SOS testimony to French Senate

On Tuesday 21 June, the Spirit of Shankly chair Joe Blott and Liverpool Disabled Supporters Association chair Ted Morris travelled to Paris to give evidence in front of the French Senate Law and Culture committee in a vital and historic visit.

Below is the evidence provided by SOS. Click this link to read the statement from LDSA.

Click this link to listen to Joe and Ted talk about their experiences during the visit in the Allez Les Rouge Podcast, hosted by SOS committee member Peter Hooton.

Joe Blott – Spirit of Shankly:

Hello and good afternoon.

I very much welcome the opportunity to attend this Senate hearing today, in order to explain the experiences of Liverpool fans who attended the UEFA Champions League final at the Stade de France on 28 May. This is in fact the first time since the match was moved to Paris on 25 February, or since Liverpool Football Club qualified to the final on 3 May, that a government institution has agreed to hear from Liverpool fans. I thank you for this.

My name is Joe Blott and I am here today to represent Liverpool fans as chairman of Spirit of Shankly, the Liverpool supporters union.

Spirit of Shankly is a democratic member organisation established in 2008 and exists to represent the views of our members who are all Liverpool supporters. We have over 250,000 social media followers and meet with Liverpool FC multiple times per week to discuss supporter related issues.

We are all volunteers.

I myself am now retired, but worked as a Director of Social Services and Deputy Chief Executive of local authorities in England. I was elected chairman of Spirit of Shankly just over three years ago.

Our committee of 15 also includes a practicing lawyer, a member of the British Parliament, an author /film-maker, accountants and trade unionists amongst others. People from all walks of life, just like every other football fan.

As foreign people invited to speak in your Senate, we are not here to seek some sort of revenge.

Firstly, we want to explain the truth of what happened. But we also want to help things improve for the future, to ensure that the French authorities make very significant changes so that nothing like this happens to anybody in this country again at a football match, or any other major sporting event, no matter who is involved.

I must stress to you that not just English or British people have been affected by the failures of French authorities. Liverpool is a global football club with fans all over the world, many of whom attended the match and suffered trauma. The events at the Stade de France on 28 May have been reported from the US to Australia and most countries in between. This is a truly international issue.

So to the events around the final.

It was becoming clear that the police and French authorities had already developed a particular mindset. The whole operation was to be about security, security and not safety, a theme I shall return to later.

By way of example, on the day before the final, football fans, as visitors to your country, were shocked to be prevented by statute from entering certain parts of Paris whilst wearing club colours. A clear message that football fans were not welcome, despite them having spent thousands of euros to visit your beautiful city – the negative, stereotypical narrative of football fans had started.

The day of the final itself was mainly a celebration, the fan park in Cours de Vincennes was a joyous celebration of Liverpool football club, with the Mayor of the 12th arrondissement writing to the Spirit of Shankly and Liverpool City leaders to compliment the exemplary behaviour of all fans.

However, even here, the police presence was heavy handed, antagonistic and provocative, with the majority of police officers in full riot gear.

This despite the advice of Merseyside Police stating in their official pre-match report that, and I quote “the past ten years Liverpool supporters have been extremely well behaved in Europe. They have not been involved in any incidents of disorder.” In addition, it goes on to say “in terms of attitude and behaviour towards the police, there will be no issues. They will adhere to the instructions of the police. Liverpool supporters do not welcome public order officers in full public order attire policing them in a ‘heavy handed’ style. The best way to deal with Liverpool supporters is by firm but fair and friendly policing. They respond well and respect being communicated to.”

To add to this, Liverpool fans had travelled in their numbers throughout this season’s competition across Europe to Spain, Portugal and Italy with zero arrests, zero known risk supporters, zero preventive arrests and zero ejections from stadia. Exemplary behaviour from over 25,000 fans. Indeed, some of this was even recognised in the report of Michel Cadot, the sports ministry’s delegate for major events.

The policing at the fan park, and subsequently at the stadium, was in complete contrast to this advice.

So why was the great behavioural record Liverpool fans have demonstrated for many years completely ignored by French authorities?

