Amiens (France) (AFP) – The owner of French top-flight club Lille hit back at his rival at Amiens SC on Sunday, suggesting safety lapses were to blame for the collapse of a stadium barrier which left 29 fans injured during a game between the teams.
The chairman of Amiens, Bernard Joannin, initially blamed hundreds of “hardcore fans” among Lille supporters for the shocking scenes during Saturday’s Ligue 1 encounter in Amiens in northeast France.
“They surged forward, chaotically, more than 500 people, against this barrier, which was in perfect condition,” Joannin said after the accident which led the game to be abandoned.
Most of the victims were discharged from hospital on Sunday morning except six people who sustained serious injuries when the pitch-side barrier gave way, sending dozens of people tumbling on top of each other.
The Lille supporters — no more than a few hundred — pressed against the barrier early in the first-half as fans moved forward to celebrate their team’s opening goal against newly promoted Amiens.
Gerard Lopez, the chairman and owner of Lille, told AFP he was “shocked” by Joannin appearing to blame hooligans for the accident.
“What’s serious is that supporters are celebrating a goal and at the end there are injured people. It’s very serious to talk about aggressiveness,” he said in a an interview on Sunday.
He also raised worries allegedly mentioned by supporters from Strasbourg, Marseille and Nice who had claimed the stadium was “not very solid”.
“I’ve seen photos of the stadium, the supports for the barriers,” he added.
Joannin said Sunday he regretted his initial reaction.
– Stop the arguments –
Referee Thomas Leonard suspended the match in the 16th minute as Red Cross and emergency workers rushed to help the injured, while prosecutors have since opened an investigation.
“It happened all of a sudden. I don’t even know who scored. It just suddenly fell on me. I couldn’t hear anything, I couldn’t see anything and then the emergency workers took me away,” said Georges Penel, a 21-year-old Lille fan who suffered injuries to his leg and back.
Built in 1999, the Stade de la Licorne (“Stadium of the Unicorn”) is the smallest of the 20 French Ligue 1 clubs, with a capacity of only 12,000.
Renovation work is taking place throughout the 2017-18 season, but chairman Joannin ruled out any link between improvements to the stadium and Saturday’s accident.
“We shouldn’t mix up work being done on the roof and the rest of the stadium, which has been checked and approved by all of the security commissions,” he told a press conference on Sunday morning.
In May, local politician Alain Gest had suggested that upkeep of the stadium had been neglected by previous local administrations but was now “perfectly in line with regulations” and “up to standards for playing in Ligue 1”.
The mayor of Lille, leading Socialist party figure Martine Aubry called for calm on Twitter, saying: “Let’s stop the arguments. Think about the victims first and let’s wait for the enquiry results.”
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