(AFP) – Liverpool fans feared a repeat of the Hillsborough disaster during terrifying scenes that saw them funnelled into overcrowded corridors and met with tear gas by French police when trying to enter the Champions League final in Paris.
French authorities have tried to pin the blame for the chaos that saw kick-off to the Reds’ 1-0 loss to Real Madrid delayed by more than 30 minutes on “industrial-scale” fraud in fake tickets.
However, that account has been angrily rejected by dismayed supporters, who raised doubts over France’s ability to host upcoming major sporting events such as the Rugby World Cup and Olympic Games.
Liverpool fans contacted by AFP stressed the disarray caused by the lack of signage around the stadium guiding them to the right gates.
The lack of ticket checks on the stadium perimeter have also been blamed as eye-witnesses said many young locals joined the queues with thousands of Liverpool fans outside to try and force their way in.
Claims by the French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin that the action of police had “saved lives” has riled a fanbase that had to fight for justice for the 97 fans killed by a crush in the Hillsborough disaster in 1989.
“It took you back to Hillsborough if you were unfortunate enough to be at Hillsborough in 1989,” Ian Byrne, MP for Liverpool West Derby, told AFP. “Those sort of scenes really did flash back to that day.
“It was a complete lack of leadership or management, It was horrific.
“For a Champions League final, the blue riband event of football in Europe, to be policed in such a manner, to have crowd management in such a manner it was so wrong. It was unforgivable.”
UEFA initially pinned the blame for a delay to the game as fans “arriving late”.
But tens of thousands had been queueing for hours outside the ground, held up by bottlenecks caused by police on their approach to the Stade de France in the northern Paris suburb of Saint-Denis.
“This was not a fan problem, this was an organisational problem,” said Joe Blott, chair of Liverpool supporters’ group Spirit of Shankly. “This is a stadium that is no longer fit for purpose.”
Supporters were also reportedly targeted by muggers and pickpockets upon approach and exiting the stadium.
Metro Mayor of the Liverpool City Region Steve Rotheram said he had his phone and other possessions stolen.
“It was an absolute mess, people could have been seriously injured or even dead,” said Liverpool fan Willie Miller, who also compared the scenes to what he experienced at Hillsborough.
“All around the stadium there were groups of locals, who were armed with knives, looking for trouble. People were getting mugged, people were getting their watches stolen, money stolen, people were getting beat up.
“Now the French government are coming out and saying it is the fault of the Liverpool fans. How?”
UEFA is also in the firing line from supporters for the lack of organisation despite sky-high costs for fans. Face value ticket prices ranged from 70 to 690 euros.
France’s sports minister said on Monday that European football’s governing body will compensate the 2,700 ticket holders who were unable to access the ground.
“We want to see some accountability,” added John Gibbons of the Anfield Wrap, who had co-hosted live entertainment at the Liverpool fan zone earlier on the day of the final.
“They are not slow to charge you.”
Liverpool immediately called for an independent investigation into the security failings and are asking fans to submit evidence of the operational mismanagement of the event.
Byrne added that he has pressed senior figures within the British government to demand answers from their French counterparts.
“You’ve got some upcoming major events such as the Rugby World Cup and the Olympics in the same stadium,” said Byrne.
“If they don’t learn the lessons, how do they ensure that no sporting fan ever goes through what we did on Saturday?”