Kick-off in Saturday’s Champions League final between Liverpool and Real Madrid in Paris had to be delayed by 36 minutes amid safety concerns. There were chaotic scenes as security checks led to bottlenecks and police deployed pepper spray or tear gas, again raising serious questions about Uefa’s organisation of a major event.
Video footage showed fans standing outside a locked gate about half an hour after the scheduled kick-off time of 9pm local time at Stade de France. One mournfully held up a ticket only to be repeatedly pepper-sprayed by a gendarme in full riot-gear standing on the other side of the fence.
Uefa said Liverpool fans “who had purchased fake tickets which did not work” were to blame for blocking turnstiles and said it would review the events that led police to use tear gas.
Liverpool said they were “hugely disappointed” by what had unfolded. “Supporters should not have to experience the scenes we have witnessed tonight,” the club said. “We have officially requested a formal investigation into the causes of these unacceptable issues.”
It had been apparent from about two and a half hours before the game was due to start that there were problems. Liverpool fans approaching the south-west corner of the ground from the Stade de France-Saint-Denis RER station were herded off a road closed to traffic and on to a placement that was then partially blocked by two police vans. They were then funnelled to a ramp that led up towards the stadium concourse where bags and tickets were checked.
Given the chaos at Wembley at the final of the Euros last July when thousands of fans turned up without tickets (and what had happened when Liverpool fans without tickets had charged though inadequate security at the Champions League final in Athens in 2007), perhaps a pre-check of tickets made sense, but the bottleneck soon caused a dangerous buildup of fans.
As the situation became dangerous, the initial check was waived, which allowed fans up to the fence surrounding the stadium concourse. There was footage of some, presumably without tickets, climbing the fence and running past stewards, but the vast majority remained in the overcrowded queues for security checks. Many were pepper-sprayed, apparently for a failure to disperse, although it was far from clear where they should have dispersed to. Unsurprisingly, fans who had paid hundreds of pounds for tickets were reluctant to pack up and go home.
At about 8.45pm local time, by which point the Real Madrid end of the stadium was full but there were still swathes of empty seats in the Liverpool end, an announcement was made that kick-off would be delayed. In Spanish “security problems” were blamed but the English announcement was clear in pointing the finger at “the late arrival” of fans. That was clearly not the issue, though. If they were late getting into the ground, it was because of disorganisation outside. The former Liverpool CEO, Peter Moore, called it “victim blaming at its very best”.
The former England international Gary Lineker was one of those who struggled to get into the stadium. “I’m not sure it’s possible to have a more poorly organised event if you tried,” he tweeted. “Absolutely shambolic and dangerous.”
Uefa said: “In the lead-up to the game, the turnstiles at the Liverpool end became blocked by thousands fans who had purchased fake tickets which did not work in the turnstiles. This created a build-up of fans trying to get in. As a result, the kick-off was delayed by 35 minutes to allow as many fans as possible with genuine tickets to gain access.
“As numbers outside the stadium continued to build up after kick off, the police dispersed them with tear gas and forced them away from the stadium. Uefa is sympathetic to those affected by these events and will further review these matters urgently together with the French police and authorities, and with the French Football Federation.”
It is understood Liverpool officials asked for a kick-off delay after lobbying Uefa and had raised security concerns with Uefa on several occasions in advance of the match.
The Associated Press journalist Rob Harris reported that Uefa staff had intervened to prevent security personnel from going after media to stop them from filming as tear gas was deployed. His colleague Steve Douglas tweeted: “I got bundled into a hut by a security guard, told to remove accreditation, and then forced to delete video footage of the crowd issues otherwise I wouldn’t be allowed back in.”
French police said that supporters had “attempted to penetrate the stadium”. Reuters TV footage showed riot police chasing fans outside the stadium as they ran away, with others being escorted away. “We have intervened to push back fans trying to force their way through,” French police said.
Young locals were reported to have caused problems and scuffles, with police using tear gas, batons and shields to force them away. Liverpool supporters outside said hundreds of locals were taunting riot police, causing gates to be shut.
Incidents were going on when the game kicked off and it was reported at half-time that tear gas was still being used outside and that police had locked down the stadium.
The MP for Liverpool West Derby, Ian Byrne, tweeted: “I’ve just endured one of the worst experiences in my life. Horrendous security and organisation putting lives at risk.”
For Uefa this comes as a major embarrassment. At the Euro 2020 final, thousands of fans surged past security at Wembley and there was fighting in the concourses. Then in Seville a week last Wednesday, there was a lack of stewarding within the Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuan, leading to Rangers and Eintracht Frankfurt fans wandering aimlessly round looking for their seats. Worse, with temperatures in excess of 30C at kick-off water ran out, leading to fans attempting to drink from taps in toilets and then from sprinkler heads.
Questions also have to be asked of the French authorities. There were serious outbreaks of violence during Euro 2016, particularly in Marseille, and Manchester United fans may remember tear gas being fired into a packed enclosure during a Champions League group game against Lille in Lens in 2007.