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Champions League Final Farce

Greg Devine


Large crowd of football fans holding red flares

Once again, football fans are in the news for all the wrong reasons. I thought we were past the Dark Ages, but it appears not.

I’m not going to blame just UEFA, the Liverpool fans or the French police; instead, I’m blaming all three. Inevitably, each organisation is trying to blame the others instead of acting responsibly and conducting an enquiry into what went wrong and how to avoid it happening again.

You might be wondering what happened. Essentially, the Champions’ League final—European football’s largest club competition—was delayed by 36 minutes, because Liverpool fans were unable to enter the ground. This was due to a multitude of reasons. Firstly, there were more Liverpool fans in Paris than the tickets that were available. Secondly, some opportunistic ‘fans’ had tried to enter the ground without tickets. Whilst the number of ticketless fans is unknown, a French minister estimated it to be between 30,000 and 40,000.

If you follow the club, you’ll realise this is the third time Liverpool have had fan trouble, i.e. too many supporters arriving at a stadium. However, some claim this is being used to cover up the ineptitude of UEFA and the part they and the French police played. All around the ground, police had set up riot vans in such a way that fans were forced into tiny queues for no apparent reason. This would have made sense, had the setup been in place to filter out the fans without tickets, but this wasn’t the case.

By creating unnecessary bottlenecks, the French police delayed the fans who had tickets, and who had arrived in plenty of time, from getting to the gates of the stadium. When the time for kick-off neared, there were still lots of Liverpool fans outside; at that point, they panicked and tensions rose. What happened next was disgusting. Images of fans being tear-gassed surfaced online. Tear-gas wasn’t even aimed at ‘fans’ climbing over fences but at helpless families with young children, who were simply asking the authorities what was going on.

Videos of people climbing over fences and running away from stewards also circulated online; however, these appeared to feature locals trying to sneak into the stadium rather than Liverpool’s fans chancing things. You could see, if you watched the match live, there were clearly too many people in the Liverpool end of the Stade de France. Walkways and staircases were overrun with standing supporters, whilst at the Real Madrid end, all the supporters appeared to be seated.

Rows of red seats at football stadium

Rows of red seats at football stadium

UEFA has also come under fire. There weren’t enough stewards, and supporters have all expressed a lack of communication at the ground. The whole situation was simply dangerous. On one video you can hear a young fan, who was very distressed, saying they didn’t want to come to a game again.

Incredibly, no one was seriously hurt. Liverpool fans have, unfortunately, been involved in two well-known stadium disasters in the past. The Heysel Stadium disaster in 1985 happened in the same competition; Liverpool fans charged at Juventus fans, causing a crush and, eventually, the collapse of a stand. 39 people died. Blame was mostly put on the shoulders of Liverpool supporters, but some blame should lie with UEFA. Heysel was a venue unfit to host a final of such a size—it was in poor condition, and it was considered unsafe. It should have never been used for the game.

Four years later, Liverpool was involved in another stadium disaster. Hillsborough rings close to home for me, despite it happening nearly twenty years before I was born. My granddad and uncle were at the game, and they’ve told me some horrific stories. On that occasion, 97 people died. Liverpool supporters were subsequently vilified. We now know, however, that South Yorkshire Police fed false stories to the media to cover their backs. In the same vein that UEFA shouldn’t have ever let the game be played at Heysel, the Football Association should never have let the game be played at Hillsborough—it wasn’t a venue fit to host the game.

Luckily, we didn’t see a repeat of Heysel or Hillsborough last week, yet the same issues seem to be present: the police and a football governing body at fault, with each falling over themselves to blame the football fans. Yes, Liverpool fans have a reputation, and they certainly aren’t completely innocent, but they also aren’t the only culprits.

It’s a topic around which we have to tread carefully, due to the loss of life in previous incidents; however, this respect doesn’t seem to have been extended by UEFA. Something terrible could’ve happened in Paris, but instead of looking into how they could stop such occurrences happening again, they just jump on the blame wagon.

It’s time that governing bodies took responsibility to stop the rot in football. This is more important than overpaid footballers. It’s a more pressing issue than sports-washing by countries with questionable human rights. It’s a matter of life and death. We cannot, and must not, return to the football of the eighties.

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