Champions League chaos: French minister slammed for ‘fanciful’ claim about fake tickets

0
3

France’s interior minister has been slammed for ‘completely fanciful’ claims that tens of thousands of forged tickets were to blame for mayhem which blighted the Champions League final, after police blamed Liverpool fans for disruption which saw children hit with tear gas.

Gerald Darmanin, France’s interior minister, today peddled the sensational claim that up to 70 per cent of all tickets sold for the match – between Liverpool and Real Madrid at the Stade de France on Saturday night – were fakes, and between 30,000 and 40,000 English fans have arrived at the ground carrying forgeries. 

Mr Darmanin said filtering out these ‘sophisticated’ fakes was what led to lengthy delays, dangerous crushes, and pandemonium at the Liverpool end of the stadium – pledging an immediate investigation into what he called ‘industrial-scale’ fraud while absolving police and stewards of any blame.

He spoke at a press conference alongside the French sports minister and Paris police chief, who showed off what they said were near-identical fake and real tickets to prove their case. They did not say how they had established one ticket was a fake, amid reports of people with real tickets being turned away due to malfunctioning turnstiles.

Ronan Evain, head of the Football Supporters Europe association who was at the game, said claims of up to 40,000 fake tickets being in circulation are ‘completely fanciful’. Association observers had noticed some fake tickets being sold, he said, but described the issue as ‘marginal’ and nothing out of the ordinary for a major final.

The bigger issue, he said, was a train strike in Paris on Saturday that had shut one of the two lines leading to the stadium, forcing most Liverpool fans down a narrow route that police had made narrower still by parking vans across the road so they could filter people through a security checkpoint.

That caused a dangerous crush, with some fans saying were stuck for three hours until officers eventually eased the cordon to avoid people getting injured. But, Mr Evain said, that allowed ticketless locals who had mixed in with the crowds to approach the stadium and its gates, where they were filmed causing chaos.

Videos posted on social media showed groups of people with no obvious team affiliations attempting to push through turnstiles, with witnesses saying this prompted stewards to close the gates and deny legitimate ticket holders entry. Others were filmed jumping fences, which caused police to fire tear gas to try and restore control.

Pierre Barthélemy, a lawyer representing French Liverpool fans, agreed with Mr Evain’s assessment – describing government figures as ‘delusional’, ‘unsourced’, and part of a political smear campaign against English fans which he said ‘does not correspond to what everyone has seen.’

The British government said today that it was ‘hugely disappointed’ by the way Liverpool fans were treated. 

French officials under fire for chaos at Saturday’s Champions League final in Paris today claimed tens of thousands of fans had turned up with fake tickets, presenting two near-identical passes while claiming one was a forgery (right)

Gerald Darmanin (right) said filtering out the fake tickets had caused long delays and dangerous crushes for Liverpool fans getting into the Stade de France, after sport minister Amelie Oudea-Castera (left) had blamed the club for the chaos

Gerald Darmanin (right) said filtering out the fake tickets had caused long delays and dangerous crushes for Liverpool fans getting into the Stade de France, after sport minister Amelie Oudea-Castera (left) had blamed the club for the chaos

.

.

A grinning man films himself smiling as he ducks under turnstiles at the Stade de France, amid chaos at entrances to the ground which the French government has attempted to blame on Liverpool fans

Footage shows dozens of people with no obvious team association trying to push through a turnstile and enter the Stade de France, amid chaotic scenes in which police opened fire with tear gas

Footage shows dozens of people with no obvious team association trying to push through a turnstile and enter the Stade de France, amid chaotic scenes in which police opened fire with tear gas

.

.

