As excitement grew and viewers tuned in to the highly anticipated Liverpool vs Real Madrid Champions League final, the promised night to remember instead became a nightmare.
Broadcasted across the world, UEFA’s dishonest message of a delayed kick-off due to ‘late fans’ and ‘fake tickets’ left a sour taste when breaking news notifications told a different story of chaos and despair. Reports flooded in of thousands of Liverpool fans penned within the stadium grounds, suffering as police released tear gas and pepper spray, and beat people indiscriminately.
Watching a Nightmare Unfold
Set for a 9pm (CEST) kick-off, Real Madrid and Liverpool fans arrived hours earlier to queue for entry into the Stade de France. Separated down different sides of the grounds, it soon became apparent that there was a disturbance in the Liverpool section where fans were not being let in. Encountering multiple checkpoints where fans were stopped abruptly without reason, there were concerns about the lack of communication between fans and marshals. Along with this, unusual policies regarding security had only female fans searched and patted down. Fans who reached the final ticket validation turnstiles faced further confusion as the gates were not opening as they should. Fans were informed that tickets were fake; tickets that had been validated prior to reaching the final section and were most definitely not fake, were suddenly no longer working.
As more fans poured off the trains and into the grounds, poor organisation left crowds building in the heat. Only a few fans were finally allowed to enter through the last checkpoint, though this was a slow process as they were instructed to crawl under the non-functional turnstiles. This backlog significantly delayed the movement of the crowds and caused more issues as tickets were now being individually validated by frustrated security. As the crowds continued to build into a crowded space, fans attempted to keep calm and communicate with each other to prevent crushes – a human kindness soon to be met with police brutality.
As large throngs of fans queued at the gates, agitated security called in armed police who released tear gas into non-aggressive crowds and fans near gaps in fences or at turnstiles were pepper-sprayed. Some young children were attacked before their parents could move to protect them, hurt by authorities that were meant to help keep people safe. Perhaps more horrifying, riot police were deployed against the peaceful crowds and fans were left cowering as those around them were beaten bloody. As dismayed shouts and pained screams rang out, fans remained calm despite the terror and tried to protect themselves against the gas with scarves and flags. As the onslaught continued and reports continued to flood social media, fans at home no longer cared who won as the safety of their loved ones took priority. As the match began, many fans were never granted entry into the stadium, and those that did described feeling ‘shell shocked’.
Liverpool did not win the match and Real Madrid scored the only goal of the game. Towards the end of the match, police armed with automatic weapons flooded the Liverpool end of the stands despite few guarding other sections of the pitch. When the full-time whistle rang, Liverpool fans moved to flee the stadium. faced with dangerous barriers on stairs and no direction, they feared what awaited them. That no one suffered major injuries is a testament to the fans’ united patience. On descending towards the exits, local hooligans were seen throwing flares into the grounds. Despite it being clear that none of the Liverpool fans had thrown these flares due to different clothing and location, fans faced further violence as multiple tear gas canisters were opened upon the crowd. This was the final insult that made it clear that the brutality towards the Liverpool fans had nothing to do with their behaviour but was instead biased specifically towards them.
You’ll Never Walk Alone
As police and UEFA destroyed the trust of fans through their lies and brutality, the support Liverpool supporters showed towards those who were attacked was representative of the true spirit of football.
Liverpool fans came together to support one another in the long queues. They remembered other stadium disasters where football fans have died due to poor organisation, incompetence, and lack of humanity, so they stayed calm and attempted to protect those around them. Images and videos have been shared of their bravery (standing between their aggressors to protect children, those with disabilities and the elderly), their compassion (washing the eyes of those who were pepper sprayed), and their unity (remaining calm in horrific circumstances and sharing what they had to protect people). Many more tales of kindness will filter through and we should embrace them, as in those hours of chaos, the Liverpool fans exemplified that they will never walk alone.
The Future of Football Events
As investigations are carried out, ensuring that the incident will be swept under the rug by UEFA and French authorities, I hope that people will remember the humanity of those they claimed brought such brutality upon themselves. Should we not fight for the safety of fans attending games? If normal and innocent people acting peacefully when queuing for events can be attacked without consequence, things will not change. As we look to the future of football events and watch communities of fans attempt to heal both physical and emotional wounds from the past weekend, I hope that we will also grow united so that all can feel safe when watching the sport they love.