You may have heard and seen many news reports and accounts of what happened at Stade de France on the evening of Saturday 28th May.
The UEFA Champions League is an annual club football competition organised by the Union of European Football Associations and contested by top-division European clubs, deciding the competition winners through a round robin group stage to qualify for a double-legged knockout format, and a single leg final.
On Saturday the deserving finalists were Liverpool FC and Real Madrid. An estimated 50-60,000 Liverpool supporters made the journey to Paris with a similar number of Real Madrid fans making the journey. With an 80,000 seat stadium, clearly not everyone would be attending the match.
What unfolded that evening outside the venue for around 20,000 Liverpool fans has shocked everyone. Reports from the French Interior Minister suggests that 70% of tickets presented by Liverpool fans on the evening were fake. Whereas 97% of the Real Madrid supported had made it to their seats by the original 9pm (local time) kick off. Only 50% of Liverpool fans had reached their seats by this time.
So, what happened to prevent the Liverpool supporters from getting into the stadium? The issue of fake tickets is still to be determined. What can be seen and investigated now are what was captured on video on that evening. I have read a number of first hand reports from fans stating that they started out to make their journey to the stadium typically from 5pm that evening in plenty of time to arrive and get in.
Television footage showed images of youths, who did not appear to be wearing Liverpool colours, climbing over the stadium fences and jumping inside. Other fans outside, including families with children, were teargassed by riot police. Liverpool’s chief executive, Billy Hogan, said the treatment of fans was “unacceptable”.
This sky news reconstruction is a valuable insight to the time line of events and police tactics used.
This first hand account also provides a damning account of what happened.
From the perspective of a former police officer experienced over decades in policing volatile crowd disorder, I can offer some insight to the Police tactics on that evening.
An observation worth noting is that Zone Ex was controlled by the Police Nationale who are France’s main Civil Law Enforcement Agency. The deployed police were from the Public Order garrisons and they are trained to operate in civil unrest and tactics to control and subdue unruly/rioting crowds. That is their mentality! From the first hand reports above, these were the tactics employed. Completely adverse to managing crowds safely through the arrival and ingress phases.
Information available to law enforcement and the briefings given to officers would have been structured and specific. However unjustly this might appear, French Police would have taken account of the Euro 2020 final at Wembley last July. This would have been influenced too by the perceived and anticipated actions of young local males trying to get into the stadium without tickets.
The Policing intentions therefore would have led to a deployment of police briefed with a methodology to control the crowds (it appears directed towards Liverpool supporters) so as to limit the risk of crowd disorder and criminality.
So, what went wrong?
It is known that Police blocked the underpass leading to the stadium on the southwest by parking a police van across the underpass, creating a funnel and reducing the available width to a few metres. Thus creating a ‘bottle neck’ which caused a rapid build-up of congestion at this point as more and more supporters arrived.
Many more police vans lined this route, further reducing the walkway width and impeding free flow of pedestrians. It has been reported that it took 4 hours to get to a point just 100 metres from the stadium at the start of the ramp leading to the turnstiles.
It has been reported that what I would call a ‘soft ticket check’ was carried out on this ramp by stewards and this is where the issues of non-ticketed fans and fake tickets occurred.
Was the assessment of fan behaviour and tactics employed fair? I have heard first-hand accounts that over the weekend the behaviour of Liverpool fans, many who had made the trips with their families was polite, friendly and happy. Did not the French police observe this and take account?
What consideration of and protection of human rights occurred here in the environment of zone ex? It appears to me that there was a fundamental failure towards the management of the arrival and ingress phases.
So many questions! Here are a few more.
What way finding was there as fans approached the venue?
What multi agency/stakeholder considerations were discussed with the venue and police?
I didn’t see any volunteers welcoming fans, nor stewards on the outer ground of zone ex managing the crowd arrival and ingress.
Consider also for a moment the behaviours of Liverpool fans in the face of police provocation being teargassed and pepper sprayed? Did you see an out of control crowd, rioting? Not that I saw.
I am worried about the intention and purpose employed on Saturday for managing the arrival and ingress of Liverpool fans. It was one of control, causing congestion with dangerously high crowd densities which caused a significant delay in fans entering the stadium. The police tactics by causing the bottleneck and congestion I fear created a risk of opportunist terrorist attack on the crowd who were highly vulnerable.
It really was ironic that the kick off was delayed by 36 minutes with an announcement by the stadium authorities to explain that there were late arriving fans!
UEFA you will need to reflect on this, for the safety and security of future events in France and elsewhere. The French authorities need to reflect, plan and prepare to do better for future events. There is a legacy wake up call to global events this year and beyond.