On Saturday, chaotic scenes outside the Satde de France in Paris delayed kickoff and marred the 2022 Champions League final, the most significant date in club football and UEFA’s showcase, season-ending match.
Reports on the ground, both from journalists and from fans who provided pictures and video to support their stories, painted a picture of shocking disorganization and heavy-handed police tactics.
Peaceful fans kettled and pepper sprayed. Supporters who had invested thousands unable to get into the stadium. Widespread reports of organized gangs targeting the fans ignored by police more concerned with fighting an army of invading hooligans that didn’t actually exist.
Instead of acknowledging the apparent organizational and policing issues, the official story pushed by the French government—and at least corroborated in the early going by UEFA when they blamed fans for the delayed kickoff—pointed the finger at the fans.
In the days since, that hasn’t changed despite mounting criticism in England and Spain for the handling of Saturday’s final between Liverpool and Real Madrid. Now, though, in a potentially significant move, some French officials are pushing back as well.
“Let’s face it, the starting conditions were not the most favourable,” read an open letter to Spirit of Shankly and Liverpool supporters from 12th arrondissement Deputy Mayor Richard Bouigue, whose neighbourhood hosted Liverpool’s fan zone—an area for all Reds to gather before the match and a place for those without tickets during it.
“The site was chosen late by the Prefecture of Police and without consultation with local elected officials. Its configuration was not the most suitable for the installation of a meeting point for fans, and we unfortunately lacked time to prepare.
“However, despite these circumstances the fan zone went well, hosting up to 45,000 people, almost exclusively Liverpool supporters. We owe it first to the good cooperation, the good mood, and the good behaviour of the Liverpool supporters .
“I can’t hide the fact many locals were worried—stereotypes about English fans are hard to break. But you were able to reassure everyone, to bring a neighbourhood to life, to animate it with you songs, your enthusiasm, and you good mood. I wanted to thank you sincerely for that.”
Despite the issues at the Stade de France ten kilometres away from the 12th in Saint-Denis, there were no reports of problems in the fan zone, and it’s heartening to have confirmation from an elected official that Liverpool fans acquitted themselves well as guests on the day.
It also further supports the story that has been consistently told by journalists and those on the ground at the Stade de France—that the problems there on Saturday were caused by disorganization and the actions of the police, no fans.
“I would also like to express my deep regret for the serious incidents that took place at the Stade de France,” Bouigue added. “I bitterly regret that Liverpool fans were singled out for criticism.
“We must cut through the useless polemics, establish the facts, and compare them with the smooth running of the fan zone. The time for official denial is over, the time for apologies must be imposed.”
Letter to Liverpool supporters @spiritofshankly :— Richard Bouigue (@RichardBouigue) May 31, 2022
Thanks and see you soon in Paris.#UCLfinal #fanzone pic.twitter.com/ir3XwU9byy