As we mentioned before, our colleague Patricia Canning contributed to a very important report on the treatment of fans at the Champions League Final in Paris in 2022 which formed the basis of a BBC Panorama programme on this.
Here is a summary by Patricia of the report and its findings.
Champions League 2022 report: ‘Treated with Contempt’
Thirty-three years ago, at an FA Cup Semi-Final match, 97 football fans were killed in a crush that could have – and should have – been prevented. Instead of working to ensure crowd safety, police primed themselves for crowd control. They didn’t see families and friends on a day out to watch their beloved team, they saw football hooligans. As fans were trapped in over-filled ‘pens’, help was denied to them. As casualties mounted, queued ambulances were kept outside the ground having been falsely told by police that fans were on the pitch ‘fighting’. Within hours, the narrative of brawling, drunken Liverpool fans, late to the game and many without tickets, had been set in motion in the British press. The story had been passed to them by the South Yorkshire Police. That story endured. It endures in claims of ‘hooliganism’ against Liverpool fans. It endures by exacerbating the pain of loss felt by every bereaved family member. It endures by amplifying the survivor guilt of those that escaped the crush. It endures in football taunts levied at Liverpool by rival teams who refuse to acknowledge the truth because it suits them not to. It took an independent panel to uncover the truth in 2012. It took four more years for that truth – the truth that every Liverpool fan already knew – to be formally documented in the history books when a jury found the fans did not contribute in any way to the deaths of the 97. It took until 2016 for the world to learn. Hillsborough should have been the last lesson.
In May 2022, Liverpool fans travelled to Paris to watch the Champions League Final against Real Madrid and once again encountered a police service primed for hooliganism. This, in spite of French police receiving information advising against heavy-handedness as an approach to crowd management. As fans travelled to the stadium the lack of signs meant that they were left to find their own routes, relying on each other in the absence of the authorities. With over two hours to go and wanting to soak up the atmosphere in the ground, fans arrived at the stadium early. However, their passage to the ground was blocked by police who created bottlenecks, herding fans into an underpass where they were left at the mercy of local thugs who stole from them as they queued in what was fast becoming a dangerous crush. Outside the ground, those who made it through the bottleneck were waiting to enter through locked or closed gates. Officials prevented genuine fans from entering to stem the flow of local thugs pushing in without tickets. Fans were kept outside, in sweltering heat, without water or access to toilets, given no information for over two hours in a swelling crowd. A crush was inevitable. It was also preventable. The police response to fans’ pleas to open gates to alleviate the crush was to tear-gas women, men, and children.
Inside the ground, a neon-lit lie was streamed to the crowd: ‘Due to the late arrival of fans, the match has been delayed’. Within hours the French government claimed between 30,000–40,000 fans arrived at the ground in Paris without tickets or with ‘fake tickets’. Thirty-three years before, the Match Commander at Hillsborough, David Duckenfield, peddled a similar lie at Hillsborough, that late fans without tickets had forced their way into the ground via an entry gate (Gate C) that he gave the order to open. Fans weren’t late then, and they weren’t late at the Paris match, either. But facts don’t appear to get in the way of powerful institutions with an agenda to protect their own reputations.
Photo: Tom Jenkins (The Guardian)
At the Stade de France in Paris, Liverpool fans saw the danger of the inevitable crush. They lived through the traumatic legacy of Hillsborough and acted instinctively in Paris to safeguard others. Just as they did at Hillsborough, Liverpool fans helped those who were struggling as police looked on, motionless, impassive, apathetic. Hundreds of fans’ accounts tell how it was other Liverpool fans who saved their lives at the Stade de France – it was they who prevented what many have called ‘another Hillsborough’.
Our report never should have been needed. The authorities, police, UEFA, should have learned from Hillsborough. The truth of Paris is there to see in a way that the truth of Hillsborough wasn’t – it’s on every mobile phone, every panic-stricken face, every GPS phone reading, every anxious message sent from the ground, and that should have been enough. But that didn’t stop an attempt at an institutional cover-up, echoing that of the South Yorkshire Police three decades earlier. The lies, the misconceptions, the refusals to acknowledge the reality and the institutional wrongdoings of thirty-three years ago, show that that poisoned narrative in which Liverpool fans are to blame is still there in the minds of those who refuse to see the truth. It’s there, festering, in rival fans who cast Hillsborough slurs at Liverpool fans at football matches and in spiteful comments made by those who tweet or post from behind their social media accounts. It’s there in the attitudes of those who roll their eyes because a near-tragedy involved Liverpool fans, ‘not them again’, they say. It’s there; but the lesson is routinely refused or blindly denied.
Our report contains 53 key findings that, concerningly, echo some of those in the Hillsborough Independent Panel Report (2012). They include failures in crowd management, poor communication, inadequate preparation and policing. Most importantly, they include the voices of those who suffered as a result and whose harrowing accounts should be a lesson for all.
The report’s authors are Phil Scraton, Deena Haydon, Lucy Easthope, Patricia Canning, and Peter Marshall. You can read the report here: https://law.qub.ac.uk/schools/SchoolofLaw/filestore/Filetoupload,1530449,en.pdf