London (AFP) – London’s Metropolitan Police on Wednesday defended their handling of Sunday’s hooliganism-tainted Euro 2020 final at Wembley Stadium and said the showpiece event might have been abandoned without their intervention.
Senior officer Jane Connors said the Met had planned extensively for the match and deployed specially-trained public-order officers who subdued the ticketless supporters trying to enter the stadium.
“I do not accept the policing operation failed and I stand by the difficult decisions made by police officers and the Met’s public order commanders,” said the deputy assistant commissioner.
“Without their immediate intervention, it is possible this game could have been abandoned.”
The Met and under-pressure commissioner Cressida Dick have been criticised for their handling of Sunday’s match.
England fans allegedly bribed stewards and forged tickets to enter the stadium, causing chaos that defender Harry Maguire said had left his father injured.
The Guardian newspaper quoted an anonymous supporter as saying ticketless fans used the messaging app Telegram to share advice on breaching security before and during the disturbances, adding to anecdotal evidence of a planned breach.
Maguire said his father suffered two suspected broken ribs and struggled to breathe after being caught up in the incident.
Alan Maguire, 56, and the Manchester United player’s agent Kenneth Shepherd were trampled by ticketless fans desperate to watch the game between England and Italy.
“It was not a nice experience — it shook him up. It was scary. I don’t want anyone to experience that at a football match,” Maguire told British tabloid The Sun.
– Bribery and forgery –
A 24-year-old man — identified by a pseudonym “Pablo” — told The Guardian that Telegram groups contained hundreds of people seeking tickets and assistance in breaching security, estimating 5,000 people illicitly entered Wembley.
He said fans bribed stewards, some reportedly for just £20 ($28, 23 euros), and others forged tickets in their name by altering photographs of genuine tickets to gain entry.
Around 300 supporters poured through disabled entrances when they were opened, the source said, adding to multiple reports that some fans tailgated those with genuine tickets to pass through the turnstiles.
Alan Maguire, who was injured in the ensuing violent disorder, did not ask for medical treatment as England supporters overwhelmed security staff to enter the stadium and occupy the seats of paying spectators.
“My dad’s a big fan — he got on with it. He was struggling with his breathing because of his ribs, but he’s not one to make a big fuss,” Harry Maguire was quoted as saying.
“He was fortunate as every game he has been to he has had my nephew or one of my kids on his shoulders,” the 28-year-old player added.
– ‘Totally wrong’ –
European football’s governing body UEFA on Tuesday charged England’s Football Association over the unsavoury scenes and will appoint an “ethics and disciplinary inspector” to investigate the pre-match incidents.
The infractions included fans booing Italy’s national anthem, the lighting of a firework, a mid-game pitch invasion and supporters throwing objects.
Police made 86 arrests and 19 officers were injured.
Police promised to investigate reports of racist abuse of the three black England players who missed penalties, which in turn sparked an outpouring of support for them from fans.
A petition to permanently ban racists from football matches, created in response to the abuse, has garnered more than one million signatures in just two days.
Maguire condemned the behaviour of unruly fans at the match, which has prompted speculation it could harm a joint UK-Ireland bid to host the 2030 World Cup finals.
He said the fans’ actions were “totally wrong” and said his father would still go to games but would now be more aware.
“Things could have been a lot worse but we have to make sure it does not happen again,” he added.
Italy won the match 3-2 on penalties following a 1-1 draw after extra time to claim their first European Championship title since 1968.
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