A man not wearing Liverpool colours runs past security on his way into the Stade de France amid chaotic scenes ahead of the Champions League final on Saturday evening

Train strikes had closed the La Plaine - Stade de France station, meaning all Liverpool fans were sent down one road to the ground - which had been almost totally sealed off by police for security checks. When that created a bottleneck, the checks were lifted and sparked anarchy at the gates as ticketless locals scaled fences and rushed barriers to get inside

Train strikes had closed the La Plaine – Stade de France station, meaning all Liverpool fans were sent down one road to the ground – which had been almost totally sealed off by police for security checks. When that created a bottleneck, the checks were lifted and sparked anarchy at the gates as ticketless locals scaled fences and rushed barriers to get inside

Liverpool fans show their tickets to photographers inside the Stade de France as supporters, players and journalists report problems getting through turnstiles

Liverpool fans show their tickets to photographers inside the Stade de France as supporters, players and journalists report problems getting through turnstiles

Liverpool fans including families and young children were 'tear gassed' by French police as chaos outside the Stade de France marred the build-up to the club's UEFA Champions League final clash

Liverpool fans including families and young children were ‘tear gassed’ by French police as chaos outside the Stade de France marred the build-up to the club’s UEFA Champions League final clash

Police hold back Liverpool fans as chiefs say large numbers of people with fake tickets caused bottlenecks - but fans say faulty turnstiles were to blame

Police hold back Liverpool fans as chiefs say large numbers of people with fake tickets caused bottlenecks – but fans say faulty turnstiles were to blame

French police watch fans stuck outside the Stade de France on Saturday evening, where tear gas would later be used as people tried to climb barriers after being unable to enter

French police watch fans stuck outside the Stade de France on Saturday evening, where tear gas would later be used as people tried to climb barriers after being unable to enter

Mr Darmanin acknowledged during his press conference that police had lifted checks around the stadium due to overcrowding, but denied that had caused the issue and said it was done to ‘save lives’.

‘I’d like to thank the forces of law and order, also those who worked in the stadium because they were very calm and they were able to avoid drama and so thank you for organizing the pre-filtering but lifting it when there was too much pressure,’ he said. 

French sports minister Amelie Oudea-Castera – a former tennis player appointed to her post just 10 days ago – concurred, saying that an investigation into how so many fake tickets were sold will now be launched.

Earlier in the day, she had accused Liverpool organisers of leaving supporters ‘in the wild’ to make their own way to the stadium despite the train strikes, and said the club’s reliance on paper tickets instead of phone apps had led to a proliferation of fakes. 

The fiasco comes a little over a year before Paris hosts the Rugby World Cup, and two years before it is due to host the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Michel Savin, French senator and head of a government study group into major sporting events, called the fiasco a ‘humiliation for our country’.

The French government’s allegations stand at odds with accounts from Liverpool players, fans, police observers, lawyers and supporters’ groups who say faulty turnstiles and heavy-handed policing created unnecessary and dangerous bottlenecks that created scenes with chilling echoes of Hillsborough. 

Liverpool defender Andy Robertson said friends who he had given tickets to were turned away when the turnstiles failed to recognise their QR codes. Members of the media, VIP guests and even senior members of Liverpool staff reported similar problems. Some described queuing for more than two hours before kickoff to get in.

Merseyside police, who sent observers to the game, described it as ‘the worst European match I’ve ever worked or experienced’ and said ‘the behavior of the fans at the turnstiles was exemplary in shocking circumstances.’

Ron Irvine, an 82-year-old supporter who was caught up in the chaos, said: ‘The only thing worse is Hillsborough. I know you shouldn’t use those words lightly but it could have been that bad.’ 

Mr Barthélemy told Le Parisien that the issue of fake tickets is an ‘opportunistic excuse’ being seized upon by orgnaisers to cover for their own failings – saying that fans ‘kept calm despite the endless wait, the lack of information and the tear gas.’

Mr Evain added that the issue of fake tickets is a ‘marginal’ problem that affects almost every major sporting event and is typically dealt with without a fuss.

Observers at the game had not seen evidence of an unusually-large number of fakes, he said, instead blaming the three-month preparation time given to French officials after the final was moved from St Petersburg at the last minute due to European sanctions on Russia over the war in Ukraine.

