PARIS – A fan traffic jam that delayed the start of Saturday’s Champions League final between Real Madrid and Liverpool by 35 minutes was caused by people trying to use “counterfeit tickets” to enter the game, said the tournament organizer.
Crowd control and access issues have seen thousands of fans, many of them Liverpool supporters with valid tickets, barred from their side’s biggest game of the season. The confusion and growing anger created a potentially dangerous situation in which French police officers, wearing helmets and carrying shields, used canisters of what UEFA, which manages the Champions League, described as tear gas to keep the growing crowd at bay.
“During the match, the turnstiles on the Liverpool side were blocked by thousands of fans who had bought fake tickets which did not work in the turnstiles,” UEFA said in a statement. his statement. “This created a backlog of fans trying to get in. As a result, kick-off was delayed 35 minutes to allow as many fans as possible with genuine tickets to gain access.”
The statement continued: “As the number of people outside the stadium continued to pile up after kick-off, the police dispersed them with tear gas and forced them away from the stadium.”
In the chaos, fans pleaded with stadium stewards to be allowed in, pressing their tickets through the iron gates, and many found themselves coughing and gasping on the pavements outside the Stade de France, a modern arena built for the 1998 World Cup.
Other fans looked for other ways to enter, scaling fences and locked doors. A group of VIPs, delayed due to a problem reading the QR codes attached to their tickets, scaled a fence in an attempt to get to their seats. Once there, one of the officials said, they saw police fighting with onlookers still outside.
Inside the stadium, where the teams had completed their warm-up, two 15-minute delays were announced. But even before the away crowds had dispersed, UEFA incongruously staged an elaborate pre-match ceremony featuring singer Camila Cabello. Once she finished, the teams entered the field and exchanged handshakes, and the final began.
Police stationed at the entrances to the stadium blamed much of the blame for the chaos on locals in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis, where the stadium is located, saying they were not supporters wearing the colors competing teams but those dressed in what they described as “civilian clothes” who had attempted to enter the stadium without a ticket.
But French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin repeated UEFA’s version of events in a Twitter post. “Thousands of ticketless or counterfeit British ‘supporters’ broke in and sometimes assaulted stewards,” he wrote. “Thank you to the very many police forces mobilized this evening in this difficult context.”
Fans blamed a lack of organization, saying several entrance gates were closed, forcing those attending the game into long queues that turned into a body crush as kick-off time approached.
UEFA officials initially appeared to blame the problems on “fans who arrived late”, even though huge crowds had remained jammed at the gates for hours before the scheduled kick-off.
Tommy Smith, a Liverpool fan who had traveled to Paris from Ireland with a group of friends and family, said his group had arrived two hours before the scheduled kick-off and found he there were few entrances where fans could present their tickets. “They have closed all the turnstiles linked to Liverpool,” Smith said. “The fans waited two hours, orderly, nothing out of the ordinary, and we were sprayed with tear gas.” He said there was little information or direction from stadium staff.
Liverpool issued a statement during the match in which they said the club were “extremely disappointed with the stadium entry issues and breach of perimeter security that Liverpool fans were facing”. The team said it had requested an official investigation into the events.
Ronan Evan, executive director of Football Supporters Europe, an umbrella group for fans, told The New York Times that the fans were beyond reproach.
“The Champions League final fans are not responsible for tonight’s fiasco,” he said. “They are victims here.”
At half-time, a UEFA security official said, the Stade de France had been locked down, with all entrances and exits closed, while police were still deploying tear gas outside the halls of the stadium. stadium.
“At the moment it’s safer for you inside than outside,” the UEFA official told an Australian executive wishing to leave the stadium at half-time. The security official said “it was a police decision” to close the entry and exit points.
In its post-match statement, UEFA said it would investigate the causes of the crowding problems, which came nearly a year after the influx of crowds of ticketless fans attending the European Championship at the stadium of Wembley, in London, the stewards overwhelmed to reach the final of this tournament. The tournament was also a UEFA event.
“UEFA is sensitive to those affected by these events,” the organization said, “and will look into these matters urgently with the French police and authorities, as well as with the French Football Federation.”