Like 19,000 other Liverpool fans, I was fortunate enough to attend the Champions League final in Paris and watched as one of the best days of my life turned to the worst event I have witnessed at a football stadium.
The night before, the fan park and build-up were all perfect (barring a last-minute cancelled Airbnb) and we were all in high spirits as six of us headed off to Stade de France – Saint-Denis from Nationale station at around 4:30pm local time, four-and-a-half-hours before the scheduled kick-off.
Little did I know at that point that I wouldn’t be gaining access to the Stade de France until 9:30pm and the horror that was about to unfold for all of us.
After a walk to the station, a few stops and changes – we arrived at the train station and saw that it was just a 15-minute walk to the stadium. Given that we were also informed that we couldn’t access the venue until 6pm and that we still had an hour before opening time, we stopped for some food and a bottle of water and started the short walk at about quarter-past six.
Wanting to ensure we arrived early, could get past any of the ticket checks we expected and wanting to see all the build-up from inside the ground – we thought that was more than enough time and headed to the ground.
We were stopped on one street as the police held us back, no ticket check and around a 15-minute wait, which seemed to only build up the steady flow of supporters. Next we were stopped before entering an underground walkway, around five minutes this time and then another walk up to an area below an overpass which was probably around 50 people wide and as we walked up to the end of the bottle-necked tunnel, the area filled very quickly and was as far as the eye could see forward and back.
Frustration quickly grew and you would walk around five steps, before facing a 10-minute wait and this went on for over an hour. Liverpool songs and cup final optimism turned to booing and jeering, whispers of “This is like being back in the 80s”, “Why are we being treated like animals?”, “We’re going to miss the lads walking out” and many more complaints and concerns were being spread.
The occasional supporter was walking back through the heavily congested crowd saying that there was a police check for tickets at the end of the huge queue but even after an hour of waiting we couldn’t see an end to line.
Suddenly, the blockage turned to a constant flow of people and it became clear that whatever ticket check was in place had been abandoned and we were now all free to walk up the ramp and towards the stadium. This was around the time that the team was announced for the game, we finally got up the ramp and a couple of our group ran for the toilet after being stuck queuing for around two hours – for a 15-minute walk.
As we met up again, passed on the team and discussed a meeting place for after, we split up into three groups for the corresponding entry gates we were sat in and I headed off for Block Z with two others.
We soon started to worry as our queue seemed to have no system of queueing, a few metal gates were laid out but there were no stewards or police in sight to advise where people should be stood and so queues began to circle the entrance to the stadium like people waiting for a pint at a bar and there was absolutely no organisation.
After standing for around 15 minutes, frustration grew again as people started to realise nobody was being granted access through our gate. Rumours quickly spread that the gates had been shut, starting more anger and confusion amongst supporters who must have arrived at a similar time to us.
I suggested that we should try another gate, thinking that there’d possibly been a malfunction with the turnstiles and we headed to gate A. This was just as bad but had more adequate gates and people were funnelled into a narrow space but the number of fans trickling through the turnstiles was a huge concern, about five people every minute and it was clear that we wouldn’t get in the ground for kick-off.
We had a quick look at B and C and it was clear this was a stadium-wide issue. Approaching a Liverpool steward who was on the other side of the fencing and inside the stadium, we asked what to do and she informed us “The gates have been shut, it’s UEFA’s decision and nothing I can do, other than advising that you go back and wait by your block”.
As we headed off to abide by her advice, we heard a roar and then a sudden surge of people rushing into the ground in gate B, before a large number of police officers in riot gear starting running towards them. Fans started rushing everywhere and it became chaotic. We stepped away in fear of what may happen next, before then seeing fans fleeing with eyes streaming and coughing. On the outskirts we felt very mild symptoms of what had been pepper spray or tear gas that had been used.
It looked like a war scene with women, children and plenty of others crying and running away. Bars shut their beer pumps and began handing out water to our fans and there were many more who were clearly shaken by the events.
Frustration at missing the match tuned to disinterest for the game of football and concern for the safety of my friends and family. We knew this would be big news and wanted to let the others know that we were still outside and family at home that we were safe. No phone signal and no internet made it near impossible for myself and it became a real worry if my Dad had made it into the ground safely.
