SOS Submission to UEFA Inquiry

Spirit of Shankly welcome the opportunity to submit to this inquiry and explain the experiences of Liverpool fans who attended the UEFA Champions League final at Stade de France on 28 May 2022.

My name is Joe Blott and I am presenting this submission on behalf of Liverpool fans as chairman of SOS, the official supporters union of Liverpool FC.

SOS is a democratic members organisation established in 2008. We exist to represent the views of our members who are all Liverpool supporters. We have 250,000-plus social-media followers and meet with Liverpool FC multiple times a week to discuss supporter-related issues.

We are all volunteers. I 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 SOS three years ago.

Our committee of 15 includes a practising lawyer, a member of the UK Parliament, an author/filmmaker, accountants and trade unionists among others. People from all walks of life, like all football fans.

We want to explain the truth of what happened on the evening of 28 May, but we also want to help things improve for the future. We want to ensure that UEFA and all relevant authorities make significant changes so that supporters going to a football match, or any other major sporting event, never again have the experience we did.

Going to a Champions League final is something we should all look forward to, children, especially – after all, the Champions League final was moved to the weekend so that families could enjoy the spectacle. Seeing kids on parents’ shoulders during the day in Paris, pinching themselves that they were there. A dream come true. A dream that turned into a nightmare. Seeing those same kids hours later being pepper sprayed or feeling the effects of tear gas was harrowing and not easy to forget. Few adults in England will have experienced anything like that, how those young people are coping with the aftermath is anyone’s guess.

So many people were affected by the events of that night. Some endured physical injuries, but the majority suffered mentally and continue to carry those scars. Not only was that the last European game of the season that they would attend, it could also be the last European game they will ever attend. Once your safety and that of your children is compromised like that, why would you chance it happening again?

I must stress it is not just people from Liverpool affected by the failures of UEFA and relevant authorities, Liverpool are a global football club with fans all over the world, many of whom attended the match and suffered trauma. The events at Stade de France 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
We were aware of ticketing issues and poor crowd safety management at the French Cup Final a couple of weeks earlier, on 7 May 2022, also at Stade de France, yet lessons were not learned. It was clear in the run-up to the Champions League final that the police and French authorities had one mindset in place: security. Safety was not even an afterthought, a theme I shall return to later.

By way of example, on the day before the final football fans, visitors to the country, were prevented by statute from entering parts of the capital wearing club colours. A clear message they were not welcome, despite spending thousands of euros there. UEFA must have been aware of this yet appear to have taken zero action to counter it, instead upholding an outdated, stereotypical narrative of football fans.

The day of the final itself was mainly a celebration. The fan park in Cours de Vincennes was a joyous celebration of LFC, so much so, the Mayor of the 12th arrondissement wrote to SOS and leaders of Liverpool City to compliment the exemplary behaviour of all fans.

However, even here, the police presence was heavy-handed, antagonistic and provocative, with the majority of officers in full riot gear. This despite Merseyside Police in their official pre-match report stating, and I quote, “for the past 10 years Liverpool supporters have been extremely well-behaved in Europe. They have not been involved in any incidents of disorder.”

It went 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 reach the final in Paris, Liverpool fans had travelled in numbers throughout the season to Spain, Portugal and Italy with zero arrests, zero known-risk supporters, zero preventive arrests and zero ejections from stadia. Exemplary behaviour from more than 25,000 fans. Indeed, some of this was even recognised in the report of Michel Cadot, the sports ministry’s delegate for major events.

Policing at the fan park and subsequently at the stadium was in complete contrast to this advice. UEFA must bear some responsibility for this.

As stated in the Merseyside Police report, Liverpool fans had travelled across Europe throughout the season. There had been no issues of poor behaviour yet those same fans had been subjected to poor stadium management, poor stewarding, poor policing and excessive policing at San Siro in Milan, Estádio da Luz in Lisbon and Estádio de la Cerámica in Villarreal.

As organisers of these prestigious fixtures, why did UEFA allow this to happen? Equally, why did they allow the French authorities to prepare for Liverpool fans in the way that they did? Why was the exemplary behavioural record of Liverpool fans, built up over years, ignored by UEFA and the relevant authorities?

Simply because they had a 1980’s mindset. They prepared for the arrival of Liverpool supporters as a potential invasion of hooligans, including a flawed misunderstanding of the Hillsborough tragedy 33 years ago. The root of the organisation and policing operation was embedded in the total misconception of travelling football fans and ignored the facts and advice of our local police force.

In his testimony to the French Senate, Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said repeatedly that French police memos had claimed Liverpool fans presented a risk to French society. On what basis could he possibly make this claim? There is no evidence for it. I have shared with you the facts from the Merseyside Police report. Why have UEFA not challenged this and referred to their own experience of Liverpool fans travelling abroad?

It is clear the Interior Minister and police are hiding behind out-moded, ignorant, offensive views about football fans to try to cover up their own failures. UEFA are equally culpable by not challenging it.

The Interior Minister, the police, and the report published by M Cadot have all shown a lack of understanding of football fans, and a dangerous, 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 this is the truth.