Simply because the police and relevant authorities had a 1980’s mindset, treating Liverpool supporters as a potential invasion of hooligans and using a flawed understanding of the tragic events at Hillsborough 33 years ago. The roots of the policing operation lies in the total misconception of travelling football fans and ignores the facts and advice of our local police force.

In his testimony here, the interior minister repeatedly said that French police memos claimed  Liverpool fans presented a risk to French society. On what basis can he possibly make this claim? There is no evidence for it. I have shared with you the facts from the Merseyside Police report.

The interior minister and police are hiding behind out-dated, ignorant and downright offensive views about football fans to try and cover up their own desperate failures.

The interior minister, the police, and the report published by Michel Cadot have all shown a lack of understanding of football fans, and have also shown a dangerous and shocking misunderstanding of the Hillsborough disaster. On 15 April 1989, 97 Liverpool fans were unlawfully killed as a result of institutional failures by the British authorities and police. This has been legally proven and is the truth of what happened. To hear French authorities use similar lies to those used by the British authorities all those years ago once again in 2022, about fans arriving late, or with fake tickets, or drunk, has caused an immense amount of shock, anger and pain in Liverpool and around the world. The fact that the report written by Michel Cadot, and police memos from before the match, refer to Hillsborough in relation to hooliganism has sickened fans everywhere.

Now to challenge some of the lies and mistruths told to you here in the Senate and in various reporting.

Referring back to the report of Michel Cadot, we hear reports of 30/40,000 Liverpool fans travelling without tickets. This is stated as if there is something wrong in this. Why shouldn’t this number of fans or tourists travel, with or without tickets, to enjoy a festival of football? The fact a fan park was set up was a positive step to manage those expected numbers, numbers suggested by Merseyside Police by the way, with the overwhelming majority of those “ticketless fans” remaining in that fan park.

The Cadot Report seems to suggest the presence of these fans was at the ground, apparently on the basis of what the Prefect of Police said, which is simply untrue. Where were those people? They certainly weren’t inside the stadium as there are no reports of overcrowding? Drone footage shows no fans outside of the stadium at the start of the game? Nor were they travelling back to the centre of Paris on trains as there is again no evidence of this.

Indeed the numbers quoted simply do not stand up to scrutiny. If there were 40,000 ticketless fans , plus the 20,000 official Liverpool ticket holders, plus at least 15,000 Liverpool fans who purchased UEFA allocated tickets, he’s suggesting nearly 75,000 Liverpool fans were there on top of the Real Madrid allocations so over 100,000? Quite simply absurd, untrue and scurrilous.

We also hear of fake tickets. Ridiculously described by Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin as being on an industrial scale. In the Cadot Report this is actually defined as 1600.

It is a simple fact of big events that fake tickets will emerge that’s why there are outer perimeter checks, stewards who further check tickets, electronic bar codes on tickets – any such occurrences are for the relevant authorities to manage. If you put yourself forward to host a game as France/Paris did, then you must believe you can manage it.

It is a routine part of event management to have safety and ticket checks at the perimeter, to protect the 80,000 people attending the event from potential terrorism and other violence, and to ensure that those without tickets do not reach the inner environs of a stadium and the turnstiles. This failed catastrophically.

Moving on to safety and security.

The current advice on the UK Government website states terrorists, sadly like many other countries, are very likely to try to carry out attacks in France.

We know of your suffering following the tragic events of 13 November 2015 when the Stade de France was targeted with explosions during an international friendly between France and Germany.

Indeed, Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin warned about the ongoing high level of terrorist threat in France.
“Anything can happen,” he told the French news channel RTL specifying, however, that “we are now highly protected” against terrorist attacks like the one in 2015.

Yet the Cadot Report talks of the invasion of the Stade de France’s forecourt, the required the use of hand-held gas and tear gas grenades to restore order and to oppose attempts at forceful entry, both by the British and by the thugs who came to commit the assaults using the opportunity of disorder, as is often the case when there is unrest, to infiltrate the stadium by climbing over the gates.

The report states that the Prefect of Police has clearly indicated his regret at the use of tear gas etc, either against people who were not causing any disturbance and who are moreover vulnerable, or in a disproportionate manner in certain cases by police officers whose disciplinary investigations will have to determine whether they have acted appropriately.

