We only went to watch football: an eyewitness account of the Champions League final chaos
What started as a Champions League final, a battle on the pitch for the most famous trophy in club football between two heavyweights, ended as a battle for truth. As the fans queued outside, the lies had already begun by the French authorities.
Truth is important, and Liverpool as a club understand it more than anyone. From the moment of the infamous Sun newspaper headline in April 1989, there started a 30-year campaign for justice, as the state colluded with elements of the press to perpetuate lies that have been forced on to inhabitants of the city ever since.
The detail and the causes of what happened at Hillsborough are well known by Liverpool fans, not least because it is right to remember those who were lost, keep their memory alive and protect the truth. I was born after Hillsborough but was brought up understanding it. My family lost a friend at the disaster, and we have closely supported the campaign for justice ever since. Hillsborough is the reason I became engaged in politics, and a day shadowing Andy Burnham brought me to Westminster for the first time.
Whilst the police sought trouble, the fans did what they could to help each other.
I was there on Saturday, outside the Stade de France, hemmed in at the now infamous Gate Z. After having spent two hours trapped in an underpass between armed police and their vans, I moved up onto the concourse to find myself penned into a queue outside the locked turnstile for a further hour.
As fans escaped the tear gas in turnstile Y behind me, those who had gone on to gate A, only to find it closed too, returned to gate Z causing a massive build-up of people around the closed entrance. To save people from the situation, fans climbed up onto media vehicles to pull other supporters to safety, including a blind man who was lifted over a van. I exited the queue at 9pm, which was supposed to be the original kick off time, and after dodging roaming gangs who were picking people off, I rejoined the queue at Z and entered the stadium at 9:22pm. Then I watched a game of football, I think.
As the violence of the French police and the lawlessness of the concourse raged, history weighed heavy on those there. There was a collective knowledge of what could happen in a situation where the police had not just lost control but were seemingly attempting to make the situation worse. Throughout the evening, it was Liverpool fans supporting, informing, calming, protecting each other.
I don’t doubt there were unsavoury characters – it was a crowd of 20,000 people, find me any crowd that size without issues – but the fans stopped things from getting worse. Whilst the announcement in the stadium of late arrivals enraged those there – I arrived three hours before kick-off but still entered late – it was fans who kept their fellow supporters informed and calm.
There was an anger that the lies had already started, but a determination to record and remember what was taking place. There was a collective thought process of "we can’t let them lie about what has happened again".
Subconsciously, I was remembering locations, times, people. We only went to watch the football. Whilst the police sought trouble, the fans did what they could to help each other.
It was a strange sensation, a feeling of fear and danger, but one of responsibility, sensitive of inaccurate perception. The French authorities may continue their lies, but they will not be successful.
It is on all of us to make sure they are not. We only went to watch football.
Andrew Mitchell is senior parliamentary researcher to Julie Elliott MP.
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