The start of the Champions League final on Saturday between Liverpool and Real Madrid in Paris had to be postponed by 36 minutes for safety reasons. Chaotic scenes ensued as security checks led to jams and police used pepper spray or tear gas, once again raising serious questions about UEFA’s organization of a major event.
Video footage showed fans standing in front of a closed gate at the Stade de France about half an hour after the scheduled start time of 9pm local time. Sadly, someone raised a parking ticket, only to be sprayed repeatedly by a gendarme, in full riot gear, standing on the other side of the fence.
UEFA said Liverpool fans “who bought fake tickets that did not work at the gates” were responsible for closing the turnstiles and said they were investigating the events that prompted police to use tear gas.
Liverpool said they were “extremely disappointed” with what happened. “Fans should not have to experience the scenes we witnessed tonight,” the club said. “We have officially asked for an official investigation into the causes of these unacceptable cases,” he added.
About two and a half hours before the match started, it became clear that there were problems. Liverpool fans approaching from the southwest corner of the site from the Stade de France-Saint-Denis RER station were led from a road closed to traffic to a plaza that was partially closed by two police trucks. They were then escorted to a ramp leading to the stadium lobby, where bags and tickets were checked.
Given the chaos at Wembley at last summer’s Euro final, when thousands of fans turned out without tickets (and what happened when Liverpool fans were shipped without tickets at the 2007 Champions League final in Athens due to insufficient security), a pre-check that the tickets were It makes sense, but the suffocation soon causes a serious fan to jam.
When the situation became dangerous, access control was waived, allowing fans to climb up to the fence surrounding the stadium hall. There was footage of some of them, likely without tickets, climbing the fence and past the stewards, but the vast majority remained in the crowded security check lines. Several peppers were sprayed, apparently for their failure to disperse, though it was not at all clear where they should disperse. Unsurprisingly, fans who had paid hundreds of pounds for tickets were reluctant to pack up and go home.
At around 20.45 local time, by which time the end of the Real Madrid stadium was full but there were still plenty of empty seats at the Liverpool end, it was announced that the kick-off had been postponed. “Security issues” were blamed in Spanish, but the English ad clearly pointed the finger at fans’ “delayed arrival”. However, given the issues that came up very early on, this was clearly not the problem. If they reach Earth too late, it is due to disorganization outside Earth.
Former England international Gary Lineker was one of those who struggled to enter the field. “Not sure it would be possible to host a less organized event if I tried,” he wrote on Twitter. “Messy and very dangerous.”
UEFA said: “In the run-up to the match, the turnstiles at the end of Liverpool were blocked by thousands of fans who had bought fake tickets that did not work at the turnstiles. This led to fans trying to enter. As a result, the kick-off was delayed. The match lasts for 35 minutes to allow access to as many fans as possible with real tickets.
“When the number outside the stadium continued to increase after kick-off, the police dispersed them with tear gas and forced them out of the stadium. UEFA understands those affected by these events and will urgently investigate this matter with the French police, authorities and the French Football Federation.”
It is understood that Liverpool officials asked for the kick-off to be postponed after putting pressure on UEFA and the club raised safety concerns with UEFA on a number of occasions before the match.
Associated Press journalist Rob Harris reports that UEFA staff intervened to prevent security guards from stalking the media to prevent them from filming while using tear gas. His colleague Steve Douglas tweeted: “I was taken by a security guard to a hut, asked me to remove the accreditation and then forced to delete footage from the crowd or else I wouldn’t be allowed back.”
French police said fans “tried to enter the stadium”. Reuters television footage showed riot police chasing fans outside the stadium as they fled while others were escorted away. “We have intervened to deter the fans who tried to force their way in,” French police said.
Local youths reportedly caused trouble and quarrels, with police using tear gas, batons and shields to disperse them. The incidents occurred as the match started, and by the first half it was reported that tear gas was still being used outside and that police cordoned off the stadium and closed all entrances and exits to the arena.
Ian Byrne, Member of Parliament for the Liverpool West Derby, tweeted at the end of the first half: “Just had one of the worst experiences of my life. Terrible security and regulation put lives at risk.”
This is a huge disgrace to UEFA. At the Euro 2020 final last July, thousands of fans stormed security at Wembley and the fight broke out in the halls. Then in Seville last Wednesday, there was a lack of supervision at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan stadium, with fans of Rangers and Eintracht Frankfurt wandering aimlessly in search of their seats. Even worse, with temperatures exceeding 30°C on startup, the water ran out, leading to fans trying to drink from taps in toilets and then from sprinkler heads.
There was a clear lack of information inside the stadium on Saturday: just a series of announcements that more information will be available in 15 minutes. With the passage of time, the two parties went out for a second warm-up before singer Camila Cabello showed up to perform her number.
Questions should also be put to the French authorities. Serious violence erupted during Euro 2016, particularly in Marseille, and Manchester United fans may remember teargassing a crowded barn during a Champions League group stage match against Lille in Lens in 2007.