To hear French authorities and UEFA in 2022 use similar lies to those used by the British authorities all those years ago about fans arriving late, or with fake tickets, or drunk, has caused immense shock, anger and pain in Liverpool and around the world. The fact the report written by Mr 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 by UEFA and relevant authorities in hearings and in reports in the aftermath of 28 May.

Referring to the report of M Cadot and 30-40,000 Liverpool fans travelling without tickets. This is stated as if there is something wrong with this. Why shouldn’t this number of people, fans, tourists travel, with or without tickets, to enjoy UEFA’s festival of football? A fan park was set up, a positive step, to manage such numbers, numbers suggested by Merseyside Police. The overwhelming majority of those “ticketless fans” remained in that fan park.

The Cadot Report, apparently on the basis of what the Prefect of Police said, suggests these fans were present at Stade de France. This is simply untrue. Where were they? 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 is there evidence of them travelling back to the centre of Paris.

Indeed, the numbers quoted do not stand up to scrutiny. If there were 40,000 ticketless fans in addition to 20,000 official Liverpool ticket holders and at least 15,000 Liverpool fans who purchased UEFA allocated tickets that means 75,000 Liverpool fans were inside. Add the Real Madrid allocation and in total, more than 100,000 were inside not to mention the UEFA contingent? Quite simply absurd, untrue, scurrilous.

We also hear of fake tickets. Ridiculously described by Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin as being on an ‘industrial scale’. In the Cadot Report this is defined as 1,600.

It is a simple fact of big events that fake tickets will emerge. For this reason, there were outer-perimeter checks, stewards who check tickets further, electronic barcodes on tickets – any occurrences of fake tickets are for the organisers and relevant authorities to manage. If UEFA arrange a final and a city puts itself forward to host that final 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, in order to protect the thousands 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 or the turnstiles. This failed catastrophically.

Moving on to safety and security
The current advice on the UK Government website states terrorists, unfortunately as in many other countries, are likely to try to carry out attacks in France.

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

Indeed, M 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 Stade de France’s forecourt, the required 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 gates.

The report states that the Prefect of Police (since retired) 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 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 that 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 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 yet this failed miserably.

Indeed even before the game had finished, there were significant failures in police management as 150 to 200 police officers lined up in full riot gear in front of Liverpool fans inside the stadium shortly before full-time – a blatant but unsuccessful attempt at provocation. There were no police similarly positioned at 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.

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

There remain many unanswered safety questions or contradictory statements
• Why was there an absence of signage between the RER station and the stadium?
• Why were transport figures used to make claims about fans unclear, unsubstantiated, and changing day by day?
• Why did these transport figures include people going to the shops, to work, or going out, not 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 there no contingency plan to the RER strike that was happening?
• Why, when early-afternoon issues caused by the RER strike became apparent, was there no reaction?
• At no point did the authorities try to communicate with fans about the problems and offer possible solutions. Why?
• Why, when there had been no trouble from Liverpool fans was it deemed necessary to surround their end of the stadium with riot police at the final whistle? This was completely uncalled for and felt antagonistic.

UEFA planned this final with French authorities with fans paying up to €670 for a match ticket. It is routine and basic management for such a game yet this failed.

UEFA have been organising European cup finals since 1955 and Champions League finals since 1993. As the organisers, UEFA have to take full responsibility for the safety of fans attending such prestigious events, yet they failed to do so.

However, they very quickly tried to shift blame for the emerging events on 28 May 2022. Before the game could start, UEFA sanctioned a notice displayed on the scoreboard that stated the delay was because Liverpool fans had arrived late. Simply untrue.

From the moment UEFA displayed the “reason” for the delay to kick-off, we knew what was happening: the blame shift. The media excuse machines of both UEFA and the French authorities went into overdrive.

But we knew differently. Witnessing it ourselves, receiving powerful testimonies from our members and through the power of social media they were quickly exposed.

So UEFA and the relevant authorities changed the narrative to blame ticketless fans and forgeries. Again not true, but another example of their failure to prepare.

The events on that Saturday were horrendous and shambolic and deeply traumatising for many. We owe all LFC fans, indeed all football fans, a strong and robust challenge to those who created that situation.

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 many left the vicinity for their own safety.

Thousands of fans were locked outside the ground with no knowledge or explanation as to why. No one knew the kick off would be delayed. There were no announcements. No stewards to guide people to turnstiles that were open or provide support.

Yet there were messages inside the stadium and on UEFA’s Twitter feed. Why were these messages not relayed to those locked out?

We know that it was the calmness of fans outside that prevented injury, yet not knowing what was happening caused unnecessary anxiety. Simple tannoy announcements to explain kick-off had been delayed would have helped the situation, along with visible stewards and on-the-ground support.

How did the authorities get the management of this game so wrong? And then rather than admit to it, 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 screens inside 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 from Liverpool that French police spent months preparing for simply do not exist. The police did not alter their tactics when no hooligans arrived, and instead treated families, children, and people with disabilities like violent criminals.

Only the commendable behaviour of Liverpool fans, who waited with patience and composure, prevented deaths in the dangerous crushes at 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 French senate was 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 demand a full apology and retraction of the lies and smears.

Without these actions, there will be no truth and no justice, no responsibility and no accountability. These must be the next steps.