I Was Close To Death,’ Says Former Liverpool Star As Paris Police Response Is In The Spotlight
For Liverpool and Real Madrid fans, last Saturday's Champions League final was supposed to be the magical conclusion to a long, arduous season.
Tens of thousands of fans filtered through Paris towards the Stade de France ready to watch Liverpool and Real Madrid go head-to-head for European club football's premier prize.
But for former Liverpool player Alan Kennedy, the match was marred by a terrifying experience, leaving him fearing there would be "loss of life."
The hugely anticipated showdown was peppered with an array of chaotic moments: France's Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin on Wednesday apologized for the "disproportionate use" of tear gas by the French police during the final and said an investigation has been opened into police actions.
The match itself was delayed by more than 35 minutes after Liverpool fans struggled to enter the Stade de France and tear gas was used by French police towards supporters held in tightly packed areas.
Now, in the week following the game, a disorganized picture has emerged: photos showing fans crammed into fenced areas after a bottleneck formed around a particularly tight entry point at the Liverpool end, while many fans with tickets say they were held back from entering the stadium in dangerously crowded areas and that communication from security was poor.Kennedy was at the match with his son and experienced the chaos first hand, telling CNN Sport's Don Riddell he got caught in the crush at the ticket turnstiles.
"I have to say, it was absolute chaos. And if it wasn't for my son and if it wasn't for the people helping me get over the fence -- and it was a metal fence which was difficult to get over -- if they weren't there, then I would have been in serious trouble," said Kennedy, who scored the winning goal in Paris against Real Madrid in the 1981 European Cup final.
"The pressure was coming from all sides. It seemed to be that, you know, people were coming from the right. They were coming from the left. They were even coming from straight on," he said. "Whichever way we turned ... we were going the wrong way.
"I remember being at a point where I just said to myself: this is so dangerous. There's going to be a loss of life. I felt as though I was physically struggling against a lot of people."
Eventually, two men on a metal fence got hold of him and were able to lift him to the other side, Kennedy said.
"I was really, really afraid," he said, adding that he was aware of "the tragedies that have been over the years. And I would never wish that on anybody because you don't know which is the best way to turn. You didn't know which was the best way to go."
Of those tragedies, the most well known in English football is the 1989 Hillsborough Disaster. During an FA Cup semifinal between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest, 97 fans were killed in a crush due to overcrowding in the stands and another 162 were hospitalized with injuries.
Real Madrid fans experienced similar issues to those Kennedy describes around the stadium last weekend, with visitors speaking of poor instruction by UEFA and stadium officials, inadequate crowd control and violent incidents.
"As can clearly be seen in the revealing images which the press has published, many fans were assaulted, harassed, mugged and violently robbed. Events which also took place when people drove in their cars or buses worried for their physical well-being. Some of them also had to spend the night in the hospital for the injuries they received," Real Madrid said in a statement issued Friday.
"We want to know which were the reasons behind choosing the stadium as the host of the final and what were the criteria in consideration given what happened that day," the club added.
"In light of this, we ask for answers and explanations which determine who was responsible for leaving the fans unassisted and helpless," the club said, adding that fans' "general behavior was in every moment exemplary."
Details are emerging about what fans endured.
"All the other entrance[s] to the concourse around the Stadium that we could see from there were [unexpectedly] closed, and many locals were jumping the fences," Real fan Amando Sánchez wrote on Twitter, noting that "officials were scared and not given the adequate tools to handle the situation [sic]."
"No info was given [to] fans. UEFA should not be allowed to run an event like this any longer," he said.
Meanwhile, witnesses told Spanish newspaper El Mundo that Real Madrid supporters were targeted by thieves and had their vehicles broken into at the match.Pressure mounts for investigation
A blame game has been going on, with different accounts of last weekend's mayhem coming from UK and French authorities.
On Monday, Darmanin said counterfeit tickets were to blame for the delay, claiming there was "a massive, industrial and organized fraud of fake tickets" and that "30,000 to 40,000 English fans ... found themselves at the Stade de France either without a ticket or with falsified tickets." UEFA, the governing body of European football, also said the buildup of fans at turnstiles was caused by fake tickets.
Those figures have been disputed, while UK lawmaker Ian Byrne said attributing crowds and delays to fake tickets was "utter nonsense" and an attempt from French authorities and UEFA to cover their backs.
CNN has reached out to UEFA for comment.
"When you see the way the French police reacted, they were overwhelmed and the event wasn't prepared," French editorialist Alexis Poulin of Le Monde Moderne told CNN Sport.
The incident has brought the issue of heavy-handed policing back to the fore of the French conscience. Paris Police Commissioner Didier Lallement has been at the heart of several controversies, particularly during the Gilets Jaunes protests of 2018 and 2019, where 2,400 protesters and 1,800 policemen were reported injured and dozens of yellow vest protesters were reported to have lost an eye in violent clashes with police.
Paris' police have also been accused of alleged brutality in a series of deaths in police custody that mirrored the murder of George Floyd.
"They came to take everything away from us, to rob us, but it was the Gendarmerie who launched pepper spray and rubber balls at us. We went down into the Metro and it had turned into a rat's nest. If you tried to get out to look for a taxi, they asked you for 300 euros to take you out of there," Enrique Cazorla, a Real Madrid socio (member) and attendee of five previous Champions League finals, told El Mundo.
"We were lucky on exiting the stadium, but many other Madrid fans were robbed or attacked by gangs of what seemed to be locals, while exiting the stadium or on the subway, with a total absence of presence and action from French police," Sánchez continued on Twitter.
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