Tuesday, June 28, 2022

French ministry in Paris charged with ‘prejudicing Liverpool fans’

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France’s interior ministry has been accused by Europe’s main supporters’ association of using stereotypes about Liverpool fans to distract from organizational failures at the 2022 Champions League final in Paris.

French Minister Gerald Darmanin had blamed “thousands of British ‘fans’ without tickets or with fake tickets” for the fiasco, but this was denied by Football Supporters Europe, who were at the game, and blamed the authorities solely .

“There is a cheap, very old prejudice against Liverpool fans and I think it has been used to political advantage by the French government,” said Ronan Evain, chief executive of the organisation.

“What we saw on the ground are remarkably dazed and calm Liverpool fans given the circumstances.”

LatestPageNews has asked the French Ministry of the Interior for an opinion and is still awaiting a response. They will meet with Uefa, local authorities, police, final organizers and the French Football Federation on Monday morning for a full review of Saturday’s debacle. The investigation will be important not only for what happened but also for what happened next, as many football figures were left stunned to see a marquee final in a major European country being postponed by 36 minutes due to poor crowd management could. It is also the third Uefa final in a year that has featured problems, following the spectacle of Euro 2020 at Wembley last July and the Europa League final in Seville two weeks ago. Some similar problems with these two games have already been blamed.

Almost everyone involved is relieved that the evening avoided a true disaster as numerous testimonies reported crowds of people fleeing the game, fans being pepper sprayed and tear gas unnecessarily and later groups of supporters being attacked after the game by those waiting gangs robbed. There were even reports of people being “chased down alleys with corkscrews.”

The evening has only led to big questions in France about their policing of football, with many fan representatives long predicting such a thing would happen and provoking a debate over hosting the Paris Olympics in August 2024.

LatestPageNews has spoken to scores of people who visited the Stade de France that day to find out how the problems unfolded and it now appears that the main problem was the authorities’ absolute failure to prepare for a strike on the RER B- Train workers to hire that day of the finals. This created a “bottleneck” and then a “domino effect”.

The strike resulted in the closure of Central Station, which initially meant fans who were supposed to be seated at the Liverpool end were routed through a branch line at RER D. This one only has four corridors, while the usual entry point has 12.

The problem was that nobody had changed the plan, meaning thousands of fans were jammed in that one area, which immediately caused a huge traffic jam three hours before the game.

“We got off the train around 6.30pm and made our way to the ground, which included a motorway underpass,” explains Phil Blundell, a regular at Liverpool games. “We were slowly escorted through the underpass, up a ramp, maybe 200 meters past the stairs up, but it was a slow bottleneck.”

Other fans, who have declined to be named, have made similar reports LatestPageNews By this time there was already significant physical discomfort as people were literally trying to catch their breath.

The situation was all the more unnecessary as the space in front of RER B was vacant. The authorities only noticed this after an hour, but by then it was too late. The traffic jams were too great, leading to “panic attacks” and “some scary situations”, according to supporters and the FSE.

Multiple sources explain that it was at this point that the decision was made to discontinue control to ease the flow of people.

“The bottleneck was a ticket inspection, which was canceled at 7:30 p.m.,” says Mr Blundell. Thereafter, many ticketless fans – with a significant proportion said to be local youth – managed to gain access to the perimeter. As one source noted, “Chaos brings mayhem” and “bad actors.”

“Yes, there were some fake tickets, some fake accreditations and some advertisers,” explains Mr Evain, “but this is like any final.”

The key to mitigation is proper organization, which has been severely lacking here. Many who attended the Euro 2016 final at the same stadium pointed out the steel rings surrounding the Stade de France and the huge fencing, features also absent on Saturday.

There was a lack of stewards and volunteers, as well as signage, leading many fans to seek advice from FSE staff. Worse, there was a complete lack of communication. None of the announcements inside the stadium were shared with those outside, fans only found out over their phones. Some fans who were already inside had to come to the fence to inform others that the game was postponed. This is seen as the key to calming people down. On top of that, fans just didn’t know where to go.

While the focus was on the fact that there were comparatively few problems at the Madrid end of the Stade de France, the geography on this side of the stadium is not as problematic, but there were still “massive queues” with hundreds of Spanish fans kicking off missed.

A Liverpool supporter, who asked not to be named, said: “I would like to reiterate that there have been a small number of Liverpool fans with fake tickets – whether it was their fault or the person who sold them to them – but every time , if a fan climbed a fence, they would be shouted down, even pulled down.”

In other words, there was considerable self-regulation, which contradicts Mr Darmanin’s testimony. It was necessary as official police work was also lacking or unhelpfully aggressive.

“It’s difficult to tie two positions together,” says Mr. Evain. “How does a high number of fake tickets two hours before lead to traffic jams around the stadium? That doesn’t add up. Yes, there were people trying to get in, trying to jump over the turnstiles. It was very close to Wembley 2021 [the Euro 2020 final] in that regard. The police are not necessarily willing to respond to this as it is very different from the habits and behavior of regular fans.”

Blundell paints a similar picture.

“The main problem for me was that the locals decided to come in. The majority of people who jump walls have been them. In Madrid [in 2019], I think I did four ticket checks including the turnstile. No one checked up to the turnstile here. The UV pen used to determine the authenticity of a ticket was not used. They were unable to quantify counterfeit tickets as they did not verify them.”

The overzealous police action is seen as all the more surprising and unjustified given that the fan zone had so safely expired earlier in the day, with only one minor incident at a bar.

Police were also criticized for an intimidating cordon around the Liverpool end at full-time as there were no problems during the game, and then for their absence outside the Stade de France after the game.

This was where the greatest potential for real violence was, as there are numerous reports of attacks on fans.

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