My brother and his friend with me vowed that they would never return to a final again and they made the decision they didn’t want to go to the game because the number of people in and outside of the stadium wasn’t safe, never mind the terrifying actions of the police present.
I asked if we could try one more time as we started to hear music from inside the ground and fireworks being let off. We were minutes from kick-off and the whole event had been well and truly spoiled. We headed back to gate Z and saw more people fleeing to safety after being attacked by police, people inside the ground being battered and there was still no one around to offer help or advice with what to do.
The police made a perimeter around the stadium and it looked like they targeted one gate at a time to ensure safe access for all. We slowly waited for our entry as news spread of a 15 and then 30 minute delay for kick-off. A large group of people then started running towards us, followed by police in riot gear and we thought we were all about to be pepper sprayed, or worse. Fleeing away from our block we were stopped by police who then forced us back to the gate we were waiting for.
My heart has never sunk quicker than when seeing those people and the police run towards us and I still have no idea what it was about. We were just trying to go to watch a game of football.
Finally, at 9:30pm we got to the front of the queue and for the first time all day were asked to present our tickets. Green light on the scan, pat down and then being told to “Enjoy the game”.
We had been chased, targeted with pepper spray, split up with family and friends, unable to call home, covering our faces from fumes and to be honest – the game didn’t matter anymore.
I’d spent so much money to get there and it was all ruined, a season where I’d watched every home game of Jurgen Klopp’s amazing team and dreamed of it ending with this game, now it was all being taken away from me and all of us.
We stepped into the ground as the players took the knee, our seats were taken and the aisles were full of people. There was nowhere to go or stand and the game felt like a blur. I managed to get some signal and could send messages home to let people know we were okay and discovered that the rest of our group had all gained access to the ground too.
It took around half-an-hour to focus on the game and to be honest – it was a result that the day deserved. Not the players and our amazing football team but the way we were treated and excitement being stolen from us in such a way – I didn’t really care.
I’ve never been like that, I’d miss any event to watch Liverpool play and would do everything to ensure I don’t miss a single second of any game. This was the Champions League final and I couldn’t bring myself to being excited for it.
Come August, I’ll be on the Kop and backing the lads with the hope of ending the season in Istanbul and hopefully watching us win a seventh European Cup but the day in Paris has been taken from me.
I kept asking what we could have done to avoid it? I’ve never been to a match where so many people were screaming and crying. Never been to an event so unorganised. Never been to a Champions League final where your tickets aren’t checked until you reach the turnstiles. Never felt so fearful for my own life.
There’s no doubt in my mind that we have been aided by so many journalists, members of the press, members of the players’ families and famous people being in attendance. Their testimonies of the events will aid our cause for showing that we were not to blame. I would add that there were people without tickets and this didn’t help the queueing or access to the stadium, the pitifully low number of tickets handed to us caused desperation and thus congestion. All the police and UEFA had to do though was check tickets as we got off the train. They were understaffed for a game of that magnitude and there needed to be more people and more checks.
How can the showpiece event of club football be so badly organised?
There will be people who won’t go to another game after Paris and I’m sure of it. The outcome of any investigation should only end in a full refund for all supporters, why should people have to pay £100/200/300/400 to be attacked and miss the build-up?
I’m not a Camila Cabello fan but I didn’t arrive at the stadium’s station three hours early to miss all the build-up. I lost all excitement for the game and that’s my last memory of football for the next few months.
I’ll never forget that day for as long as I live and the game isn’t even in the top 10 worst memories of the day. There should be more tickets for the game, in a stadium better equipped, with enough police and stewards to handle the crowds, with less fans trying to gain access without a ticket and more checks before you can gain access to the perimeter of the stadium.
I would say the fault of the day is 90% UEFA and the police but there does need to be a change in culture of trying to go to a game of football without tickets. I was extremely lucky to get a cup final ticket and I am aware of that but if the events of Paris show us anything – it’s that poor policing can lead to tragic circumstances. A stadium and city fit enough to house the thousands of supporters we have needs to be provided. Paris is not that city.
I’m proud to be a Liverpool fan, proud to be from our city and proud of our fanatical support. It’s so reassuring to see major news outlets on our side and let’s hope we get the correct outcome that shows we had the worst officiating that I’ve ever seen at a major sporting event.
The Reds will be back next season but so many who experienced the horror of the Stade de France will not want to face that again. I don’t blame them.