A memorable Champions League Final
Over 81,000 attending fans and an estimated half-a-billion-plus online consumers were left stunned when the Champions League Final— one of the biggest sporting draws in the world— was unexpectedly delayed due to security concerns.
Gates were shut as fans with fake tickets stormed the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, France, to catch the match between Liverpool and Real Madrid. Video captured by locals showed security guards pepper-spraying people in the queues, even those with tickets, in an effort to restrain the growing horde of fans.
Eventually, bodies began climbing the fences surrounding the stadium and breaking into the arena to catch the match— and now, France’s sports minister is putting the blame at the feet of Liverpool fans.
Security disasterclass in France
France’s Minister of Sport, Amelie Oudea-Castera, said that the initial problem at the Parisian grounds was caused by Scouse fans who did not have legitimate tickets and were trying to scam their way into the stadium, a problem that was then inflamed by local youths storming the stadium walls.
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The issue has become politically charged with French parliamentary elections soon arriving in mid-June; the French government held a meeting on Monday to discuss the events.
“What we really have to bear in mind is that what happened first of all was this mass gathering of British supporters of the Liverpool club, without tickets, or with fake tickets,” Oudea-Castera told French radio network RTL before the meeting. “When there are that many people by the entrance to the stadium, there will be people trying to force their way in through the doors of the Stade de France, and a certain number of youths from the nearby area who were present tried to get in by mixing in with the crowd.”
The match was delayed in two increments ultimately reaching 35 minutes with announcements coming in just as the final pre-game warmups were being concluded. Several fans claimed that they were not allowed entry despite holding legitimate tickets.
Despite entering as the underdog, Real Madrid ended up winning the “best team in Europe” decider 1-0 on the back of a Vinicius Junior goal in the 59th minute. This marked the club’s fifth successful Champions League campaign since the 2013-14 season.
French interior minister Gerald Darmanin said that over 100 people were arrested during and after the debacle, taking issue with Liverpool’s paper-ticket system which opened the door for what he described as “massive fraud on an industrial scale.”
Darmanin shared that there were 29 arrests at the Stade de France, half of which were British citizens, and 77 non-British arrests in Saint-Denis, a Paris suburb. He also noted that security had prepared for different scenarios but was not properly equipped to handle the large interference from youths who showed up at the stadium.
A spokesperson for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that he was “hugely disappointed” by how the situation was handled just North of Paris.
“The footage from the Stade de France this weekend was deeply upsetting and concerning,” said Johnson’s spokesperson. “We know many Liverpool fans travelled to Paris in good time… and we’re hugely disappointed by how they were treated.”
Scenes of the chaos were broadcasted across television networks, while local witnesses reported tear gas being dropped on crowds with children in them.
“The images are lamentable, they are disturbing because we can clearly see that we are not prepared for events such as the Olympic Games,” said French leftist leader Jean-Luc Melenchon on Sunday, while Marine Le Pen, a right-wing politician, said that the event was a “humiliation” for the nation.
France will need to improve its security quickly as it is preparing to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup and 2024 Olympic Games.
Liverpool chief executive Billy Hogan is calling for a “transparent investigation” by UEFA, the governing body of the Champions League. Nadine Dorries, Britain’s minister for sport, also encouraged UEFA involvement.
Oudea-Castera complimented the civil traveling Madrid fans but still noted that France needs to prepare better to avoid similar situations, such as what happened on Sunday, when Saint-Ettienne fans invaded the pitch after their club was relegated from Ligue 1.