French government blamed everything on British fans without tickets, which is such a huge lie. The police on site allegedly admitted the problem was local youths scaling the walls and getting through the turnstiles without tickets.”
In Paris, Liverpool fans were put in a position where they feared history would repeat itself due to the incompetence of the French authorities. The supporters have since been blamed for the chaos. They have been lied about – chief of police Didier Lallement has described the use of tear gas on women and children as “necessary” adding that he does not know of anything else that could have been done. That says it all, really.z
Once again, Liverpool have to defend themselves against lies from those trying to deflect the blame and protect their own cushy positions of power. Sound familiar?
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