But to use such methods on innocent people was one of unnecessary control and not management.

It talks of the public order and public security arrangements at the Stade de France which were set up with 1,300 staff. It emphasises the security stakes of this internationally renowned match. It goes on to say a total of 6,800 police officers, gendarmes and firemen were deployed to ensure the security of the event on the various sites in Paris and Dionysus (from Saint Denis).

So this was a stadium which had previously been the subject of a terror attack and yet the whole venue was so easily breached – isn’t that a dereliction of duty and a failure in fan and ground safety? Authorities gave up on checking tickets at the perimeter and allowed anybody to gain access. It is a basic duty of care to your own citizens as well as those who travelled.

So, far from making the ground safe, it was about security and security yet this failed miserably.

Indeed after the game as we have heard in Ted’s powerful testimony, there were significant failures in police management. 150 to 200 police officers lined up in full riot gear in front of Liverpool fans inside the stadium shortly before full-time, in a blatant but unsuccessful attempt at provocation. They were not similarly positioned in the Real Madrid end of the stadium. Any attempt to suggest fans were planning to enter the pitch is based on nothing but flawed intelligence and prejudice. Pitch invasions have never been a part of Liverpool’s culture.

Yet Afterwards, those same police officers did nothing to protect fans from gangs of criminals in Saint Denis.

Senate must therefore be extremely worried about hosting the upcoming events, of the Olympic, Paralympics and Rugby World Cup.

And there still remain many, many unanswered safety questions or contradictory statements which remain unanswered:-

• Why was there a complete lack of signage between the RER station and the stadium?
• Why are the transport figures used to make claims about fans unclear, unsubstantiated, and changing day by day?
• Why is the fact that these transport figures include people going to the shops, going to work, or going out, not being challenged?
• Why did the route to the stadium differ from the one fans were instructed to follow on UEFA’s app?
• Why was the French Football Federation’s request to split fans into two separate pre-filter queues ignored?
• Why was the fact that the RER strike was going on not reacted to?
• Why were issues in the early afternoon caused by the RER strike not reacted to as soon as they became clear?
• Why did the authorities not try at any point to communicate with fans about the problems and possible solutions?

I have taken much of the Senate’s time so I will sum up before taking questions from Senators.

Paris asked for this prestigious game to be played at the Stade de France with fans paying up to €670 for a match ticket.

It is routine and basic management for such a game yet this failed.

Fans had no stewards to direct people to safety before, during and after the game

Those fans were indiscriminately tear gassed and beaten.

Many feared for their lives in dangerous crushes, and some left the vicinity for their own safety.

How did the authorities get the management of this game so wrong and then rather than admit that on the night or since, they pointed the finger of blame at fans with lies, mistruths and false and unsubstantiated allegations.

Why was their first instinct to blame fans, with a lie about late arrivals broadcast on the big screens at the Stade de France? How can the fans whose exemplary and heroic behaviour saved lives continue to be blamed weeks after the event?

As I have said, the roots of this lie in the misconceptions of football fans in general and Liverpool fans in particular.

The hooligans that French police spent months preparing for from Liverpool simply do not exist. They did not alter their tactics when no hooligans arrived, and instead treated families, children, and people with disabilities like violent criminals.

Only the exemplary behaviour of Liverpool fans, who waited with patience and composure, prevented deaths in the dangerous crushes caused by French authorities at the Stade de France. The collective memory and pain of the Hillsborough disaster means Liverpool fans know how to behave to avoid catastrophe. The similarities between things the senate has been told by ministers, and the lies told by authorities in the UK after Hillsborough, have been an enormous source of shock, anger and pain.

We have been very keenly following the work the Senate has been doing. Many of its findings so far have been encouraging, and we are very grateful for that.

We must however demand a full apology and retraction of the lies and smears.

Also, to ensure the safety of the supporters coming to the Rugby World Cup and Olympics over the next 2 years, there must be a full independent and transparent investigation so the world can once more have confidence in the ability for France to hold global sporting events.

Without these actions, I am sorry to say it will not and there will be no truth and no justice, no responsibility and no accountability. These must be the next steps.

Thank you for your time and for listening to the voice of fans.

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