Children tremble with fear, their eyes watering from a dry yellow wave of tear gas pouring through the barriers. An elderly man who collapses while having a panic attack in a crushing crowd and is unable to move. Women surrounded by state-employed thugs with reinforced shields.
No, not in a riot, a brawl, or a war. That was the final of the UEFA Champions League in Paris on Saturday night.
These were people looking to have a fun evening and want to support their football team along with family and friends who were treated like wild animals for having the audacity to try to enter the stadium for a special football game for which they earned hard money had paid money.
From the moment fans exited the trains that ran from the Gare du Nord to Saint Denis en route to the Stade de France, they were treated like cattle by disinterested and disdainful offers from the police, who put them in a huge queue under a drove transfer.
After thousands were forced to spend an hour standing still under a bridge in the 22-degree heat with no access to toilets or water, the ticket checks that took place at the end of the underpass were suspended, meaning anyone and everyone was allowed to do so in the area around the stadium whether they had a ticket or not.
From then on the situation worsened. The turnstiles were closed by stewards without warning or explanation at around 18:30 local time, two and a half hours before kick-off. The same stewards then left their stations, refusing to communicate with perplexed fans who had arrived early in order to get into the stadium in time and enjoy the atmosphere.
What followed was carnage on a scale that was dangerous in that the notion of lost lives was sometimes realistic.
As kick-off drew nearer, the crowds began pouring in and more and more local youth dared to scale the barriers to enter the stadium. This meant crowds swelled in front of the turnstiles, bodies pressed ever closer together, and people had to actively modulate their breathing for their own safety.
Still no support from stewards or police officers arrived. Supporters, who had now spent almost three hours without access to toilets or drinking water, were growing increasingly angry at being refused entry to a football match for which they had legitimately bought a ticket and arrived well ahead of time.
I spent two hours and 45 minutes locked in front of Gate Z with other Liverpool fans, not knowing why we were refused entry, why the turnstiles were unmanned and whether we could actually enter the stadium we paid for at any time access.
The prospect of a serious swarm increased with each passing minute as a combination of confusion, panic and more corpses made the situation even more intense.
European football’s governing body, UEFA, has chosen this point of chaos to issue a statement, despite all evidence to the contrary, blaming the “delayed arrival” of fans for the chaos and danger to their lives. In a subsequent statement, UEFA changed its fan-blame cliché from fans’ timekeeping to ‘ticketless’ people entering the stadium.
Finally, after two delays in the kick-off of the most pre-planned and awaited match in world club football, the gates opened at 9.15pm and police baton-wielding fans towards whichever entrance they saw fit.
Some fans with valid tickets have been asked for bribes by stewards, most of whom appear to be aged between 16 and 20 and almost certainly paid little more than minimum wage to enter the stadium.
There was no atmosphere worth mentioning in the Stade de France. Ashen faces looked at each other, brief nods were given to indicate people were shaken but physically unharmed, and fans texted friends and family lost to them in the devastation to ask for their safety to inquire.
The game was played and Liverpool lost, but none of that really mattered. I felt deeply ill throughout the 90 minutes, unable to focus on passages of the game as the fear and panic etched on people’s faces repeated over and over in my head. These football fans, people watching a game and wanting to support their team to the max, feared serious bodily harm or worse, and the terror was painfully visible.
A number of fans were mugged and stabbed in the street en route from the stadium and the police presence is now conspicuous by its absence when it is most needed.
This was a fundamental failure of crowd management on an immense scale. UEFA, the municipality of Saint Denis, the French police, their gendarmerie and the state as a whole have all failed in their duty to protect the people under their care. The reaction of UEFA, the police and French sport minister Amélie Oudéa-Castéra – who blamed the violence against fans on ‘the English’ – is unbelievable. It’s frankly ridiculous that someone who works for one of these institutions would think they did their job right on Saturday night.
The Emmanuel Macron government, which has ruled France since the former banker was elected president in 2017, has maintained a consistently hard-line and often downright barbaric approach to policing throughout his tenure. Last September, the 5-foot-10 centrist was forced to announce increased policing amid allegations of systematic brutality and racism in his armed forces.
French football endured a troubled season after spectators returned following closures due to the Covid-19 pandemic. During a match between OGC Nice and Marseille, players were attacked on the pitch by fans while various clubs were ordered to close their stadiums to spectators after unrest broke out. The combination of increased police violence under Macron in general and the response to these incidents in Ligue 1 games no doubt played a major role in how Reds fans were treated on Saturday.
A thorough independent investigation must now take place to determine when and where the authorities made their mistakes, and in turn to ensure that no group of football fans do the same in the future. But the probability of a serious analysis is ultimately very low.
As soon as fans reported difficulties entering the ground and safety issues, some supporters from other football clubs immediately took it upon themselves to pin the blame on Liverpool supporters, using refuted and insulting theories and taunts about the Hillsborough disaster as support their unfounded claims.
The reality is that these could easily have been fans of Manchester United or Chelsea or Bayern Munich or any other European football club with fans who bought tickets to a game only to be treated like cattle.
That so many readily subscribe to the lies of the authorities about the juvenile and downright pathetic basis of the tribal soccer rivalry is why police forces and governments are able to humiliate soccer fans in France, Britain and the United States with such regularity, disregard and harm the rest of Europe and beyond.
When incidents like this are caused by the authorities, positive change could potentially be brought about if different groups of football fans work together and refuse to allow abuses against one another. But as long as they aren’t, and as long as there are numbers to be made from posting ringing Bantz tweets, nothing seems particularly likely to change.
Next time it could be Liverpool again. It could be someone else. Maybe you are.
But if those responsible for a mess that could so easily have ended in disaster are allowed to blame a faceless crowd of fans and remain unaccountable for their own terrible failings, then we can all rest assured that it is no matter who is targeted next time, there will definitely be a next time.
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https://metro.co.uk/2022/05/29/uefa-champions-league-final-the-real-story-of-the-carnage-liverpool-fans-faced-in-paris-16730799/ UEFA Champions League final: the true story of the carnage Liverpool fans endured in Paris | Soccer