Liverpool-Real Madrid: Lancashire Post journalist's first-hand account of being tear gassed in Paris ahead of Champions League final

Lancashire Post journalist Mike Hill was caught up in the scenes of chaos ahead of Liverpool’s Champions League final defeat against Real Madrid.

By Mike Hill
Sunday, 29th May 2022, 10:56 am
Updated Sunday, 29th May 2022, 11:07 am

Here he describes first-hand the dangerous sequence of events leading up to the match which have been widely condemned.

There will be a grim familiarity with last night’s events among anyone who has watched their football team play in Europe.

But last night’s overzealous policing, poor stewarding and a scandalous lack of planning set a new low for UEFA’s management of club football’s showpiece game in the post-Heysel era.

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Liverpool queueing outside the stadium in Paris last night

On the route into the stadium thousands of fans were funnelled through a narrow channel with people packed between a barrier and a wall.

Among them were the corporate guests of Fed Ex, MasterCard and the other sponsors who were given an unwelcome insight into what the ordinary supporter has to endure to watch their team.

Spilling out into the concourse area around the impressive looking Stade de France, it was immediately clear turnstiles right around the Liverpool end were closed with fences shut across them.

With no information the behaviour of the crowds was - as Merseyside Police later said - “exemplary” as thousands and thousands of men, women and children waited patiently for entry to what promised to be the highlight of the season.

Lancashire Post journalist Mike Hill once he got inside the stadium

All had paid between £50 and £500 for tickets with the basic expectation they would be admitted to a stadium which has hosted World Cup, European Championship and Champions League finals before.

The gates were still closed at the time UEFA was announcing late fans were responsible for causing a delay in the kick off.

That decision to delay the kick off might be the sole stewarding decision they got right all night.

The stewards themselves seemed ill-equipped to deal with the situation and as devoid of information as the fans pleading for help on the other side of the fences.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp salutes the travelling fans after the final whistle

When the gate in front of us eventually opened at 8.40pm - two hours and 40 minutes after advertised on the tickets - people surged to get through.

Undoubtedly there were ticketless fans among the crowds trying to get in.

After a weekend rife with reports of pickpocketing and worse by French youths it was clear there were many who found themselves in our section of the ground without a seat.

The police response to the surge was to indiscriminately fire rounds of tear gas into the crowd and wade in with shields and batons as they tried to push the disintegrating queue back.

Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson challenges man of the match Thibaut Courtois

Among the melee I found three distressed little girls who had been separated from their parents and helped them through the mayhem at the gate.

Without taking charge of their welfare I’m sure I would have been assaulted by the police in front of me.

As it was, one officer recognised our plight and nodded to allow us through after a cursory glance at my ticket.

By then strangers were stopping and asking if I was OK as tears streamed down my face amid the choking clouds of tear gas - a four Euro bottle of water going some way to helping clear my vision.

Depressingly, it looks like UEFA and the French authorities have already started the familiar language of the cover up.

We’ve seen this before and we can spot it a mile off.

Anyone tempted to believe them just think it could be your football team, your children and parents being tear gassed and worse next time.

We should be grateful - if that’s the right word - that so many working journalists, football officials and members of UEFA’s army of corporate partners were both witnesses and victims of the mayhem.

In the end the result on the pitch doesn’t matter. What matters now is a thorough, fair and impartial investigation takes place and findings are implemented to make sure we never see this again.

What has been said by Liverpool, UEFA and the police?

Liverpool are understood to be furious at UEFA’s “totally inaccurate” initial blaming of the delayed start on the late arrival of fans and have requested an official investigation.

“We are hugely disappointed at the stadium entry issues and breakdown of the security perimeter that Liverpool fans faced this evening at the Stade de France,” a statement read.

“This is the greatest match in European football and supporters should not have to experience the scenes we have witnessed tonight.

“We have officially requested a formal investigation into the causes of these unacceptable issues.”

European football’s governing body later said in a statement the fault lay with “thousands of fans who had purchased fake tickets which did not work at the turnstiles”.

Paris’ Prefecture de Police subsequently issued their own statement claiming people either without tickets or counterfeits were “exerting strong pressure to enter the enclosure” which resulted in the delayed access.

A Merseyside Police spokesperson however said on Twitter: “MERPOL was deployed to this evening’s match.

“Can only describe it as the worst European match I’ve ever worked or experienced.

“I thought the behaviour of the fans at the turnstiles was exemplary in shocking circumstances. You were not late 100%.”

Supporters’ group Spirit of Shankly described the scenes as “totally shambolic and extremely dangerous”.

And the problems did not end there for fans as after the 1-0 defeat many were reportedly assaulted and robbed by local youths on the 10-minute walk back to train stations.