Liverpool fans liken ‘terrifying’ treatment in Paris to Hillsborough

·5 min read

The families of Hillsborough victims have likened the “terrifying” treatment of Liverpool fans at the Champions League final to the disaster that scarred the city 33 years ago.

Witnesses described seeing people scared for their lives, with children “trembling with fear”, as French police fired teargas into crowds outside the Stade de France in Paris on Saturday night.

Uefa, the football governing body, initially blamed the late arrival of Liverpool supporters for the delay, as well as claiming that an influx of thousands of fake tickets had held up proceedings.

However, that version of events was questioned by Merseyside police, which said the “vast majority of fans behaved in an exemplary manner” in “shocking circumstances”.

Nadine Dorries, the culture secretary, said Liverpool fans’ accounts of what happened were “deeply concerning”, adding: “I urge Uefa to launch a formal investigation into what went wrong and why.”

Tens of thousands of supporters were guided under a bridge near the stadium, with many left waiting for hours. Some were forced to clamber over barriers as crowds began to swell behind them, and the kick-off was delayed by 36 minutes after police clad in riot gear moved into the area.

David Hughes, a Liverpool fan who watched the 1-0 defeat to Real Madrid, said the shambolic organisation and attempts to blame the fans “echoes” the Hillsborough disaster, in which his father, Eric, died in April 1989.

“The first thing they do is blame the fans,” he told the Guardian. “They seriously need to have a good look at themselves. You can’t have 20,000 fans coming under two columns under a subway. Unfortunately, we’ve had experience of that in the past and it doesn’t work.”

Hughes arrived at the Stade de France with his 17-year-old daughter, Kallie, more than three hours before kick-off, and said it was obvious that security officers “couldn’t cope” with the crowds. He said he was caught up in an “ambush” after the match when local youths threw teargas and spat at Liverpool supporters leaving the stadium.

The club has demanded a formal investigation. Liverpool defender Andy Robertson said one of his friends, who had a legitimate ticket for the final, was initially refused entry. “[In] the biggest game in world football, these situations shouldn’t be happening and unfortunately Uefa have messed up … Uefa should have been better organised,” he said.

In a tweet sent just before midnight, Gérald Darmanin, the interior minister, appeared to blame Liverpool fans for the problems. “Thousands of British ‘supporters’, without tickets, or with fake tickets, have forced the entrances, and sometimes been violent to stadium staff,” he said. He thanked the police for their work “in this difficult context”.

Lou Brookes, whose brother Andrew died at Hillsborough, said the treatment of Liverpool fans on Saturday “brought back everything” from the disaster.

“It’s just everything that happened at Hillsborough has been mirrored. The police said exactly the same then,” she said. “My friends were caught up in it [on Saturday] and one had her phone stolen, and another told me he really thought he was going to die. These are people who’ve been going to games for 40-odd years, since they were six or seven.”

Ian Byrne, the Labour MP for Liverpool West Derby, who attended the game, said supporters were treated “like absolute animals” and criticised Darmanin’s tweet as “completely untrue”.

A police statement issued in the early hours of Sunday morning said that, before the match, “numerous” supporters without tickets, or with fake tickets, “disturbed access to the stadium”. The police said some people had taken advantage of this to climb the fence protecting the stadium entrance.

“The rapid intervention of the police allowed a return to calm and for troublemakers to be evacuated away from the entrance,” the statement said. It concluded that after the match, supporters were dispersed without difficulty and there were “no major incidents” in the two fan zones elsewhere in the French capital.

David Lipworth, a Liverpool fan who reached the stadium two hours before kick-off at around 6pm GMT, told the Guardian the scene around the ground was a “total failure of crowd control”.

He said: “There was no information or signage about the entry point. There were no crush barriers and no queueing system in place. Not a single steward attempting to manage the queue. Instead there were again two dark blue gendarmerie vans parked across the ramp up to the concourse.

“Inevitably a crowd formed around this entry point, spilling out on to a dual carriageway. The traffic junction had not been closed to traffic and so many people pressed on to the narrow pavement.

“We were in this bottleneck for around an hour. There was no information either by signage, loudspeaker, tannoy, or from stewards. A total failure of crowd control. Many people were crushed against the side of the gendarmerie vans as they squeezed round into the bottleneck.”

The sport minister, Nigel Huddleston, echoed Dorries’ call for an investigation, saying the situation – which led to elderly fans being teargassed – was “yet to be explained”. Liverpool’s mayor, Joanne Anderson, said she was “disgusted by appalling management and brutal treatment” of supporters, calling the blaming of fans “shameful”.

Kelly Simmons, the women’s professional game director at the Football Association, tweeted that she was “crushed on the way in, unable to move for 90 mins” as she made her way into the ground.

She added in a further tweet: “My legs were like jelly and I had to keep sitting down in the game. All I could think was, we have to get out at the end. All the fans near me in that crush behaved impeccably, calling for calm/no panic. It was just sheer volume and nowhere to go as no gates open.”

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the radical politician whose left alliance is seeking to win seats in forthcoming parliament elections, said the “lamentable” and “worrying” scenes suggested that France and its security services were not prepared for sports events such as next year’s Rugby World Cup or the 2024 Paris Olympics.

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