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French Senate: Liverpool fan reps challenge “lies and mistruths”

Liverpool supporters have given evidence to the French Senate Law and Culture Committee in Paris, which is conducting an inquiry into the Champions League final chaos.

Spirit of Shankly (SoS) chair Joe Blott and Liverpool Disabled Supporters Association (LDSA) chair Ted Morris appeared before the Senate on Tuesday and described scenes which left people “fearing for their lives”.

They featured alongside Real Madrid socio Emilio Dumas, who appeared as a remote participant, as well as Pierre Barthélemy and Ronan Evain, both from Football Supporters Europe (FSE). 

Since the Champions League final on 28th May French officials have been giving their version of events at the Stade de France but, thanks to pressure from FSE, matchgoing supporters had their chance earlier this week.

Both Joe and Ted told the Allez Les Rouges podcast their appearance in front of the committee was a success and they left with a “changed narrative” in place. One of the senators said he wanted under fire minister of the interior Gérald Darmanin back in front of the committee under oath. Ted says it is a committee “with teeth”.

Joe told the committee: “Liverpool fans had travelled across Europe this season—to Spain, Portugal and Italy—with zero arrests, zero known risk supporters, zero preventive arrests and zero ejections from stadia. Why was the good behaviour record of Liverpool fans ignored? 

“The police were stuck in the 1980s and believed lies about the Hillsborough disaster. The hooligans that French police spent months preparing for from Liverpool simply do not exist. They did not alter their tactics when no hooligans arrived, and instead treated families, children, and people with disabilities like criminals.

“Fans were indiscriminately tear gassed and beaten. Many feared for their lives in dangerous crushes, and some left the vicinity for their own safety.”

Joe says that the authorities got the management of the game so wrong that, rather than admit their mistakes and look at how this could be prevented from ever happening again, they “pointed the finger of blame at fans with lies, mistruths and false and unsubstantiated allegations.”

Darmanin had blamed the chaos on 30-40,000 “ticketless British supporters” – a false slur which had awful echoes of Hillsborough.

That allegation was swiftly shot down by Joe: “If there were 40,000 ticketless fans, plus the 20,000 official Liverpool ticket holders, plus at least 15,000 Liverpool fans who purchased UEFA allocated tickets, he’s suggesting nearly 75,000 Liverpool fans were there on top of the Real Madrid allocations, so over 100,000? Quite simply absurd, untrue and scurrilous.”

SoS also published an exhaustive list of questions that have yet to be answered, including asking why there was insufficient station to stadium signage, no plan to react to rail strike action and contradictory information from the authorities. There wasn’t just a total lack of communication with supporters – the French Football Federation’s request to split fans into two separate pre-filter queues was even ignored. 

Fearing for their lives

LDSA chair Ted Morris shared the testimonies of many disabled fans who had horrendous experiences in Paris.

They included a 14-year old boy with a rare congenital disorder who was tear gassed alongside his dad, a blind fan who experienced similar and a female wheelchair user whose shoulder was dislocated in the mayhem – her pleas for medical assistance ignored by the authorities. There are many, many more of these stories.

Ted uses a wheelchair himself and, upon reaching the outer perimeter he says he found a “chaotic scene with young, inexperienced stewards attempting to check tickets.”

Ted says: “Many Liverpool fans were patiently queueing up to have their tickets checked. However, local men just barged past the stewards and ran up to the stadium, and this was extremely concerning to us. 

“My wife and I made our way to the stadium, where we met Lee Lomax. Lee is a police spotter with Merseyside police, and he has accompanied us many times on our European travels. He was worried about how events were unfolding.”

Ted and his wife managed to get into the stadium and took their positions on the wheelchair platform, although there were still basic failings such as the disabled toilet lights not working. Ted was told to use his mobile phone torch – simply not good enough. But things were about to get even worse.

“I started receiving messages that our disabled supporters were being teargassed and crushed outside the turnstiles. They started contacting me saying that they were terrified and panicking, it was very distressing receiving these messages with me being unable to assist them. They said the situation outside the stadium was becoming critical, and they feared for their lives.

“I believed that many of our disabled supporters were now in danger of being crushed. This included disabled children, blind supporters, and wheelchair users. At this point, they said tear gas had been deployed, and they were all suffering from its effects. They told me that Liverpool supporters, although under extreme provocation, were assisting them as best they could and removing them to a place of safety. 

“In my opinion it was only due to the restraint and actions shown by LFC supporters that a major disaster and probably a fatality was averted. Nobody in authority helped our disabled supporters [who] arrived in Paris to see a festival of football; but at this precise moment, they were in the middle of a carnival of horrors, and it will leave them with long-term mental scars.”

What does the FSA think?

Liverpool supporters’ groups, FSE and the FSA want to see a full, independent and transparent investigation into what happened – taking into account the role of the French authorities and UEFA. Supporters have had horrendous experiences, seen reputations smeared and could have quite easily lost their lives. People must be held to account for the shocking scenes.

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