Jade Pearce, 47, and his son Maxwell, were stuck outside the football grounds for two hours on Saturday, before being hit with tear gas by French police

Jade Pearce, 47, and his son Maxwell, were stuck outside the football grounds for two hours on Saturday, before being hit with tear gas by French police 

A Liverpool fan gestures angrily at the camera as he tries to get inside the Stade de France on Saturday to watch his team play Real Madrid in the Champions League final

A Liverpool fan gestures angrily at the camera as he tries to get inside the Stade de France on Saturday to watch his team play Real Madrid in the Champions League final

Riot police hold back fans at the stadium entrance, as supports complained of a lack of open gates, staff and problems with ticketing that saw some wait for hours to get inside

Riot police hold back fans at the stadium entrance, as supports complained of a lack of open gates, staff and problems with ticketing that saw some wait for hours to get inside 

Liverpool fans try to cover their faces with their shirts and with masks after reports of police 'tear gassing' them outside the Stade de France

Liverpool fans try to cover their faces with their shirts and with masks after reports of police ‘tear gassing’ them outside the Stade de France

A father covers his face, and his son pulls up his coat over his eyes after Liverpool fans were 'tear gassed' by French riot police

A father covers his face, and his son pulls up his coat over his eyes after Liverpool fans were ‘tear gassed’ by French riot police

Eyewitnesses slammed the chaotic scenes and security situation outside the Stade de France

Eyewitnesses slammed the chaotic scenes and security situation outside the Stade de France

 

‘We must now ask ourselves the question of whether France had the capacity to organize it in view of the repeated organizational difficulties around the Stade de France that we had already seen at Euro 2016, at certain Cup finals of France. These are problems that are old, that are known, that are very important’, he told FranceTVInfo.

‘There is a [also] very specific problem, which is that of the number of stewards available, their training, their professional quality, professional experience… this is a question that must also be asked: Did the organizer have enough trained professional stewards around the stadium?’

Stéphane Troussel, socialist mayor of Paris-St-Denis, the department which surrounds the national stadium, also blamed organisers – saying he has ‘never seen’ such disorder around the stadium while demanding a ‘rapid, transparent investigation’ into what went on.

Isère Michel Savin, president of a French Senate body studying major sporting events, called the fiasco ‘a humiliation for our country’ just 15 months ahead of the Rugby World Cup and 22 months from the Olympic and Paralympic Games – both of which will be held in Paris.

UK Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said in the aftermath of the chaos: ‘The footage and accounts from Liverpool fans and the media on their entry to the Stade de France are deeply concerning. Thousands of ticket holders travelled to Paris in good time to support their team in the biggest match of their season.

‘I urge UEFA to launch a formal investigation into what went wrong and why, in coordination with stadium staff, the French Police, Federation Francaise de Football, Merseyside Police and Liverpool Football Club.

‘It is in the interests of everyone involved to understand what happened and to learn lessons from these events.’

Ian Byrne, Labour MP for Liverpool West Derby who was at Hillsborough and in Paris on Saturday, said the scenes in Paris at the weekend brought back ‘so many terrible memories’ of April 15, 1989.

‘It was horrific, there’s no other words to describe it, it was absolutely horrific,’ he told Sky News today. ‘As someone who was at Hillsborough in 1989, it brought so many terrible memories flooding back.

‘I’m sure that many, many people who were there experienced that same flashback. It was just awful policing and stewarding, extremely hostile atmosphere. We’ve got to remember that this is the premier football occasion in Europe and to treat football fans like animals, as they did, is unforgiveable.’

Mr Byrne said the chaos was caused by ‘awful policing, awful stewarding’ and ‘mismanagement around the grounds’.

Sports minister Nigel Huddleston tweeted that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) ‘shall be working with the appropriate authorities’ to find out what happened.

It is understood the UK ambassador to France has contacted the French Ministry of Interior directly urging an investigation.

A Foreign Office spokesperson said: ‘Our consular staff are supporting individuals who have been affected by the events in Paris, and are in touch with local authorities.’

It is understood that the DCMS will be contacting Uefa about the matter.

