The investigation into the harrowing events that preceded and followed the UEFA Champions League last month is currently underway in the French Senate. Thanks to fan and journalist Daniel Austin, whose work in the immediate aftermath of the final and following up on the issue over the last month has been excellent, we have a clearer picture of what went down on Tuesday morning, and afternoon. His Twitter feed has also been a great resource, with live tweets of the hearings. I recommend following him to keep up with the issue at hand.
After apologising to fans for the chaos in Paris, UEFA reverted to blaming supporters. UEFA's head honcho of events, Martin Kallen, made tired and unsubstantiated claims about fake tickets, ticketless fans, and poor behaviour, even though much evidence has suggested otherwise.
Here are some of his quotes:
“Risk evaluation before the match told us that there was a high risk of a pitch invasion and a high risk of a lot of fake tickets.”
“We were warned a lot of people without tickets would try to enter the stadium. In the past two finals with Liverpool there were fans who wanted to get into the stadium with fake or no tickets. We knew that in advance.”
He did at least refute the claims of the French minister of the interior Gérald Darmanin, that 40,000 supporters had tried to enter the Stade de France with fake tickets:
“We do not agree with the 30-40,000 fake tickets figure given very quickly by the French authorities. But there were more than 2,600.”
Uh, right. Kallen then explained that UEFA had tried to convince both clubs to opt exclusively for its digital blockchain system instead of the mix of digital and physical tickets used. However, when doing so, he seemed to give away UEFA's issues with the ticketing process:
“If you arrived without Bluetooth active at the turnstiles then your QR code is not activated. There was also a technical bug with problems filtering and verifying tickets, with a faulty pen.”
There. An admission that fans with legitimate digital tickets provided by UEFA were told their tickets were fake and turned away because of... dudes who didn't know how to check them and a faulty highlighter.
Ted Morris and Joe Blott, representing the Liverpool Disabled Supporters Association and Spirit of Shankly fans' union respectively, later testified in the afternoon and gave their accounts of what took place in Paris.
Before they did so, Chairman of the inquiry Francois-Noel Buffet made it clear that "we know that English football fans were not the cause of what happened."
The Liverpool fans, together with Ronan Evain and Pierre Bathélemy from the democratic European supporters' organisation Football Supporters Europe and Real Madrid supporter Emilio Dumas, testified before the French Senate. Morris, who had pointed out the lack of seating for disabled supporters before the game, had this to say:
“I don’t ever want to come back to Paris if we are going to be treated in the same way again in future. There have been so many lies about what happened from those in power here.”
“I started to receive messages saying disabled people were being tear-gassed and were terrified. Some feared for their lives. It was only thanks to the great behaviour of Liverpool fans that a catastrophe was avoided. Nobody in a position of power came to help disabled fans.”
He would elaborate on specific instances of mistreatment of disabled fans:
“A 14-year-old disabled fan has burns from the effects of tear gas. He went to the match with his Dad and was excited, but was left terrified. There was a disabled fan who attended the match with his elderly father. He was attacked by a gang of locals and had his belongings stolen.”
“Shocking treatment was done to men, women and children with disabilities. They were treated like animals. This is a shame on the authorities. Gérald Darmanin has brought shame on France and the French government. His lies made things so much worse. He should apologise or resign. His lies have reminded us of those after Hillsborough. He should be ashamed.”
Blott provided a solid rebuttal to the narratives peddled by French police and UEFA that Liverpool fans were potential troublemakers:
“Liverpool fans had travelled across Europe this season, to Spain, Portugal and Italy with zero arrests, zero known risk supporters, zero preventive arrests and zero ejections from stadia. Over 25,000 fans showed exemplary behaviour all season long. Why was the good behaviour record of Liverpool fans ignored? The police were stuck in the 1980s and believed lies about the Hillsborough disaster.”
“The hooligans that French police spent months preparing for from Liverpool simply do not exist. They did not alter their tactics when no hooligans arrived, and instead treated families, children, and people with disabilities like criminals.”
“We demand a full apology and a retraction of the lies.”
Important to clarify that French senate investigations like this are very rare. A few per year. Foreign people being invited to speak is extremely rare— Daniel Austin (@_Dan_Austin) June 21, 2022
If you work as a sports journalist, have seen my tweets today, and haven't written about this or passed to colleagues, why not?
This tweet perhaps sums up how extraordinary this situation is. The fans who spoke up did all football fans a considerable favour yesterday. And with French public opinion clearly (a survey conducted with 76% of the public believing that Darmanin lied) against the politicians, UEFA and the French police may just be caught with their pants down here. Here's hoping that a semblance of justice and accountability can be achieved at the end of the proceedings. Fingers crossed.