The French interior minister has blamed “fraud at an industrial level” for chaos at the Champions League final in Paris with 70 per cent of tickets attempting to come into the Stade de France thought to be fake.
Saturday’s game at the Stade de France between Liverpool and Real Madrid kicked off with a 36-minute delay after police tried to hold back people attempting to force their way into the French national stadium without tickets, while some ticket holders complained they were not let in.
French interior minister Gerald Darmanin said thousands of fake tickets had caused the mayhem that ensued as Liverpool fans attempted to enter the stadium on Saturday evening.
“At 21:00, when the match was supposed to start, 97 per cent of the Spanish supporters were present, only 50 per cent of the British supporters had got into their section which does show the difficulties that arose only from the entrance relating to the Liverpool supporters and not the other entrances,” he said at a press conference addressing the crowd problems.
“There was massive fraud to an industrial level and organization of fake of tickets because the pre-filtering by the Stade de France and the French football federation saw that 70 per cent of tickets were fake.
“Once through the pre-filtering stage, 15 per cent of tickets were fake, more than 2,600 were non-validated tickets even though they’d gone through the first filtering.
“The massive presence of these fake tickets was the issue which meant there were delays. There were 29 arrests that took place within the Stade de France and more than half of those arrests were British supporters because they’d intruded inside the Stade de France.”
French sports Minister Amelie Oudea-Castera added 30,000-40,000 people were without tickets or fake ones and that “everyone wants to ensure this will never happen again”.
She said: “Some people had bought tickets and were deprived of a match and we would like to say how sorry we are to all those people because their Saturday night experience was completely spoiled. We have asked UEFA those people should be identified and could be compensated soon to try and overcome their frustration.
“The major central point is to really understand precisely what happened during this massive fraud as far as the ticketing is concerned. There are witnesses of this and figures corroborate that 30,000 to 40,000 without tickets or with fake tickets. The fake tickets looked incredibly like normal tickets which meant some controls didn’t notice it.
“We want there to be a very detailed, in-depth enquiry with UEFA to see what happened, why, how and to what extent. UEFA has heard our request and we’re waiting for the rapid setting off of this enquiry.”
Earlier on Monday, Oudea-Castera had blamed Liverpool fans who turned up without valid tickets.
Oudea-Castera told French radio RTL: “What happened, first of all, was this mass gathering of the British supporters of the Liverpool club, without tickets, or with fake tickets.”
UEFA blamed “thousands of fans with fake tickets” for causing delays, while UK Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries and Liverpool called for a formal investigation into what caused the chaos.
Sky Sports News’ chief reporter Kaveh Solhekol was among those who were targeted with tear gas as the chaos continued before the final.
Sky Sports News’ chief reporter Kaveh Solhekol:
“[The French explanation] does not tally at all with what I saw. Let’s be clear what’s happened in Paris this morning. We’ve had a meeting between the French sports minister, the French interior minister, UEFA and the Paris police Chief Didier Lallement. Now I’m sure at this meeting this morning, the police chief had been asked what happened on Saturday. This is embarrassing for France. It was a shambles. Look at all the terrible headlines around the world. They are hosting the Rugby World Cup next year. They are hosting the Olympics in 2024. I’m sure he was asked to explain what went wrong, and I think he has passed the blame for what happened on Liverpool supporters and now fake tickets.
“I’m sure there were some fake tickets. There are always fake tickets for big finals, but I did not see anything that looked like an industrial massive fraud operation. For instance, I didn’t have Liverpool supporters coming up to me and telling me complaining or being upset that they bought fake tickets. They were coming up to me complaining about the fact that they were being tear-gassed, pepper-sprayed and crushed. They were being treated like animals by the French police.
“What I saw was a shambles, total disorganization and the blame was totally with UEFA, the French authorities, the stadium authorities and the French police. We were in a situation where 20,000 Liverpool supporters turned up at that stadium early up to five hours before kick-off and they were asked to wait in a confined space and there was a gap which was only big enough for one person that 20,000 people had to be filtered through.
“There were no Liverpool supporters at this meeting and there were no Real Madrid supporters at this meeting. I didn’t see a single fake ticket. I would treat with extreme caution what was said at this press conference. Not a single supporter came up to me and said, ‘I was sold a fake ticket. I’ve wasted thousands of pounds on this’. I saw some very, very upset supporters because they were being treated terribly by the French police. That is what I saw. I saw women and children in tears, women and children being tear-gassed.
“From the Real Madrid supporters I spoke to and what I saw with my own eyes, there were a lot of problems at the Real Madrid end as well. I know you’re seeing this narrative, especially on social media, asking why there were only problems at the Liverpool end, while everything was nice and peaceful at the Real Madrid end. That was not the case. I was actually pepper-sprayed at the Real Madrid end of the ground.
“There were major problems at the Real Madrid end of the ground as well. There were many, many local French youths who got into the Real Madrid end of the ground. Many Real Madrid supporters were mugged and attacked after the game as well, so it was not all happy at the Real Madrid end of the ground either.”
There was “no obvious justification” for the kind of behavior shown by French police in Paris, culture minister Chris Philp has said.
Speaking to Sky News, Philp said: “I was horrified to see those pictures of fans, including some children, disabled fans, being pepper-sprayed by French police.