UEFA have been criticised for incompetence after fans were tear-gassed and pepper-sprayed

UEFA have been criticised for incompetence after fans were tear-gassed and pepper-sprayed

A member of French security staff speaks to fans crammed up against barriers outside the Stade de France, amid chaotic and dangerous scenes ahead of Saturday's Champions League final

A member of French security staff speaks to fans crammed up against barriers outside the Stade de France, amid chaotic and dangerous scenes ahead of Saturday’s Champions League final

Liverpool fans call friends and loved ones from outside the Stade de France shortly before kickoff on Saturday after trying and failing to get inside

Liverpool fans call friends and loved ones from outside the Stade de France shortly before kickoff on Saturday after trying and failing to get inside

Liverpool fans are locked outside the stadium prior to the UEFA Champions League final match against Real Madrid

Liverpool fans are locked outside the stadium prior to the UEFA Champions League final match against Real Madrid

The issues started hours before the game, as tens of thousands of Liverpool fans were funnelled underneath a bridge close to the stadium, where they waited for hours in long queues.

Footage on social media appeared to show people climbing over barriers as crowds built up, and the kick-off was delayed by more than 30 minutes.

Police carrying shields and riot gear moved into the area shortly after 8pm and began using tear gas.

Tensions outside the stadium were then driven by young Parisians, causing ticket gates to be shut.

Bottles were thrown at officers who responded with tear gas.

Supporters argued with ticket officials on the other side of the fence after being refused entry.

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme: ‘I think it is concerning, I think we do need to ensure that they are looking into how this happened.’

He added: ‘We’ve got to learn a little bit about what happened over there, get to the bottom of it.

‘But it is concerning to see that people either didn’t get into the stadium or were treated in the way that some of them seem to have been treated, with a very aggressive approach.’

French police said 68 people were arrested and 174 people were injured after chaotic scenes before, during and after the match saw riot officers deploy the noxious gas and beat Liverpool supporters with batons.

There was no breakdown of nationalities or reasons for arrest, but a source said the injuries were mainly from tear gas inhalation. A pub of roughly 500 football fans was also set upon by riot police and evacuated.

French interior minister Gerald Darmanin declared the chaos was down to ticketless fans trying to force their way into the Stade de France to watch Liverpool take on Real Madrid, and thanked French police for their efforts.

‘Thousands of British ‘fans’, without tickets or with counterfeit tickets, forced entry and sometimes assaulted the stewards. Thank you to all the police forces mobilised this evening in this difficult context,’ he tweeted.

But videos have since emerged of riot police spraying tear gas at scores of peaceful fans, including women and children, waiting calmly outside the gates.

Kickoff was pushed back by an extra 30 minutes with eyewitnesses saying Liverpool fans were being held in 'long and slow moving' hour-long queues outside the stadium as the final fast approached

Kickoff was pushed back by an extra 30 minutes with eyewitnesses saying Liverpool fans were being held in ‘long and slow moving’ hour-long queues outside the stadium as the final fast approached

Some supporters looked to jump over the fences, while others were crammed into bottlenecks

Some supporters looked to jump over the fences, while others were crammed into bottlenecks

A police officer is pictured using pepper spray against fans outside the Stade de France, Paris

A police officer is pictured using pepper spray against fans outside the Stade de France, Paris

The French interior ministry said 105 people had been detained, of whom 39 were placed under arrest and remanded in custody, meaning they could face charges.

Aurore Berge, a deputy for President Emmanuel Macron’s ruling party, said Paris had ‘barely three months’ to get ready for the final, which it was awarded after Saint Petersburg was stripped of the event due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Police fired tear gas after several dozen people attempted to climb over barriers, according to an UKTN reporter on the scene. Security staff had to round up about 20 fans who had scaled the fence and got into the ground.

UEFA blamed ‘fake tickets which did not work in the turnstiles’ for the chaos, which caused a 35-minute delay to the final, eventually won by Real Madrid.

With half an hour to go to kick-off, thousands of Liverpool supporters were still massed outside the stadium, inevitably bringing back memories for a club haunted by the 1989 Hillsborough stadium disaster where 97 people were killed in a crush.

Labour MP for Liverpool area Ian Byrne, who was present in Paris, told Sky News that the fans had been treated ‘like animals’.

‘It was horrific – there’s no other words to describe it. It was absolutely horrific and as someone who was at Hillsborough in 1989, it brought so many terrible memories flooding back,’ he said.

In another instance of football trouble in France, angry Saint-Etienne fans invaded the pitch after were they were relegated from Ligue 1 on Sunday in their play-off against Auxerre, with French police using tear gas.

.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here