EPL TALK: Uefa and Co treat fans with contempt, as Stade de France disgrace shows

·Contributor
·6 min read
Police spray tear gas at Liverpool fans outside Stade de France prior to the UEFA Champions League final in Paris.
Police spray tear gas at Liverpool fans outside Stade de France prior to the UEFA Champions League final in Paris. (PHOTO: Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)

TOP Gun: Maverick is showing at cinemas and you want to go. Tom Cruise is a lifelong hero and the images of oiled men playing beach volleyball linger in the memory.

Ticket in hand, you join the queue outside the Shaw Lido theatre, but it doesn't move. For reasons that are not clear, barriers are erected around Orchard Road.

To expedite matters, uniformed men apply pepper spray and tear gas into the terrified faces of ticket-waving families. The men make sure no one is missed out. Kids never like to miss out.

Upstairs, the cinema manager announces that Top Gun: Maverick will be delayed. He blames the long queue for being a long queue.

Meanwhile, gangs of locals sneak through security in the hope of seeing Tom Cruise for free. The uniformed men react accordingly – by applying a fresh coat of pepper spray into the weepy-eyed faces of ticket-holding families.

What’s even more galling is that this debacle comes only a year after Shaw Theatres and Golden Village met secretly to discuss establishing a private club that caters to only the smallest percentage of elite cinema-goers, shutting out the vast majority of loyal cinema-goers.

Of course, none of this would ever happen. That would be silly.

Cruise’s cockpit remains accessible to all because no entertainment industry would treat its paymasters with such bewildering indifference, alienating the very people – the only people – that sustain its economic ecosystem.

Except one, obviously. Elite football continues to make its supporters feel unwelcome at their own party.

Indeed the cinema analogy doesn’t even work. To really do justice to the contemptuous relationship between football’s hierarchy and its neglected supporters, there would need to be so much more. Movie tickets costing $300, screening times being changed frequently, regulation changes, endless security impositions and an overriding sense that the least valued aspect of the cinema-going experience is the cinema-goer.

Liverpool fans react as they queue outside Stade de France prior to the UEFA Champions League final in Paris.
Liverpool fans react as they queue outside Stade de France prior to the UEFA Champions League final in Paris. (PHOTO: Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)

What Liverpool supporters went through at the Champions League final is surprising only to those who haven’t endured the screening procedures at most major finals. I covered several matches at the Stade de France during Euro 2016, experiencing both the macro aspects of these events and the uniquely micro elements of Paris.

Journalists and supporters were expected to arrive early to get through the interminable security checks and avoid the attention of prying eyes. Pickpocketing was rife. There was always the hope that mixed-zone duties might be wrapped up early, knowing that I had to run the gauntlet to the train station.

Former Liverpool player, Jim Beglin, tweeted a similar experience after the Champions League final, running to avoid mugging gangs in suddenly deserted streets. Another ex-Red, Jason McAteer, said his son was attacked and his wife mugged.

Football’s problems are society’s problems, particularly when they overlap so traumatically, and the argument can – and will – be made that Paris’ domestic crime issues are primarily a local law and order problem, rather than a Uefa issue (though I can only echo Beglin’s observation that the heavy police presence around Stade de France before Euro 2016 matches swiftly moved on afterwards.)

But Uefa should not be spared either. The organisers cannot be allowed to downplay the sneering, cynical treatment of supporters at these events, where fans are essentially guilty until proven innocent, treated to the kinds of security checks usually reserved for airports.

Is there any other industry that so often acts as if it doesn’t trust or even like its own people?

Liverpool supporters were funnelled into narrow walkways and left there. Several checkpoints still didn’t satisfy those instructed, presumably by Uefa, to look for counterfeit tickets.

One fan was turned away, despite holding a legitimate ticket, passed to him by his friend, Liverpool left-back Andy Robertson. The ticket was sourced through the club directly.

Strangely, Real Madrid supporters made their way into the stadium largely untroubled, an ironic turn of events considering they were about to win a tournament that their owners had recently sought to destroy.

But Liverpool fans were pepper sprayed. Young men held up tickets at the turnstile and were rewarded right between the eyes. The one-sided provocation played out on social media, live, as Uefa’s ringmasters realised the narrative was beyond their control.

They tried. Big screen messages spoke of “the late arrival of fans” and “ticketless fans”, but they were lies, an archaic attempt to set the agenda with rudimentary methods in the age of Twitter, still believing in the existence of a gullible majority.

Some obliged. A handful of bottom feeders went for the obvious bait. Typical Liverpool. Always the victim. Never at fault. Presumably, there were ticketless Reds trying to sneak in. Such folks can be found at every major final and fixture involving every club. (And, look, blinkered tribalism makes the EPL’s world go round, but trying to score points against a rival by giving the moral high ground to those pepper-spraying children might be a new low.)

For everyone else, the evidence was irrefutable, caught on a thousand cameras. The game’s powerbrokers were demonising their own people. Again. Fans were treated not as valid ticket holders, but criminal suspects. Again. Before a beautiful game, supporters were viewed as its ugliest component. Again.

The game’s powerbrokers were demonising their own people. Again. Fans were treated not as valid ticket holders, but criminal suspects. Again. Before a beautiful game, supporters were viewed as its ugliest component. Again.

They were simply cast aside. Ignored. There were echoes of the European Super League and the idea that gullible zealots will put up with every inconvenience, accept anything, in the name of the team on the jersey. Like masochists for a lost cause, they'll keep coming back, whatever the discomfort or personal misgivings.

Or maybe not. A number of Liverpool supporters, speaking after their mistreatment, said they would never go back to another final. After the Paris disgrace, who could blame them?

On one side, there were panic-stricken Reds; on the other, belligerent, confrontational officers. Fences divided them. The symbolism was unavoidable. Unforgivable.

There must be serious consequences for Uefa after this.

And then, hopefully, they’ll learn to stop punishing the wrong people.

Neil Humphreys is an award-winning football writer and a best-selling author, who has covered the English Premier League since 2000 and has written 26 books.

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