Paris (AFP) – Liverpool chairman Tom Werner has demanded an apology over the treatment of the club’s fans after the French government blamed “massive” ticket fraud for the chaotic scenes that marred Saturday’s Champions League final against Real Madrid in Paris.
The demand came as UEFA and the French football federation estimated that 2,800 fake tickets were scanned at the final, according to a source.
The two bodies gave that estimation at a crisis meeting on Monday at the French sports ministry, the source said.
The French government has faced a barrage of criticism over policing of the match, which saw thousands of Liverpool fans with tickets struggle to enter the Stade de France.
Kick-off to the match, which Real Madrid won 1-0, was delayed by 36 minutes to allow supporters extra time to access the stadium after being funnelled into overcrowded corridors and hit with tear gas and pepper spray from police.
Werner, part of the US-based Fenway Sports Group that owns Liverpool, said in a leaked letter sent to French Sports Minister Amelie Oudea-Castera on Monday that he was left in “utter disbelief” at her comments about the chaos.
Oudea-Castera initially blamed Liverpool for helping to cause the mayhem, telling a French radio station that the club failed to properly organise its supporters who went to Paris.
After the crisis meeting at the sports ministry on Monday, French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin defiantly insisted that ticket scams and the behaviour of Liverpool fans was to blame.
“I am writing to you today out of utter disbelief that a minister of the French government… could make a series of unproven pronouncements on a matter of such significance before a proper, formal, independent investigation process has even taken place,” Werner wrote in his letter, leaked to the local Liverpool Echo newspaper.
“Your comments were irresponsible, unprofessional, and wholly disrespectful to the thousands of fans harmed physically and emotionally,” the Boston-based chairman added.
“On behalf of all the fans who experienced this nightmare I demand an apology from you, and assurance that the French Authorities and UEFA allow an independent and transparent investigation to proceed.”
Oudea-Castera later said she had not yet received any correspondance from Liverpool, but offered up a partial apology.
“We had Liverpool fans who were all above board, whose evening was ruined with some even unable to watch the match,” she said.
“There, we clearly owe them an apology.”
– ‘Incredibly dangerous’ –
European football’s governing body has announced that Portuguese politician Tiago Brandao Rodrigues will head up an independent probe.
French authorities are also opening an investigation, Oudea-Castera saying that the aim was to “establish the accuracy of the facts, the volumes, traffic or no traffic, the origin of this traffic, and what happened exactly”.
The chaos inevitably brought back painful memories for Liverpool, a club haunted by the 1989 Hillsborough disaster which cost the lives of 97 people in a stadium crush.
Then, as at the weekend, police initially blamed ticketless fans but they were exonerated after a lengthy legal fight.
In his letter, Werner called the events in Paris “incredibly dangerous for all who attended” and urged against “a blame game strategy via press conference”.
“I have received countless emails from Liverpool supporters who were frightened to death, and subject to police harassment, pepper spray and tear gas,” he added.
– Numbers contested –
Darmanin said that there had been 30,000 to 40,000 Liverpool fans with counterfeit tickets or without tickets outside the Stade de France.
According to authorities, that contributed signficantly to the swelling of the crowd outside the gates to France’s national stadium, leading to huge, slow-moving queues and a massive bottleneck.
But the numbers put forward have been contested, including in France, where the head of a large supporters group, present at the stadium on Saturday, called them a “lie”.
“There were some supporters with fake tickets, but not thousands,” he told AFP.
“30-40,000 fake tickets, that seems very, very big,” said French politician Regis Juanico, a specialist in sports issues. “I’m waiting for the hearing of the two ministers Wednesday at the Senate to know more about it.”
French security services warned authorities of the risk of fans without tickets or with fake ones two days before the game, according to a document seen by AFP Tuesday.
A note from the National Division of the Fight against Hooliganism (DNLH) on May 25 — written with the input of intelligence services and seen by AFP — warned of “around 50,000 English fans in the French capital who will not have tickets”.
The scenes tarnished the image of the French capital, raising questions about its ability to host major sporting events as it gears up for the 2024 Olympics, as well as the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
All eyes will turn to the next match at the Stade de France on Friday, when France kick off the defence of their Nations League title at home to Denmark.
Paris transport unions called Tuesday for a new strike to coincide with that match, hailing the “success” of their action at the weekend that contributed to the disorder at the Champions League final.
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