Lord Howard: My Champions League ordeal
The Champions League Final is the summit of European club football. It should be a splendid joyous occasion – and, in the past, that is usually, if not always what it has been.
I have been privileged to attend the Finals of 2018 and 2019 to follow Liverpool, the team I have supported since boyhood, and they were both wonderful occasions.
In 2018 we were able to enjoy the beauties of Kyiv, which appeared the epitome of a modern European city. Little did we know what terror lay in store for it. In 2019 it was Madrid – an all-English final in which Liverpool and Tottenham fans mingled in relative harmony.
So when my wife and I set off for this year’s final it was with a sense of happy expectation, which not even the vicissitudes of a less than perfectly organised Eurostar departure from St. Pancras did little to dent.
As the queue behind us grew there began to be an unnerving crush; Sandra was separated from me
Safely booked into our modest hotel (at vastly inflated Champions League prices), we set off for the Stade de France.
Unlike many other fans we had no real difficulty in getting there. The Metro seemed to be running smoothly and as we left the Metro we fell in with two Colombian Parisians who were great fans of Luis Diaz, Liverpool’s Colombian left winger, who helpfully guided us towards the stadium.
The first thing that aroused my suspicions that the organisation might not be all that it should be came when we were asked to show our tickets before entering the Concourse surrounding the stadium. The check was very perfunctory and I was surprised.
Still, we got on to the concourse and made our way to Gate C, which was where, according to our tickets, we should enter.
As we approached the gate, I was surprised by the length of the queues at some of the other gates, but with still some time to go before kick-off I wasn’t unduly alarmed.
The queue at Gate C was smaller than most of the others but the gate was firmly shut and no-one was being allowed in. Inevitably as the queue behind us grew there began to be an unnerving crush; Sandra was separated from me... I could see her but couldn’t reach her and some of the Liverpool fans, sensing my anxiety, said, “Don’t worry. We’ll look after her.”
Eventually the gate was opened, and we made our way into the stadium. We were obviously lucky and totally unaware that many fans had failed to get in at all.
We made it in just before the planned kick off time, only to be told that the start was being delayed as a result of the late arrival of fans. This was a complete lie, the first of many attempts by Uefa to deflect the blame for their own shortcomings onto the fans.
Eventually the match started, but our troubles were not over. As we left the stadium we had to run the gauntlet of the screaming Madrid fans from the fanzone and the intimidating riot police.
At the entrance to the Metro, I was pickpocketed, but all they got was my pocket diary and Freedom Pass – not much use to a Parisian thief!
We were lucky. We weren’t tear gassed and did get to see the match. And I can only describe what I myself saw. I didn’t see a single Liverpool fan misbehave. I saw gross incompetence on the part of Uefa and the French authorities. And I can say without hesitation that a much worse situation was avoided by the calm behaviour of the Liverpool fans.
It is very much in the interest of France that a full investigation takes place. They are soon to hold the Rugby World Cup followed by the Olympics. If they don’t get their house, in order global humiliation awaits them.
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