Neill Dunne, Liverpool and District Socialist Party
What should have been a great moment in any football fan’s life became a horror story of fear and pain, beatings and tear gas, for both sets of fans at the Champions League final in Paris on 28 May.
I went to Paris without a ticket with the intention to find friends, sing our club’s songs, and watch the match together in the fan park or a bar. Some of my friends went to the stadium after seeing Liverpool play home and away all season, managing to get some of the few tickets Uefa made available to Liverpool fans.
All day Liverpool fans had a fantastic rapport with Parisians and police alike, everybody in a jovial mood. “Bonjour, ca va”, asked many Liverpool fans, with fair and pleasant responses from the police. But on match day, when the sun went down, it appeared that the police expected hooliganism and violence from Liverpool fans and treated us in a despicable way.
The journey to the stadium for thousands of fans was turned into a bottleneck by the countless number of police riot vans. Many people, having experienced this sort of thing before and seeing the lack of organisation from Uefa, waited patiently.
However, at the Stade de France, many turnstiles and entrance gates remained locked. Even those with tickets found the gates closed, causing fans to search for help at other understaffed gates – only to find chaos. Tickets bought at official club sites were pronounced ‘fake’, simply because the scanning devices didn’t work on the first attempt.
And when they asked for help, nearby police officers would spray tear gas into their faces. This created the opportunity for a small number of local gang members to attack both sets of fans, rob tickets and phones with digital tickets on them, and handbags. Men, women and children, including fans in wheelchairs, were attacked. But this was used to justify the police brutality to all and to put the blame on both fans and local youth generally.
Uefa postponed the game by 30 minutes when it became clear there were problems.
But the facts were clear, with evidence in abundance, but French interior minister Gérald Darmanin and sports minister Amélie Oudéa-Castéra blamed Liverpool fans arriving late, and fans with fake tickets or none at all. This is not true.
Liverpool fans remember the same lies being said following the Hillsborough disaster in 1989, when the police and government colluded to take blame away from where it lies, the police and the FA, and then place the blame upon the Liverpool fans who had been injured or perished in the crush. Like Hillsborough, if the lies get out there early enough, and if the blame gets put on the fans, they hope the authorities responsible for safety would be absolved of any blame.
Liverpool fans arrived very early having learned at finals many times, and after failures by Uefa and local authorities in the past.
Real Madrid fans had the exact same issues with closed gates that were supposed to be open. They also arrived early, were also orderly and patient, and were also attacked.
After the game, the very few entrance gates that fans struggled to get through were closed, while riot police arrived in huge numbers despite zero provocation from Liverpool fans, zero trouble between Liverpool and Real Madrid fans. Fans just wanting to get back to their coach or hotel, or even find friends, were forced to wait at gates. Disabled fans were left stranded, while many younger fans managed to climb out while police watched and laughed.
While trying to cross a bridge to exit Saint Denis by bus or Metro service, a wall of riot police blocked the exit and allowed some local criminal elements to attack and mug with impunity. Some terrified fans ended up with knife wounds, some attacked with iron bars, razor blades, and hammers. Real Madrid fans were hospitalised, kids of both sets of fans traumatised.
In the days following the final, French ministers have continued to blame Liverpool fans only, even though they have been proven to be false allegations.
Unsurprisingly, a pro-capitalist Macron government in France has imitated Margaret Thatcher’s policing policies, including ‘iron policing’, with new crowd control measures like kettling. This is setting a dangerous precedent for future matches, with attitudes echoing the animal-like treatment of fans at football in the 1970s and 80s.
What we are witnessing is the potential cover up of a poorly run operation where it was lucky that no one was killed. The top adviser to France’s sport minister has resigned amid the fallout. The treatment of fans in Paris should never be repeated in future.
Uefa has now come out and apologised for what fans have “seen and been witness to”, which is a long way off from an apology for lying and the poor organisation which led to problems. The feeling among Liverpool and other football fans is that this needs to stay in the public minds and focus, to see action taken against those responsible and ensure it does not take place again.
Incidents at Stade de France: An example of Macron’s rule
Virginie Prégny, Gauche Révolutionnaire (CWI France)
The nightmare that football supporters suffered at the Stade de France is not just the result of a series of unlucky events. It demonstrated how the French government treats workers and youth.
Gérald Darmanin, the interior minister, was quick to blame Liverpool supporters for the organisational failure. Videos of the scene quickly proved he was lying. But he nevertheless kept on denying the lack of organisation and the brutality of police forces.
That reaction did not come as a surprise to most people, and especially those who have been demonstrating against Macron’s brutal policies. The ‘Yellow Vest’ movement and all workers’ movements have paid a heavy price due to police brutality in the last five years – ordered and backed by the Paris prefect, who is directly under the authority of Darmanin, and in charge of the police and domestic security. The massive use of tear gas for no reason, as used against football supporters, some of them children, has been a constant aspect of police intervention in gatherings.
As well as insulting supporters, Darmanin put the blame on the area’s deprived youth. This racist reaction is also a heavy trend in the government’s way of dealing with problems. It is aimed at diverting attention from their own responsibility and scapegoating the deprived youth of the Paris ‘banlieues’ (poor suburbs). It has opened up the way for all the racists of the political field, such as far-right Marine Le Pen, Eric Zemmour and their like who are only too happy to find their ideas publicised in the media, thus giving them more weight (especially in the parliamentary election period).
Despite being forced to recognise some mistakes, Darmanin will keep, once more, Macron’s confidence, as he represents the right wing of his government and helps attract a conservative voter base.
The coming parliamentary election is a great opportunity to defeat this government, whose only interests lie in safeguarding the interests of the richest. With the new left coalition, led by Jean Luc Mélenchon, there is a real possibility to have a new majority in parliament. Its programme, against cuts in public services, for wage rises for all, and against Macron’s plan to slash our pension system, is a real step forward for workers and youth. If such a programme had a majority in parliament it would boost morale and confidence among workers to struggle in support of it. Such a victory would also put on the agenda the need to build a mass workers’ party, and actually start building it.
Gauche Révolutionnaire has contributed in building the forces of France Insoumise (Jean Luc Mélenchon’s movement) and is standing candidates along these lines.