Sports

Liverpool Fans Still Scarred By Champions League Final Six Months On

Six months on from the chaos that put lives at risk at the Champions League final in Paris, there are Liverpool fans still too frightened to return to watching matches live.

Others appear to be watching their heroes “under anaesthetic” with the atmosphere at Anfield, one of football’s most iconic stadiums, described as “awful” this season by local member of parliament and fan Ian Byrne.

Real Madrid’s 1-0 win at the Stade de France on May 28 was overshadowed by events surrounding European football’s showpiece event.

Kick-off was delayed by 37 minutes as fans struggled to access the stadium after being funnelled into overcrowded bottlenecks on approach.

Police then fired tear gas towards thousands of supporters locked behind metal fences on the perimeter to the stadium.

For many Liverpool fans the scenes brought back memories of a crush at Hillsborough Stadium in 1989 that resulted in the deaths of 97 supporters.

“I think we’re still all suffering from the after effects of the final,” Joe Blott, chair of Liverpool supporters group Spirit of Shankly, told AFP.

“Many people I know and other people are struggling to get to the game now as a consequence of the crowd management.

“Them not wanting to go to the game because they’ve been to a game is tragic in its own way.”

There were no fatalities in the French capital, but there was still a physical and mental price to pay for both the lack of organisation on the part of the authorities before the match and mudslinging towards supporters in the aftermath.

“So many people are still damaged by what they experienced,” said Byrne.

“I think the atmosphere at Anfield is reflective of that. It’s been awful this season and that’s not down to the football, it’s been really strange.

“I feel people are at the game under anaesthetic. It feels like all the passion has been sucked out.”

– ‘Fans saved lives’ –
“The reason there wasn’t a worse disaster is because of the behaviour and experience of Liverpool fans,” added Blott.

“For generations, Liverpool fans have learned the lessons of Hillsborough. Why haven’t the authorities?

“People were telling people to calm down, people were saying ‘make sure you breathe’, ‘don’t climb over’, ‘let’s look after the kids’. All of that was by lessons learned and all of that was by football fans. I think football fans saved lives.”

UEFA pinned the blame for the late start to the match on supporters “arriving late” despite thousands having been held for hours outside the stadium before kick-off.

The French authorities then claimed an “industrial scale fraud” of fake tickets was the problem.

However, a French Senate enquiry in July found it was a lack of preparation by French authorities and UEFA, as well as poorly-executed security arrangements that were the cause of the mayhem rather than supporter behaviour.

An independent report into events around the final found that the unprovoked deployment of tear gas from the French police “constituted criminal assault.”

Images of the final tarnished France’s reputation for holding major sports events ahead of the Rugby World Cup next year and the 2024 Olympic Games, both of which will host events at the Stade de France.

But there is frustration at the lack of action to implement the recommendations of the Senate report.

“Nobody’s safety can be guaranteed because nobody has accepted responsibility for something that was really serious and humiliating on an international stage for the whole country,” said Liverpool fan and journalist Daniel Austin, who was at the Stade de France on the night of the final.

“The Senate report makes it clear that the behaviour of fans was not at any point a problem and the failures lie with the authorities. They could easily repeat them again because no measures have been put in place to deal with them.”

– UEFA lawsuit –
Over 2,000 Liverpool fans are in the process of pursuing UEFA in a class action lawsuit for breach of contract in ticket sales and negligence over a duty of care they had towards supporters.

But many more say they will not attend another UEFA-organised match even if Liverpool made it back to the Champions League final in the coming years.

The results of UEFA’s own enquiry are expected in the coming days.

Anything short of an apology and full acceptance of responsibility for organisational failings on behalf of European football’s governing body will not wash for Liverpool fans.

“The truth,” said Byrne when asked by AFP what he wants to see in the findings of the UEFA enquiry.

“The truth about what happened and about the lies and smears that were aimed at Liverpool supporters from the get-go.”

AFP

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