“And from the pictures I saw there was no obvious justification for that kind of behavior. So Nadine (Dorries), I think is quite right to call for UEFA to urgently investigate exactly what happened there because we don’t want to see football fans, least of all children and disabled fans, being pepper-sprayed by police in the way that we saw.
“So, I really am concerned by it, the government are as well, and we need UEFA to properly investigate exactly what happened and get to the bottom of it.”
When asked about suggestions Liverpool football fans did not have tickets and were pushing their way in, Mr Philp said: “As I say, we need to get this properly looked into so we understand exactly what happened. But as I say, I saw
Footage of fans behaving in a perfectly calm way, getting pepper-sprayed, and that just strikes me looking at those pictures as not appropriate.”
When asked why he thought French authorities were blaming Liverpool football fans for the chaos, Labour MP Ian Byrne, who attended the game, told Sky News: “It’s the easy thing to do.
“We’re back in 1989 territory where the lies and smears about Hillsborough went out really quickly and that narrative was set.
“When I got into the grounds I was absolutely appalled when I saw the signs saying it was due to the late arrival of fans.
“There were people who had been there three-and-a-half hours who were kettled in, getting pepper-sprayed, tear-gassed – this was a football occasion.
“We’ve all seen the footage, seen the photographs, and I just thank God this time that the journalists were there, the British journalists have covered it wonderfully well.
“But UEFA and the French authorities need to hang their heads in shame about what happened on Saturday night.”
Liverpool call for formal investigation
Citing ‘unacceptable issues’ for supporters, Liverpool had called for a formal investigation to probe what occurred outside the stadium before UEFA released its statement.
“We are hugely disappointed at the stadium entry issues and breakdown of the security perimeter that Liverpool fans faced this evening at Stade de France,” the club said. “This is the greatest match in European football and supporters should not have to experience the scenes we have witnessed tonight.
“We have officially requested a formal investigation into the causes of these unacceptable issues.”
Culture Secretary Dorries described the scenes outside the Stade de France as “deeply concerning” as she joined the Premier League club’s calls for UEFA to investigate the events of Saturday evening.
“It is in the interests of everyone involved to understand what happened and to learn lessons from these events,” she said in a statement.
What did UEFA say?
The statement issued by UEFA shortly before the end of the game – in which Real Madrid beat Liverpool 1-0 – said: “In the lead-up to the game, the turnstiles at the Liverpool end became blocked by thousands of fans who had purchased fake tickets which did not work in the turnstiles.
“This created a build-up of fans trying to get in. As a result, the kick-off was delayed by 35 minutes to allow as many fans as possible with genuine tickets to gain access.
“As numbers outside the stadium continued to build up after kick-off, the police dispersed them with tear gas and forced them away from the stadium
“UEFA is sympathetic to those affected by these events and will further review these matters urgently together with the French police and authorities, and with the French Football Federation.”
Stadium authorities initially blamed a delayed kick-off on the “late arrival” of fans for the showpiece event.
That version of events was fiercely disputed by those in attendance in Paris, including Sky Sports journalists and reporters inside the stadium.
“It seems to me that the whole policing operation before this game was ineffective,” Solhekol concluded. “It was not done properly.”
Stadium authorities blame ‘late arrivals’ despite hours-long queues
An announcement posted on the big screens inside the Stade de France initially blamed fans for the kick-off delay, with the message reading: “Due to the late arrival of fans at the stadium, the match has been delayed.”
But Sky Sports News’ senior reporter Melissa Reddy countered: “Supporters have been queuing for over two hours outside. There are countless witness accounts of how this evening has unfolded amid horrid organization.”
Reddy had already tweeted almost 40 minutes before the scheduled kick-off time of 8pm: “Reports from those stuck outside the stadium – and footage feeding through as well – of poor organization and communication, dangerously narrow routes with police vans further unnecessarily blocking space. All of it creating an uncomfortable, unwanted situation.”
Sky Sports presenter Kelly Cates, attending the final as a supporter, had also tweeted: “Absolutely shambolic at the Stade de France. No way in, no way of knowing which way to go. Stay safe if you’re heading in… It has the potential to be very dangerous.”
Former England captain Gary Lineker posted: “I’m not sure it’s possible to have a more poorly organized event if you tried. Absolutely shambolic and dangerous.”
Ahead of kick-off, some fans were filmed scaling the outside perimeter of the Stade de France to gain access.
The Associated Press reported ‘sporadic instances of fans, apparently without tickets, breaking through security and attempting to get into the stadium’.
The agency reported seeing two fans – one wearing Liverpool attire – wrestled to the ground by stewards and bundled out of the gates. Another fan evaded stewards and was seen sprinting through the concourse and into the bottom level of the stadium.
Majority of fans behaved in ‘exemplary manner’ – Merseyside Police
Merseyside Police say they will pass on their observations from Saturday’s Champions League final chaos after Liverpool requested a formal investigation from UEFA.
Officers from Merseyside were deployed in France to work with local officers, and “they have reported the vast majority of fans behaved in an exemplary manner”.
Assistant Chief Constable Chris Green said: Our officers returning today will conduct a formal debrief to ensure that we can fully support any subsequent investigation following last night’s game.
“We know that people would have witnessed a lot of distressing scenes last night and we wish everyone returning home from Paris a safe journey. Our focus today will be supporting Liverpool city council with the policing of the homecoming parade.”