As Paris steps up preparations for the 2024 Olympics, memories of the chaos that marred last year’s Champions League final in the French capital remain raw for supporters of the clubs involved.
The game between Liverpool and Real Madrid at the Stade de France, in the northern Paris suburb of Saint-Denis, on May 28, 2022, was won 1-0 by the Spanish team.
Yet the occasion was overshadowed by the fiasco outside, with kick-off delayed by 37 minutes as fans struggled to get into France’s national stadium after police funneled them into overcrowded bottlenecks as they approached.
They then fired tear gas towards thousands of supporters locked behind metal fences on the perimeter of the stadium.
One year on, fans who were there remain traumatized by the experience.
John Marquis, a Liverpool fan from Guernsey who had tickets to attend the match with his daughter, never made it inside the stadium.
“It was after half-time when it really turned nasty,” said Marquis, adding that he felt “the whoosh of a baton that missed my skull by millimeters”.
– ‘Life-changing’ –
He says he has not watched Liverpool since, and struggles with panic attacks and in crowded environments.
“It has literally been life-changing,” he said.
“I have been diagnosed as suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).
“I no longer have the strength or ability to follow Liverpool FC. I have and will never watch Liverpool FC again.”
Like many Liverpool fans, the experience at the Stade de France brought back memories for Marquis of the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, which cost the lives of 97 of the club’s supporters.
“Of course a lot of people who were there (in Paris) were already at Hillsborough in ’89 and it re-triggers obviously,” Peter Scarfe, who survived that disaster but watched the Stade de France final on television, told AFP.
Scarfe called for people to be held responsible for the Paris chaos and said it was “frightening” that the same stadium will be the centerpiece of this year’s Rugby World Cup and the upcoming Olympics.
“What we didn’t get 34 years ago was accountability,” he said.
“This time that’s what people are pushing for. They want accountability. They want the world to recognize that there were huge mistakes made.”
The French authorities initially tried to blame Liverpool supporters and claimed an “industrial scale fraud” of fake tickets was the problem.
A French Senate inquiry later found that poorly-executed security arrangements were the cause of the mayhem.
– Lessons for UEFA –
An independent report published in February then found that European football’s governing body UEFA bore “primary responsibility”.
UEFA apologized and promised to reimburse the tickets of all Liverpool fans and other spectators affected by the trouble.
But will the Switzerland-based body learn lessons from that night?
Earlier this month it outlined a “comprehensive action plan” with details of how it would “enhance existing safeguards” for fans attending future UEFA club competition finals.
This season’s Champions League showpiece between Manchester City and Inter Milan will be held in Istanbul on June 10.
“When people arrive at the stadium, the idea is to avoid a situation where the only people they could speak to are riot police officers,” Ronan Evain, executive director of Football Supporters Europe, who has worked with UEFA on the subject, told AFP .
However, UEFA remains dependent on host cities and countries when it comes to policing.
Some observers are hardly reassured by the venue for the Champions League final, particularly with memories of what happened at the 2019 UEFA Super Cup between Liverpool and Chelsea at the city’s Besiktas stadium.
“An hour and a half before the match, the Turkish commander decided to replace the stewards set up to frisk supporters, with police,” said a source with knowledge of the inner workings of football’s ruling bodies, adding that they “did not speak English and confiscated scarves and flags”.
– Olympic fears? –
It may be a while before UEFA brings one of its showpiece matches back to France.
French authorities were criticized for a heavy-handed response to supporters, based on incorrect assumptions that fans posed a threat to public order.
That raises questions about how they will handle crowds at the Rugby World Cup later this year and the Olympics, even if policing methods were never likely to be the same.
The Stade de France debacle damaged the country’s reputation internationally.
Authorities are therefore now preoccupied with ensuring France can successfully host a safe Olympics.
Paris has a new police chief, with Laurent Nunez replacing Didier Lallement who eventually paid the price for the bungled Champions League final.
“We are working better with the police,” said a member of the management of the Stade de France.